This is the ninth post in the Adulting With ADHD series. So far, we’ve covered the basics of ADHD, myths surrounding ADHD, the diagnostic process, what to do after diagnosis, executive dysfunction and how to deal with it, rejection sensitive dysphoria, and emotional dysregulation. Today we’ll be exploring methods of managing emotional dysregulation.
Welcome back! In the last post, we talked about emotional dysregulation. As a quick reminder, emotional dysregulation is the inability to modulate or regulate emotions. This is an aspect of ADHD as well as several other neurodivergencies.
Tools for Managing Emotional Dysregulation
Today, we’re going to look at some different ways that you can manage the emotional roller coaster that is emotional dysregulation. There are both medications and therapeutic techniques that can help with emotional regulation as well as things you can do on your own.
The first thing we’re going to look at is emotion tracking. Emotion tracking is pretty much what it sounds like. Throughout the day you record your emotions (as well as some other factors) in order to track your emotional state. There are a variety of ways to do this and different methods will work for different people.
This is a sample emotion tracker worksheet. This sheet asks you to write down when the emotion happened, what triggered it, what you felt, how you reacted, and the consequences of your reaction. Tracking your emotions in this way can help you notice patterns or trends in your emotions and reactions as well as helping you identify reactions that lead to bad consequences. This can be very helpful in learning to work with emotional dysregulation.
Of course, there’s always the oldest method of emotion tracking: journaling. If you’re more of a pen and paper kind of person, you can use a notebook or journal to track your emotions. You can use a format similar to the one above or come up with your own formatting. For those who are a bit more technologically inclined, any word processor can be used for journaling.
Finally, there are tons of apps available for mood tracking. Each has its own features and presentation and the app that works best for one person won’t work best for another. Apps for mood tracking include: Moodnotes, Day One, iMoodJournal, Moodtrack Diary, Moodlytics, Emoods, and Mood Tracker. I have not tried these apps personally, but have seen them recommended online. I plan on trying out an app for myself soon, so I’ll report back with my experiences.
Mindfulness, or being present in the moment, can help to slow down reactions to emotions. By being more aware of our current state of being, we are able to put more time between our emotions and our reactions. We’ll be exploring mindfulness in-depth in a future post in this series.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an excellent therapy for learning to manage your emotions. CBT is often done with a therapist, though there are resources available online to work through CBT on your own. We’ll be exploring CBT and other methods of therapy in a future post.
In good news for many of us ADHD brains, many of the medications already used for ADHD actually help with emotional dysregulation as well. Stimulants, in particular, have proven useful for the treatment of emotional dysregulation. While talking about a study about emotional instability in ADHD, ADDitude presents a study by Philip Asherson, Ph.D. In his study which focused on prisoners with ADHD, Asherson found the following:
After 12 weeks of taking methylphenidate — with no additional medication or therapy strategies — the prisoners all showed significant improvement on emotional symptoms as well, indicating that emotional dysregulation responds to standard ADHD treatment as well as hyperactivity and inattention symptoms do. [source]
Stimulant medications can be a great option for managing emotional dysregulation as well as hyperactivity and inattention. As always, talk to your doctor about which medication options are right for you and your body.
How to Cope When You’re Not Ok
We’ve looked at some techniques that can help us manage our emotional dysregulation, but many of these techniques take time to begin to show improvement. Well, what are you supposed to do when you’re not ok Right Now and need something to help you through? The methods above may not help, but, thankfully, Tumblr user @eponis created a wonderful guide entitled “Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay: questions to ask before giving up.”
Dealing with emotional dysregulation can be really tough, but, if you’re willing to put in the effort, it is possible to learn emotional regulation.
Tune in next time as we begin our series within a series: Living Better With ADHD.