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How to Deal with ADHD Meltdowns in Adults

ADHD meltdowns in adults are frightening. Discover why they happen, plus how to manage and prevent adult ADHD meltdowns on HealthyPlace.ADHD meltdowns in adults occur because ADHD is frustrating and difficult to live with. These tantrum behaviors don’t happen because of immaturity or a sense of entitlement in which someone believes she must get her way. They happen when the ADHD brain can’t take things anymore, when the stress of ADHD boils over.

ADHD emotional meltdowns can be frightening, both for the person with ADHD and those around him. When this adult reaches the end of his rope, all interactions feel like crises. He might misinterpret someone’s tone, for example, and lose it. “Losing it,” having a meltdown, looks like this:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Shouting
  • Screaming at people, hurling profanities and insults
  • Throwing things, sometimes right at people

Understanding what’s behind this behavior can help you manage ADHD meltdowns, whether they’re your own or the actions of someone in your life.

The Connection Between ADHD and Meltdowns

The very nature of ADHD sets people up for exasperation. All day every day, ADHD causes people to be easily distracted. This makes it a gargantuan effort to concentrate and to maintain focus and attention. As a result, people miss important information, parts of conversation, and more. This inattention lead to losing things and forgetfulness, which are made worse by disorganization.

Additionally, part of ADHD involves heightened emotions and increased sensitivity. People with ADHD feel emotions much more intensely than do people without ADHD, and people tend to feel powerless to manage them (Dodson & Tuckman, 2016).

All of these challenges are exhausting, which makes regulating emotions more difficult. Stressors build on each other, things seemingly small to outsiders feel big and overwhelming to the person with ADHD. This pent-up frustration mounts until something, usually minor, causes rage and anger to erupt and the person to lash out in a powerful, frightening meltdown.

Managing ADHD Meltdowns While They Are Happening

It is ADHD that causes emotional meltdowns, and someone who has them isn’t inherently bad or a terrible person. That doesn’t mean that you have to endure your own meltdowns or that you have to accept tantrums directed at you (How to Handle ADHD and Anger in Adults).

Meltdowns involve out-of-control, intense emotions. They’re a force that seems unstoppable. While they can’t be stopped on a dime, you can manage these episodes even while they’re happening. Try these ADHD meltdown strategies:

  • Reset your emotions by taking a break. You may not know what’s rational to say or do, but you do know when you’ve lost control. Learn to remove yourself from the situation. Physically remove yourself, and do something unrelated to the situation or your anger. Engage in physical activity to release tensions and negative energy.
  • Breathe deeply. Taking deliberate slow, deep breaths will positively impact your brain and help calm you down. Do this during your break and during the argument itself.
  • Stick to facts. Often, all frustrations, thoughts, and events that happened come bursting forth during a meltdown. This fuels the fire and keeps you from getting at the real issue. With help from your partner, continually redirect the focus to the main issue. As you address it, you’ll feel better and the meltdown will cool off.

Prevent Tantrums with ADHD Meltdown Strategies

By consistently working on your own and with people in your life to develop ADHD meltdown strategies, you can reduce the power meltdowns have over you. Dodson & Tuckman (2016) identify three main components of emotional regulation that will help you prevent meltdowns:

Some specific strategies for preventing meltdowns include:

  • Noticing when you’re overwhelmed and approaching sensory overload by paying attention to your heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, and other responses like sweating
  • Take breaks when you need to; excuse yourself and step away
  • Identify your triggers so you can avoid them when possible or work to reduce their impact on you (enlisting the support of a therapist is very helpful here)
  • Schedule time to relax and unwind
  • Go easy on yourself and others rather than demanding perfection and being angry when nobody’s perfect
  • Carefully think about your daily routines and activities and identify when your tension mounts and what makes it escalate, and then concentrate your efforts on making some changes
  • Get a better night's sleep
  • Eat nutritiously
  • Exercise by doing active things that you enjoy
  • Use mindfulness training to help you acknowledge your strong emotions without impulsively acting on them (ADHD and Impulsivity: How Meditation Can Help)

Dealing with ADHD meltdowns in adults isn’t easy for anyone, but with patience and persistence, it can be done. Using strategies to deal with them in the moment as well as to prevent them will improve your quality of life.


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Last Updated: 01 November 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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