Managing emotions (or emotional control) is another of the executive functions. It is not mentioned as often as the big three criteria – hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention – but it affects many people with ADHD.

Strong emotions seem to come more frequently and with greater intensity for folks with ADHD when compared to neurotypicals. Emotions such as frustration, anger, shame, and hurt feelings can be felt intensely, and yet they look to others like over reactions to a stimulus.

The ability to regulate emotions is apparently less available to some folks with ADHD, so strategies need to be found to compensate for the lacking controls. It’s often best to look at what triggered an emotional storm if we want to learn ways to avoid a reoccurrence in the future.

A good first step is to pause and breathe deeply. This gives your brain time to calm. Once you can think rationally, give yourself the opportunity in that moment (or as soon thereafter as possible) to notice what just happened. Step back and observe yourself just as if you were watching a movie. Be very curious. Ask yourself what was the last thing that happened just before you started to “see red.” Can you remember the thought or the event that precipitated the extreme reaction? If so, make a note in a place where you collect other such “operating instructions” for your brain.

Some people keep a journal of sorts that they call their Personal Operations Manual (POM). When they observe whether stress or anger or a change of plans or something else has triggered an emotional melt down, they write down what they notice as a guide for their future selves. If you try this, don’t forget to read your operating instructions from time to time until the new habits you are forming are more fully developed.

Linda Swanson is an ADHD Coach in Warrenton, Virginia. She and her husband, Neil, are partners at Free To Be Coaching, LLC, where they coach in person or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. They coach students from middle school through college as well as adults of all ages, and they also facilitate two support groups for parents of children with ADHD. Linda and Neil are both graduates of the ADD Coach Academy and are credentialed by the International Coach Federation and the Professional Association of ADHD Coaches. Linda can be reached at or (703) 508-4774. 

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