Have you ever wondered why you feel emotions more intensely than other people, or why you get frustrated so easily? The reasons may be linked to neurodivergence. As it turns out, there’s a strong connection between ADHD and moodiness.
As a therapist for millennials with ADHD and anxiety, I hear my clients talk about their struggles with anger, irritability, sadness, and other strong emotions. What they don’t often realize is that ADHD can make managing and coping with these emotions particularly difficult. Here are some of the signs, symptoms, and causes of ADHD mood swings – and how you can cope.
Emotional fluctuations are common in people with ADHD. Recent data suggests that ADHD mood swings can often be traced back to childhood.
Think back: when you were a kid, did you have emotional outbursts? Were your parents frequently at a loss for what to do with your big feelings? Did you feel angry a lot? Were you generally confused by and even afraid of the intensity of your emotions? For most adults with ADHD, moodiness is simply a fact of life – and has been for as long as they can remember.
Unfortunately, the mood swings associated with ADHD can contribute to overall impairment and difficulty functioning. The mood swings can cause or exacerbate anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and struggles with work, school, or daily tasks.
There are a lot of potential reasons for the link between ADHD and moodiness. ADHD itself can cause moodiness, both because of differences in brain chemistry and the behaviors that arise from those differences. There are other reasons, too: things like medication side effects and comorbid mental health issues can play a big role in moodiness and ADHD.
Here are some signs and symptoms of mood swings in ADHD.
What causes ADHD mood swings? Reasons can range from coexisting trauma, medication side effects, and impulsivity. Here are five things that can cause moodiness with ADHD.
ADHD moodiness can stem from emotional dysregulation, which is defined as inappropriate or dysregulated expression of emotions. This means you struggle to adapt your behavior to the situation you’re in. You might get easily overwhelmed, have emotional outbursts at small things, and feel out of control with your emotions.
While emotional dysregulation isn’t specific to people with ADHD and can happen to anyone, ADHD is commonly associated with the inability to properly regulate and cope with emotions.
Impulsivity is a behavior associated with emotional dysregulation and ADHD. Impulsivity is reacting quickly to something without reflection. An outburst can feel less like a choice and more of an automatic response. When you feel overwhelmed or out of control, you might impulsively lash out in anger or fear. However, this can lead to feeling regretful, guilty, or ashamed of your behaviors, which often makes moodiness worse.
Frustration around your own ADHD symptoms can cause shame, anger, and increased moodiness. For example, maybe your ADHD causes you to interrupt others frequently, even though you try not to. As a result, your friends get easily annoyed at you, and you’re left wondering, “What is wrong with me? Why do I always do that?”
Maybe your room is a mess and you just can’t ever get yourself to be organized. Maybe you’ve tried to create healthy habits but they just feel too hard to maintain. It’s easy to get down on yourself when you look at your messy kitchen for the 100th time, or sit down to work and can’t seem to focus. All of these behaviors are common in people with ADHD, but it still feels demoralizing and defeating to be trapped in a cycle of behavior that undermines your ability to feel like a functional adult. Mood swings often get worse when your ADHD symptoms feel out of control and frustrating.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell whether moodiness is being caused by ADHD or something else. People with ADHD often experience comorbidities like anxiety and depression, which may also be contributing to mood swings or emotional challenges. Both ADHD and anxiety, for example, are associated with irritability.
ADHD and bipolar II symptoms can also present very similarly. Bipolar disorder is associated with extreme mood swings, irritability, and drastic changes in energy levels. These symptoms in bipolar typically present episodically, whereas ADHD symptoms are more situational.
Because it’s so common to experience overlapping mental health conditions with ADHD, it can be helpful to get a careful evaluation with a trusted provider to determine possible comorbidities.
Certain stimulants may cause excessive irritability, anger, or agitation. This may be a sign the medication is not for you. Additionally, some medications wear off as the day passes, and you may find yourself moodier than usual as the stimulant leaves your system.
If you’re struggling with anger, sadness, frustration, or irritability with ADHD, you’re not alone. And there’s nothing wrong with you. Moodiness is a common component of ADHD, but that doesn’t mean it has to run your life. Behavioral changes, medication, and therapy can help you cope with the impacts of ADHD and regain control of your moods and health.
I’m here to support you in managing your ADHD moodiness. Together, we’ll help you figure out potential reasons for your moodiness, change behaviors that aren’t serving you, and gain coping skills for better emotional regulation.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.