Stress & Anxiety

How to Keep Your Cool

When everyday hassles like traffic jams or long meetings inflate your ADHD stress levels, use these tips to stay calm and collected.

A young adult with ADHD holds a suitcase because she's moving back home
A young adult with ADHD holds a suitcase because she's moving back home

Everyone gets mad sometimes. But given our penchant for impatience and impulsivity, we adults with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) lose our cool more often than most.

Fortunately, I’ve found simple, yet effective, ways to stay calm in the face of everyday hassles, like traffic jams, boring meetings, rude salespeople, parking tickets, long waits for customer service, and so on.

My Lost Luggage

Not long ago, I flew home to Washington, D.C., after a long, exhausting trip. What a relief to be home again, I thought, as I eyed the baggage circulating on the conveyor belt. But relief turned to frustration, and then to anger, as I realized that, no matter how much I wanted my suitcase to materialize, it wasn’t going to. The airline had lost my luggage. Again. I was furious.

As I trudged to customer service, I did just what I tell my clients to do in such situations — I took several slow, deep breaths. I kept on deep-breathing (in through the nostrils and out through the mouth), and managed to be civil as the man behind the counter explained that my suitcase wouldn’t be delivered to my home until after midnight.

I was still fuming when I boarded the Metro train, although I was pleased with myself for not causing a scene at the airport. As I took my seat for the ride home, I thought about how my former client, Richard, would have handled the situation.

[Get This Free Handout: 9 Truths About ADHD and Tough Emotions]

Richard is doing well now, but he was a real hothead when he first came to see me. He lost his temper in all sorts of everyday situations, especially those over which he had little control.

Long meetings at work drove him crazy (long-winded boss). Ditto for rush-hour commutes (traffic), long family trips in the car (bickering kids), and discussions with his wife about money (different priorities). Once, while trying to assemble a storage cabinet, he got so frustrated (crummy instructions) that he threw the thing across the room.

Preempting Problems

Richard and I started our work together by identifying ways in which he could exercise at least some control in such situations. He realized that he was more likely to keep his cool on family trips if he got plenty of rest beforehand. Similarly, he found that having a snack before a meeting helped him stay calm, no matter how long his boss droned on. Robert also realized just how vital maintaining his sense of humor was to his well-being. He started collecting Dilbert cartoons, and even added sense of humor to his packing lists.

Richard found breathing exercises especially effective. He got into the habit of taking 10 slow, deep breaths before getting into his car, sitting down for meetings, and so on. The more he practiced this simple technique, the better it worked.

When I finally arrived home, I realized that the key to my apartment was in my still-missing suitcase. Now on the brink of tears, I took yet another deep breath and phoned maintenance, which isn’t known for its speedy service when tenants are locked out. With all the good cheer I could muster, I explained my plight, concluding with, “I’ll be the frazzled-looking lady half passed-out on the lobby sofa.”

The maintenance man laughed. “Hang in there, Sandy,” he said. “I’ll be right over.” And he was.

[Take This Test: Could You Have Emotional Hyperarousal?]

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