Have you ever had to deal with a faulty light switch?  One moment, you can see clearly. The next, the lights go out, and you’re stuck trying to find your way around in the dark. Life with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might be a similar experience. One moment, you’ve got your symptoms under control. And the next, you’re navigating scattered thoughts and intense emotions that feel out of control. In this fast-paced world, it’s crucial to pause and reflect on which triggers can flip the switch and aggravate your ADHD symptoms – whether that’s stress, poor sleep, or a cluttered workspace. Once you’ve pinpointed your personal ADHD triggers, you can develop strategies to minimize or avoid them. This enables you to function your best in everyday life.

Identifying and Managing Your ADHD Triggers

Let’s explore some common triggers that can worsen the symptoms or responses of a person with adult ADHD and how to overcome or limit them.

Recognizing Emotional Triggers

Scientists have found a strong connection between ADHD and emotions. People with ADHD are much more likely to experience emotional dysregulation than those without the disorder. This means that ADHDers often have trouble controlling their feelings and how they act upon them.[1]  Acknowledging this struggle is the first step to take. Then, you can look into the possible triggers for these intense emotions. You might notice specific situations or interactions that cause you to react – or that minor issues tend to accumulate over time. Some emotional triggers to look out for include relationship conflicts, criticism, rejection, or personal failure. Everyday struggles like misplacing your belongings or forgetting an appointment can also trigger anger, disappointment, or frustration. The following strategies may help you cope with these ADHD triggers:

Lastly, getting medications or ADHD therapy is also an effective way to combat the effects of ADHD triggers on your thoughts and emotional responses. Plus, a professional can help you assess if you’re using unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol, as a crutch for handling negative emotions.

cluttered office

Managing Environmental Triggers

Your environment is either friend or foe. If your surroundings are constantly filled with distractions – focusing and staying motivated will be even more challenging. Try to find out what environment-related triggers worsen your ADHD. Some examples include:

Once you’ve zeroed in on your triggers, you can create strategies to minimize them. Here are some examples of what you can do:

Try one or two of the above tips to see if they work for you. You’ll need to experiment to see what helps you block out distractions best.

frustrated office worker

Coping with Academic or Work-Related Triggers

ADHD can make it harder to focus, meet deadlines, and remember important information.[2]This can affect your performance at work or school. Certain ADHD triggers may worsen these symptoms and further affect your ability to function. Examples of them include:

These tips may help you tackle the above triggers and reduce their impact on your functioning at work or school:

angry business person

Social Triggers and Interpersonal Relationships

Research shows that people with ADHD have more difficulty maintaining social relationships.[5] This can lead to conflicts, criticism, feelings of isolation, or loneliness, which may increase stress levels and aggravate symptoms of ADHD. The following are some strategies that can help you handle these social triggers:

You may also wish to seek relationship, marriage, or family counseling with a trained professional like a psychologist or ADHD coach. Proper treatment for your ADHD symptoms can also help you better manage your friendships and relationships.

Understanding ADHD Meltdowns

An ADHD meltdown happens when emotions build up to an intense level, causing the person to lose control over their feelings and actions. This can lead to outbursts, screaming, extreme frustration, or even withdrawal. Living with ADHD can be overwhelming. When stress and frustration accumulate, a meltdown may happen. The following tips may help you prevent or handle an ADHD meltdown:

With practice and self-compassion, you can learn how to better process and manage your emotions. You might also find the techniques in the following section useful.

man listening to music and meditating

ADHD Triggers Management Techniques

Incorporating stress management techniques into your daily routine can help reduce its impact on your emotions and actions. Here are some techniques you might find helpful in managing ADHD triggers:

Let go of perfectionism as you learn these techniques. Dedicating just 5-10 minutes each day can help you ingrain any of these practices into your lifestyle.

Figuring Out Your ADHD Triggers Takes Time and Patience

Since ADHD affects each person differently, what worsens another person’s symptoms might not have much impact on yours, and vice versa. Take a mental inventory of the different situations you encounter in life and how they affect you. Then, write your triggers down along with practical steps you can take to manage them. With these targeted strategies, you’ll regain control over your symptoms, enabling you to perform your best and accomplish what you put your mind to. You don’t have to figure out life with ADHD alone. ADDA+ is a resource hub that offers plenty of expert-backed information, courses, and webinars to equip you for daily life.

References

[1] Beheshti, A., Chavanon, M. L., & Christiansen, H. (2020). Emotion dysregulation in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a meta-analysis. BMC psychiatry, 20(1), 120. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-020-2442-7

[2] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. DSM-5 Changes: Implications for Child Serious Emotional Disturbance [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2016 Jun. Table 7, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Comparison. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519712/table/ch3.t3/

[3] Stickley, A., Shirama, A., Inagawa, T., Ruchkin, V., Koposov, R., Isaksson, J., Inoue, Y., & Sumiyoshi, T. (2022). Attention–deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms, perceived stress, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.1008290

[4] Surman, C. B. H., & Walsh, D. M. (2021). Managing Sleep in Adults with ADHD: From Science to Pragmatic Approaches. Brain sciences, 11(10), 1361. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11101361

[5] Moyá, J., Stringaris, A. K., Asherson, P., Sandberg, S., & Taylor, E. (2014). The impact of persisting hyperactivity on social relationships: a community-based, controlled 20-year follow-up study. Journal of Attention Disorders, 18(1), 52–60. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054712436876

[6] Modesto-Lowe, V., Farahmand, P., Chaplin, M., & Sarro, L. (2015). Does mindfulness meditation improve attention in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? World journal of psychiatry, 5(4), 397–403. https://doi.org/10.5498/wjp.v5.i4.397

[7] Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 874. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

Navigating ADHD Triggers: Best Ways to Gain Control Over Your Mind & Emotions - ADDA - Attention Deficit Disorder Association
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