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Emotion Regulation In ADHD Adults


A person who is seeking therapy from ADHD struggles in Colorado.

Does this sound like you?


You’re trying to be on time for an actual face-to-face appointment because you hate being late, but you couldn’t find your favorite shirt, time slipped away and now you could be late if you don’t hustle out the door. On your way to the appointment, you hit every red light. All of a sudden, you realize that you left your cell phone at home…the phone that held all the questions you wanted to ask your doctor.


A surge of emotion hits every cell in your body. You pound hard on the gas pedal, starting to speed and swerve in and out of traffic. You’re not even able to think about safety because the flood of emotion is so intense, that nothing will stop it. You rush into your doctor’s appointment 5 minutes late. Your mind and body are still flooded in an intense emotional state—you’re on autopilot.


Your brain feels like it can’t recalibrate to anything but the all too familiar, “rush mode”. While waiting for the doctor that is 15 min late, you start to catch your breath and slow your system down. You start to beat yourself up for reacting so erratically. You realize that being 5 minutes late is not worth all the emotion and tension you just experienced.


And then, shame builds as you recount how you were rude to your spouse and drove so irresponsibly. You don’t understand how in most matters in life, you are calm and able to regulate, but in certain times of frustration, you just “can’t control yourself.” If you live with ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder), these intense emotional states that feel impossible to downshift are all too familiar. 


If you identify with the above-mentioned experience, you also understand that the flood of emotions, with no ability to stop or down-regulate, are mostly short in duration and happens only in relation to a specific situation/stimuli that “creates” the emotion. The triggers are different for everyone. But the triggers all share a common component of a barrier, real or perceived, to the already tense world inside someone with ADHD.


What is Emotion Regulation?

A person struggling with emotional regulation and need ADHD Support.

“Emotional self-regulation is a major dimension of executive functions required for all life activities,” and it is the “most impaired dimension” in someone with ADHD,” says Russell Barkly in one of his recent articles. Russell Barkely, a leading ADHD researcher, is spreading the word about ADHD and DESR (Deficient Emotional Self Regulation), and EI (Emotional Impulsiveness).


If you are wondering why you haven’t heard of this before it is because, in the late 1960s, the criteria for ADHD no longer listed information on EI or DESR as part of the disorder and the reason is unknown. You can read more about that here. Researchers agree that DESR and EI are central to ADHD, and can help professionals diagnose ADHD more accurately when differentiating between disorders that share similar symptoms.


Life Challenges with ADHD

Looking at ADHD with DESR and EI also helps with understanding the major comorbidity and life challenges that travel with ADHD. The long list of life challenges for those with ADHD unfortunately can include:


  • Interpersonal problems and difficulty with romantic relationships

  • Substance abuse

  • Depression and anxiety

  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

  • DUIs and speeding tickets

  • Being underemployed

  • Social anxiety and fear of rejection

  • Being fired

  • Poor finances

  • Parenting challenges, and 

  • Chronic fatigue


Deficiencies in emotional self-regulation and emotional impulsiveness fire together with ADHD because of our frontal limbic circuit, known as the hot circuit. You can research more about the specific terminology and brain differences in someone with ADHD by delving into Russel Barkely’s vast collection of books and articles. Basically, your brain is designed differently, by diverting signals and paying attention to signals that are not important.  Yay!


How to Support Yourself as someone with ADHD

A person struggling with emotional regulation and need ADHD Support in Colorado

All the information about ADHD can lead a person to feel very bleak and hopeless. I understand. As a person, parent, and therapist with ADHD, I too struggle at times to find compassion and acceptance for having ADHD. Even with years of mindfulness, CBT, yoga, volleyball, relaxation techniques, EMDR, and medication, I am still emotionally impulsive.

What can change when living with ADHD is that the duration, intensity, and shame spiral decrease significantly when you are doing the “work.” 


What is the work? I like the term “building a strong emotional home” that Alan P. Brown uses in his article, Why We Feel So Much- Ways to Overcome It. Everyone’s home will be unique. But each home will contain some key features that can aid you in feeling more compassionate, accepting, and fulfilled when living with ADHD. Here are some examples:


  • Work with a coach and/or a therapist to help you understand ADHD and work with it instead of forcing yourself to work through challenges in a neurotypical way.

  • Learn the different types of rest that can help you recharge.

  • Learn the different types of fatigue that accompany ADHD.

  • Learn to think of ADHD in terms of Energy and Emotion, finding ways to conserve your energy! Here is an example: Managing Your Energy

  • Working with your Doctor to find the right medication.

  • Work out in whatever way suits you but move, move, move!

  • Use vision boards, gratitude journals, and spread positive affirmations where you can.

  • Work with your therapist to learn body awareness, relaxation techniques, mindfulness techniques, CBT, inner child work, parenting skills, sleep hygiene, overall wellness and barriers, and grieving the diagnosis.

  • Build your tribe with people who are accepting and “get you”. Have a space with at least one other person in life where you can be you—no masking involved.

  • Join an ADHD Support Group to gain more support, acknowledge that what you experience everyday is “REAL” and “Difficult” and the people in the support group will validate your experiences because they get it.


Learning what tools and routines work best to build and sustain your home is a helpful way to work with your ADHD. Understanding the complexity of ADHD, especially the DESR and EI challenges, can lead to a path of healing, compassion and a satisfying life. Here at Catalyss Counseling, we offer group support for ADHD and have several therapists that understand ADHD. The most important component of living with ADHD is finding the right support. You deserve it.


How We Can Help

Interested in ADHD therapy with kristen? Schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation!



If you are looking for continued ADHD support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:

  1. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxed life


Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:




Author Biography

Kristen Dammer is an LCSW specializing in women's issues and postpartum depression.

Kristen Dammer believes in addressing the whole health needs of you as a person, and her dedication, creativity, and flexibility as a therapist are her greatest strengths. Her holistic approach to anxiety, grief and trauma helps you feel in control and creates a welcoming environment for you to share your vulnerabilities, fears, and experiences. She is trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and uses it to treat anxiety and trauma. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.





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