Coping With Mood Swings in ADHD

woman frustrated at desk

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that affects approximately 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults. This condition affects the brain’s development and functioning.

ADHD is characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, which can make it hard for the person to sit still or focus. Additionally, people with ADHD may also experience mood swings.

“It’s quite common for people with ADHD to experience mood swings. The person’s energy levels, concentration, moods, and emotions may fluctuate often—sometimes multiple times in the same day,” says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of “Understanding Bipolar Disorder.”

According to a 2015 study, the mood swings associated with ADHD can be a significant contributor to impairment, making it difficult for the person to function. The mood swings, in addition to other symptoms of ADHD, can cause the person to experience difficulties with work, school, daily activities, and relationships.

This article explores the symptoms and causes of mood swings in ADHD, as well as some coping strategies that may be helpful.

Symptoms of Mood Swings in ADHD

These are some of the symptoms of ADHD-related mood swings:

  • Switching from excited one moment to sad, angry, or anxious the next
  • Fluctuating between having trouble paying attention and hyperfocusing on an activity
  • Having bursts of energy and fatigue through the day
  • Feeling emotions intensely and having difficulty regulating them
  • Getting distracted easily and leaving tasks incomplete
  • Feeling upset or angry often
  • Experiencing extreme restlessness and boredom
  • Being unable to sit still or wait their turn patiently without fidgeting or moving around
  • Interrupting others frequently but getting angry if interrupted
  • Being unaware of the impact of their words or actions in the moment, but regretting them later
  • Rushing through tasks and making careless mistakes, which can be frustrating and demotivating

Causes of Mood Swings in ADHD

Mood swings are a symptom of ADHD; however, they can also be an indicator that the person has another mental health condition. People with ADHD may also be prone to mood swings if they are frequently frustrated with their symptoms.

Below, Dr. Daramus explains some of the causes of ADHD-related mood swings.

Frustration

People with ADHD often find that their energy levels and ability to concentrate changes throughout the day. Even if they’re on medication, it can be difficult to match their high-energy and high-focus times to the times they need to be most productive. 

This can be upsetting and frustrating in the moment and cause mood swings. Over time, it can lead to a persistent sense of failure and a self-image as someone who messes things up or can’t meet their own expectations or anyone else’s.

Aimee Daramus, PsyD

ADHD can be a deeply frustrating disorder to live with.

— Aimee Daramus, PsyD

Mood Disorders

Depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are very common in people struggling with ADHD; people with ADHD are more likely to have these conditions than people who don’t have ADHD. These conditions can account for the person’s changes in mood.

Since these mental health conditions have some common symptoms with ADHD, it’s important to get a careful evaluation to determine whether or not the person has any of these conditions.

ADHD Symptoms

Even if the person doesn’t have a mood disorder, mood swings are a common symptom of ADHD. It’s possible for the person to alternate between feeling full of energy and depressed, as well as periods of limited attention span and intense hyperfocus.

Coping With Mood Swings in ADHD

Dr. Daramus suggests some coping strategies that may be helpful if you have ADHD and experience mood swings:

  • Seek treatment from a specialist: Therapy can be very helpful for mood swings. However, it’s important to note that mood swings don’t look the same in people with ADHD and should be treated by professionals with specific ADHD expertise. If you go to therapy, make sure your therapist is an expert in ADHD. Treatment may also involve medication, if needed.
  • Try mindfulness exercises: Mindfulness exercises can be very helpful, but you may need to tailor them to suit you. Some exercises that work for non-ADHD people, such as exercises that focus on stillness or concentrating on one thing, like breath, may not work for you. Try a movement-based meditation instead, or focus on something more mentally active like music instead of breath. If you're in high-energy mode, try easing yourself slowly into a meditation session with some kind of relaxing activity first.
  • Identify your triggers: Pay attention to your triggers so you have a better idea of what causes your mood swings. Maintaining a journal where you write them down can help you identify and track patterns in your moods.
  • Find your own ways of doing things: Get used to making up your own procedures or doing things on your own timeline. Decide thoughtfully if trying to do something just like everybody else does is important in any specific situation. Otherwise, find your own way of doing things with the aim of getting the results you need. This can help reduce some of your stress and frustration.
  • Reinterpret how you see your symptoms: Instead of thinking of your symptoms as failures, look at them as just symptoms or mere differences. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that having ADHD means you may experience mood swings from time to time.
  • Keep informative resources handy: Work on your boundaries so that when you want to, you can teach others to perceive your differences with less negativity. Find your favorite books, videos, and articles for educating people when you need to, because trying to educate others all the time can be exhausting and frustrating.
  • Curate your social media: Find a safe corner of social media to be with other people who understand you and what you need emotionally. Get comfortable with muting, blocking, and reporting the inevitable trolls.

A Word From Verywell

Mood swings are a symptom of ADHD, but they can also be an indication of another mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. Additionally, ADHD can be a difficult and frustrating condition to live with, resulting in mood swings.

If you or a loved one have ADHD and experience mood swings, it’s important to visit a qualified mental healthcare provider who has experience with ADHD. They can help identify the causes of the mood swings and provide treatment in the form of therapy, medication, and coping skills.

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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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