How to Avoid and Reduce Intense Negative Emotional Episodes

Next time you’re paralyzed by super-intense negative emotion, here’s all you have to do…

  1. Delay the time between stimulus (what freaked you out) and response (your emotion)
  2. Breathe in to the count of three; then out to the count of six.
  3. Replace irrational thoughts with rational ones.

I’m kidding. This advice is practically useless. Yet each of these came from very reputable sources.

The problem, as I discussed in a previous blog, is that when we’re in the throes of an intense emotional episode – whether debilitating shame, anger, frustration, or grief – that emotion displaces all other thinking – including the rational thinking that would help us dig out of the emotional hole!

You want me to “delay my emotional response”? While I’m having my emotional response?!

This is known as Emotional Dysregulation, which 70% of all ADHD adults say they struggle with. And for which useful solutions are hard to come by, based on my review of what’s out there.

Because most emotional dysfunction solutions are prescribed for when you’re in the middle of that dysfunction! When we can’t access the very solution that’s been prescribed!

For instance, while Brendon Burchard (right) offers some solid emotional dysregulation solutions, this isn’t one of them. And he’s not alone among well-respected people sharing unpractical ‘solutions.’

Hence the need for what I call ‘no-BS emotional dysregulation solutions.’

What Are No-BS Emotional Dysregulation Solutions?

To apply any solution to a problem, we must first recognize that we’re in that problem! Yet when we’re freaked out, we don’t really realize that we’re freaked out – cuz we’re too busy being freaked out.

As such, no-BS emotional dysregulation solutions don’t ask that we access our rational brain when we’re seeing red! They are to be found either before or upon realization of the episode. (The closest we can ever get to applying a solution “during” an episode of emotional dysregulation is once we realize we’re in it.)

Another aspect of a no-BS solution is that it’s truly actionable. So for each of the solutions on offer below, I provide a way to “Go No-BS” —  to do a brief mental exercise that will help make that solution a real thing in your life, rather than just another “solution” you read in a blog and soon forgot about…

No-BS Emotional Dysregulation Solutions: Before

Here are some proactive things you can do to dull the sharp edge of your emotional dysfunction. Incorporate some of these “before” habits into your life and your episodes will be fewer and farther between as well as less severe.

Know that Your ADHD Affects Your Emotions: Just being more aware of the fact that we ADHD adults are more vulnerable to intense emotions can help us catch ourselves when tipping toward an episode.

Go No-BS and Do This Now: Take a moment to simply acknowledge that your brain is wired a bit differently than the average Joe or Jane as relates to the neurochemistry of emotions – results in some negatives as well as some positives (true – a topic for another day).

Take Better Care of Yourself: One of my Group Coaching clients recently shared that he’d been paralyzed by rumination over the previous week. As we explored this, it quickly became clear that in that hectic week: he’d fallen off his exercise regimen, defaulted to some unhealthy food choices, and was late getting to bed most nights. Bingo!

We are more “reactive” when lacking sleep, when hungry or fueling our brain with crappy foods, and when too sedentary. I’ve written a lot about “Feeding Your ADHD Brain”, and here’s a past post with some basics.

I know ‘diet-sleep-exercise’ ain’t sexy – but these fundamentals of self-care are the absolute best ways to manage stress and our emotional wellness.

Go No-BS and Do This Now: Pause and take a moment to rate yourself from 1-10 on your diet, sleep and exercise regimens. If you’re at six or below on any, red-flag it and see if you can make one small change in the next few days to boost that rating.

Know Your Triggers: What are the most common situations that freak you out?  A particular thing your partner or child does that sets you off? A persistent negative thought that pops and gets you into a tizzy (e.g., politics, a strained relationship, etc.)?

Go No-BS and Do This Now: You probably have many triggers. Identify just one right now and set a ‘boundary rule’ around it, e.g., “When I catch myself thinking about [stress-inducing person or topic], I’ll remind myself that this is ‘off-limits’ when I’m trying to get stuff done.”

Get with the Gratitude: Research shows that a daily practice of identifying three things for which you’re grateful reduces stress and helps us see problems as opportunities. Such a ‘gratitude practice’ takes less than 60 seconds. I do it every day.

Go No-BS and Do This Now: Create a calendar reminder that pops up every morning at around the time you have your coffee/tea that says simply, “3 Gratitudes.” When it pops up, jot down ANY three things for which you’re grateful. Push yourself to think of three new ones every day, as repeating the same things is less effective.

The more you practice such “before” solutions, not only will your episodes be less frequent and less deep, but your ability to recognize when you’re in one will be enhanced, giving you a better shot at employing the following “upon realization” strategies…

No-BS Emotional Dysregulation Solutions: Upon Realization

Again, “during” solutions ain’t likely to happen. So we must look to the moment you realize we’re in the episode…

Listen to Your Body: When negative thoughts turn into strong emotions, we feel something change in our body (i.e., our neurochemistry). ‘Listening’ for those changes is a powerful form of self-awareness.

Go No-BS and Do This Now: Think about where in your body you feel emotional tension. For me, it’s in the shoulders/neck and my gut. So when I feel either of those ‘lighting up,’ I can pause and ask, “OK, what’s freaking me out?” – and nip the episode in the bud.

“Emotion is your body’s reaction to your mind.” – Eckhart Tolle

Get Outta the Situation: When I catch myself engulfed in a bunch of emotion-driven rumination, I go out and weed the garden for a few minutes. Or walk around the block. Or go beat up my punching bag. Physically removing yourself cuts off the negative train of thought.

Go No-BS and Do This Now: Jot down on a sticky a few “healthy escapes” (i.e., NOT your phone or YouTube or the TV) you can go to when you catch yourself in a bout of dysreg. Stick that sticky in your workspace.

Express Yourself: I had the honor of sharing the TEDx stage with Dr. Edith Eger, a psychologist and Holocaust survivor who, in an interview with Oprah said, ““There is no grieving without feeling,”

One of the ways I coach my clients on worry and rumination is to write out your feelings and then “just be with them” for a spell.  The same advice applies to when you catch yourself in an intense emotional moment, allowing us to look more objectively at and process our emotions.

Go No-BS and Do This Now: Think about an especially emotionally charged topic and take a coupla minutes to: write out your sadness; talk aloud to yourself about your worries; and/or list your frustrations with that something or someone.

“The opposite of depression is expression.” – Edith Eger 

My offering of solutions here doesn’t mean I view any of this as easy. This stuff is among the most wrenching, debilitating, and frustrating things about our uniquely wired brains.

But please highlight just one or two of these no-BS emotional dysregulation solutions and try to put them into practice soon.

Keeping in mind that…Whatever’s in your way…is yours to crush!



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