Losing your cool isn’t always because of everyday stress. Find out why emotional health issues like frustration and impulsivity could be symptoms of adult ADHD.
Have you ever been stuck in traffic and found yourself pounding the steering wheel and feeling like your head might explode? If that’s an all-too familiar scenario, you could have adult ADHD.
About 50 percent of kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) grow up to be adults with ADHD, and some adults with ADHD aren’t aware that they have it. Hyperactivity symptoms of ADHD seen in kids may be replaced with emotional health symptoms such as frustration and impulsivity in adult ADHD.
A recent study by Massachusetts General Hospital found that more than half of adults with ADHD have emotional health problems related to excessive emotional reactions to everyday events. They also found that this combination of ADHD and the inability to control emotions tends to run in families and could affect more than 5 million American adults.
“The areas of the brain that are responsible for hyperactivity in ADHD are also responsible for emotional control, so it is not surprising that these symptoms overlap,” says Guy K. Palmes, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“ADHD runs in families, and if a child has ADHD, usually one parent has it,” Dr. Palmes says. “Although studies say that about 4 percent of adults have ADHD, I suspect that about half of adult ADHD is not being diagnosed and many adults have ADHD and don’t know it.”
Emotional Health and ADHD Symptoms in Adults
For adults with ADHD, excessive emotional reactions can occur quickly in response to normal stresses that would be difficult but acceptable for people without adult ADHD.
Common emotional health symptoms associated with adult ADHD can include:
- Mood swings
- Outbursts of anger
“Controlling my emotions can be most difficult even with therapy and medication,” says David G. Hanley, a 61-year-old sales professional from West Hartford, Conn., who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.
“Being in sales and dealing with a four-year economic collapse has been tough,” Hanley says. “I have to constantly deal with my tendency for impatience and intolerance. You can’t be successful in sales if you alienate your accounts.”
In adults who aren’t diagnosed or treated for ADHD, excessive emotional reactions can lead to problems in social, family, and business relationships. Untreated adult ADHD is also a common trigger for substance abuse problems.
Getting Adult ADHD Symptoms Under Control
The right diagnosis and treatment can turn around emotional distress. “Finding out there was a reason and a treatment for my symptoms has been a blessing,” Hanley says. “With medication and therapy, I am now able to let go of the things I can’t control, and life is definitely easier.”
Talk therapy and sometimes medication both help control adult ADHD symptomsand can lead to better emotional health. “It’s important for people with ADHD to learn what triggers their symptoms so they can start to anticipate and manage their stress,” explains Palmes. Talk therapy, a form of counseling, can help with that.
Try these other strategies as well:
- Get educated about ADHD.
- Use organizational strategies like making lists and carrying a calendar.
- Get to work early and plan projects for the time of day when you are most able to concentrate.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Get enough sleep and exercise.
- Avoid self-medication with drugs and alcohol.
Don’t let ADHD ruin your emotional health. If you haven’t been diagnosed but have symptoms, especially if you had ADHD as a child or have a family history of ADHD, talk to your doctor and take steps to regain control over your life.