Adult ADHD and Mental Breakdowns
Many people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have experienced a mental breakdown. I often use the phrase to describe how I feel when I lose control of my emotions and ability to think clearly. This can be triggered by seemingly small events, but usually it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, one more problem added to a pile of challenges. I would like to discuss what mental breakdowns actually are, why people with ADHD might be particularly susceptible to them, and how we can deal with them.
What Are Mental Breakdowns?
A mental breakdown, sometimes referred to as a nervous breakdown or ADHD meltdown, is not actually a clinical term,1 though it is considered a form or manifestation of an anxiety disorder.2 It arises from overwhelming stress and varies in symptoms. Some people might suddenly feel blank and numb, unable to process information or even move. Others might experience sobbing or angry outbursts. All sorts of life events can contribute to a breakdown, from mental illness to losing one’s job.
Why Do So Many ADHDers Have Mental Breakdowns?
Many blogs and message boards by ADHDers mention mental breakdowns. It makes sense that people with ADHD deal with lots of stress due to living with a condition that can cause memory, impulse, and organizational problems because we use these skills on a daily basis. On top of that, we tend to be emotional people who are sensitive to rejection and have trouble regulating our feelings.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder frequently overlaps with other conditions, such as depression or anxiety, heightening our vulnerability to overwhelming emotions. In addition, while there are still studies being done on ADHD and the production of the stress hormone cortisol, people with ADHD widely report feeling stressed out.3
Advice for ADHDers Who Struggle with Mental Breakdowns
Taking care of yourself is crucial. Self-care can involve anything from taking a bubble bath to doing something you dislike in order to benefit in the future. I see self-care as taking a step back to check in with yourself. It might take practice as it is especially difficult but important during times of stress. I have discovered that self-care makes me function more efficiently and can help prevent--or at least manage-- mental health crises.
Other words of advice for when the stress begins to mount:
- Write things down. Make and manage a list of what you need to do, or write in your journal.4
- Observe what is causing stress. Note what times and situations make you tensest.
- Learn to read your body’s cues. Get help, if you need to. I am still working on this. The more you check in with yourself, the more you will be able to observe when you are becoming frustrated or afraid.
- Learn stress management techniques. As with the previous point, you might need to get help from a book, program, or therapist.
- Breathing slowly supposedly lowers your heart rate and tricks your body into feeling calmer. (I have yet to practice this on a regular basis.)
If you have ADHD and have struggled with mental breakdowns, I sympathize. Please let me know how you cope with these situations. Thank you for visiting, and happy Christmas.
- McCall, Rosie, "7 Signs of a Nervous Breakdown." Health.com, Mar. 2018.
- Healthgrades Editorial Staff, Nervous Breakdown. Healthgrades, Nov. 2018.
- Corominas-Roso, Margarida, et al., "Cortisol Response to Stress in Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." Int. J. Neuropsychopharmacol, Jul. 2015.
- Walker, Linda, "Top 3 Strategies to Conquer Overwhelm" (with video). Coach Linda Walker, Apr. 2017.
Matteson, N. (2018, December 25). Adult ADHD and Mental Breakdowns, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, May 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2018/12/adult-adhd-and-mental-breakdowns