Table of contents


10 min read

How ADHD causes Emotional Dysregulation

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Oct 12, 2022

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

Table of contents

If you have ADHD, you’ve likely experienced emotional dysregulation, even if you didn’t know it. 

Emotional dysregulation refers to difficulties with controlling, expressing, and understanding emotions. It involves experiencing intense emotional reactions that are quickly triggered and are usually slower to return to a baseline state. 

This makes it difficult to react appropriately, which could impact relationships, job performance, and more.

In this post, we’ll explore emotional dysregulation and ADHD and go over crucial coping skills you need to know if you find yourself experiencing it. 

If you’re struggling with emotional dysregulation as a symptom of ADHD, Klarity makes it easy to connect virtually with a licensed medical provider who can diagnose ADHD and prescribe treatment. Find a provider on Klarity today to diagnoses and treat your ADHD symptoms. 

Noticing symptoms and suspect you have a mental health condition? Find fast, affordable care from a provider on Klarity today.

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

Individuals with ADHD experience emotions more intensely than most others due to chemical differences in the brain. This can result in tremendous joy when things go right, but it can also create extreme anger and sadness when faced with even the most minor inconvenience. 

Because these chemical responses are often random and difficult to control, it becomes difficult to effectively regulate and stabilize these emotions in the moment.

This emotional dysregulation can vary in severity, just like all other symptoms of ADHD. It is most closely tied to two parts of the brain essential for emotional response and decision-making, the amygdala and cerebral cortex. 

The amygdala’s primary function is handling emotional reactions and decision-making. At the same time, the cerebral cortex receives messages from the amygdala and other parts of the brain and inhibits emotional responses so you can react in a measured way.

When someone has ADHD, the amygdala and cerebral cortex connection isn’t as strong. So when the amygdala triggers an emotional response, the cerebral cortex is unable to control the severity of that response resulting in overwhelming anger or sadness.

Symptoms of Emotional Dysregulation

Like many other elements of ADHD, everyone experiences symptoms of emotional dysregulation uniquely. In most cases, individuals experience the following:

  • Emotional reactions that seem out-of-sync with what caused them
  • Difficulty calming down once an emotion has taken hold
  • Lack of awareness or sensitivity to the feelings of others

If you struggle with emotional dysregulation, you may also experience severe depression and anxiety that can be persistent or intermittent.

How Emotional Dysregulation Affects Everyday Life

Emotional dysregulation can be highly disruptive to daily life. If you encounter a minor annoyance or inconvenience, instead of letting it pass, it may consume your attention and distract you from more important things. 

If someone cuts you off in traffic, for example, you might become enraged without any ability to calm yourself down. It might not be until you’ve absolutely exhausted yourself that you realize there was a better way to react.

There are countless other examples that can show how emotional dysregulation can affect daily life, but what’s most important to recognize is that it can become like a parasite in regard to your mental health. 

Not only can it put you in a regularly bad mood, but it can also affect your relationships. If the people around you see that you can’t control your emotions, they may distance themselves due to that unpredictability.

This lack of emotional control is an unfortunate reality of ADHD, and it makes identifying your emotional dysregulation and employing healthy coping mechanisms crucial.

What Are Common Causes of Emotional Dysregulation?

There are a few reasons someone may develop emotional dysregulation, many of which have to do with a lack of foundational emotional regulation skills. Some people may struggle to regulate their emotions due to childhood trauma or neglect. 

Their current emotional responses often serve as either a defense mechanism or a misguided expression of emotions they had to suppress as a child.

Traumatic brain injury can significantly affect emotional dysregulation, as damage to the amygdala or cerebral cortex can make it difficult for them to work as intended. Whether the brain injury was caused by one incident or a series of head injuries, damaging the sources of emotional regulation can make emotional dysregulation a part of everyday life.

Various mental health disorders can also contribute to emotional dysregulation. Borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and ADHD are just some of the conditions that can cause emotional dysregulation, as they are all characterized by unhealthy thought patterns.

ADHD and Emotional Dysregulation

ADHD is a condition that presents numerous challenges. While it is primarily marked by inattention and hyperactivity, it is also characterized by impulsivity. This impulsivity is what affects emotional dysregulation the most, as it makes it difficult for people to process their emotions before they act on them. 

Controlling this impulsivity can take many years; some people require medication or personal therapy to overcome it.

How To Cope With Emotional Dysregulation

Overcoming emotional dysregulation is as much of a process as overcoming any other mental health concern. The first step is identifying that there is a problem and that your emotional dysregulation negatively impacts your life and relationships. 

Once you’ve come to this conclusion, you can use various coping strategies to work towards regulating your emotions and living a more stable and positive life. 

Leave the Situation

If you find yourself in an upsetting or angering situation, one of the best ways to avoid an unfavorable emotional response is to remove yourself from the situation. If you are able, leave your current location and take a moment to gather your thoughts before either returning or going to a more neutral place. 

The longer you remain in a hostile environment, the more likely you are to fall into emotional dysregulation and do something you may regret.

Remain Calm

When you start to become highly emotional, do what you can to remain calm and prevent an overreaction. Whether you have to take a moment to breathe or repeat a calming mantra in your head, keeping calm as much as possible will help you practice your emotional regulation.

Name the Feeling

When faced with intense emotions, it’s often helpful to name those feelings before acting on them blindly. Once you understand your feelings, you’ll have an easier time deciding what the appropriate response to those feelings may be.

Receive ADHD Treatment

One of the most effective ways to cope with emotional dysregulation is to treat the ADHD that’s causing it. ADHD treatment can help you find relief from mental health concerns like emotional dysregulation.

Klarity Can Help You Get Treatment for ADHD to Resolve Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation may feel insurmountable, but with the help of the licensed medical providers on Klarity, it doesn’t have to be. On Klarity, you can receive access to convenient and affordable treatment for ADHD from healthcare providers who understand the complexity of your condition.

When you book an appointment on Klarity, you’ll meet with an ADHD-trained medical provider within 48 hours who can diagnose ADHD and prescribe treatment.

Find a provider and get started with ADHD treatment today.

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