Kicking the Anger Habit When You Have ADHD

According to a recent study, emotional dysregulation, or heightened emotions, occurs in about 70% of adults with ADHD, some of whom have no other co-occurring conditions with which intense anger is often associated with, such as: depressive,anxiety,bipolar disorder, and substance use disorder.

The intense anger that can often occur with ADHD can affect relationships, impact behavior, and put a strain on family life. It often shows up as:

  • irritability
  • impatience with stress
  • surges of anger in response to small obstacles
  • explosive bursts of anger
  • episodes of frustration
  • lack of awareness about other people’s feelings

Understanding the causes of anger and frustration with ADHD, along with some strategies for managing these intense emotions, can help prevent these short but intense bursts of anger from causing long-term damage.

How ADHD Can Amplify Anger

Having ADHD means living with a stress-producing condition that can result in emotional reactivity. There are several factors that can trigger intense anger.

Amygdala hijack The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain.  it drives the fight or flight threat response. Amygdala “hijack” occurs when the brain overreacts to a perceived threat and essentially takes over the prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain. Amygdala abnormalities are commonly seen in ADHD brains and the ADHD brain struggles to turn off emotional processing—a problem when there is persistent stress. A constant flooding of the body with stress hormones and the attendant emotions they produce causes individuals to lose access to the rational part of themselves.

Working memory issues – Working memory and executive dysfunction issues associated with ADHD often compromises an individual’s ability to manage and respond appropriately to emotions. Poor working memory could explain why someone struggles to recall and decide on the coping strategies and tools available to them when faced with a trigger. Executive dysfunction also explains limited impulse control or why they might say or do things they regret when overwhelmed.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria – Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) causes extreme emotional responses to rejection and criticism, real or perceived. It is also associated with:

  • intense feelings related to embarrassment, shame, and failure
  • fear others will withdraw their love, support, or friendship
  • difficulty letting go of painful experiences of rejection and hurt

The negative thought patterns an individual experiences with RSD can contributes to emotional explosions. Anger is a defensive, secondary emotion — fear and other feelings are often hidden beneath the surface. T

Strategies for Controlling Anger

Below are a number of recommendations from experts you can use to manage anger.

  • Understand that your anger is a habit – Anger and emotional outbursts are your habitual responses to uncomfortable feelings. Habits are made up of triggers, the routine behavior we engage in, and the reinforcing reward or outcome. To change a habit just target one of these elements.
  • Become aware of your triggers – Explore how your anger works (think about it in terms of the components of a habit), when it shows up, and patterns associated with the emotion. This will alert you to those situations that trigger your anger.
  • Change your anger reaction patterns – When you feel yourself being triggered, use tools to slow down and calm your anger. These can include countering the negative inner voice that is driving your anger, visualizing yourself calming down, and changing your breathing to a slower deeper pattern to help de-stress.
  • Practice a healthy lifestyle – Living a lifestyle that includes good nutrition, regular exercise and good sleep can help lower stress and prevent the anger outbursts.
  • Take your ADHD medication –The stimulant medications prescribed for ADHD can help reduce irritability, a precursor to angry outbursts.
  • Get help – If you feel unable to manage your anger alone, consider using cognitive behavioral therapy – a psychotherapy approach based on identifying and changing unproductive thinking patterns.



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