HELP: How to Stop ADHD Meltdowns??

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    • #91995

      Dear Community,

      One of the most embarrassing and frustrating aspects of being ADHD is the occasional, child-like, infantile melt-downs that I experience from time to time. For me, they are almost always triggered by doing something wrong, making a careless mistake, lacking foresight, or just not living up to a simple expectation. Being criticized can push my over the edge, especially in the safe space of home. These episodes can turn a perfectly lovely evening into one of me pouting, screaming, mostly at myself (but too often in the direction of my wife), and in extreme cases involve hitting myself, kicking the side of buildings, or just generally acting like a 5 year old who didn’t get his ice cream. To be clear, I never lash out physically at others, though I do end up yelling at my wife for criticizing me, when in reality, I’m just angry at myself and taking it out on her defensively.

      The most infuriating things about these episodes it that, while they’re happening, it’s almost as if I am trapped inside of my body, watching myself implode, feeling ashamed. I can hear my inner self saying “stop it! It’s not worth it!” but my impulsive anger at myself (and it is ALWAYS at myself, never at anyone else) keeps the temper tantrum moving until it has run its course or I forcibly sequester myself from the situation and take time to calm down. I know that breathing and removing oneself are crucial, as is not being so darn hard on myself at all times, but these episodes come on SO quickly, it’s hard to catch and be mindful about. My questions are:

      1) Does anyone else experience these things?

      2) What are your triggers?

      3) How do you keep yourself from blowing up, even if triggered?

      Any help or advice would be GREATLY appreciated. I’m so tired of feeling like a child and ruining nights with my wife. I want to be able to handle my frustration like the adult I claim to be.

      Thank you!


    • #92021

      Hi there – I am the mother of a 17 year old son who has Severe ADHD, Anxiety, Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger’s – although he is very high functioning.

      Your description of your meltdowns is so similar to those of my 17 year old son. When he was younger I was able to see signs from his body language and behaviour that he was building towards a meltdown. However, in the last 2 years or so it has become increasingly more difficult to see these signs until the meltdown is imminent.

      His triggers tend to be too much activity going on around him (ie: lights, noise, our dogs barking, his little brother playing, me yelling, etc). Sometimes if the temp is quite warm this creates an issue for him. Also, his anxiety can cause a meltdown. If he feels stressed about schoolwork, deadlines, too much pressure this is also a trigger.

      If we can catch him before he blows we generally tell him to go into a dark, quiet room away from everything (all distractions). We suggest he practice deep breathing and try to stay there for at least 10 minutes.

      If he has already blown it is very difficult to manage him. We let him express his outward angry behaviour but generally I (his mom) and his little brother will go into another room or go outside. He is usually not capable of any rational thought at this point so it is easier for us to leave the room. Once he has had time to calm down, then we try to have a calm rational discussion about what happened. Sometimes he is not aware of what triggered the meltdown – he needs time to think about it. Sometimes he thinks he has calmed down enough but when we start to analyze it riles him up again. He may need to go back to a quiet space 2, 3 or more times until he has actually calmed down enough for rational thought and behaviour.

      In my opinion, along with ADHD goes a level of frustration with a somewhat low threshold – I find it doesn’t take alot to make my son easily frustrated. This might be one of your triggers too.

      I’m not sure if this information will help you but at least you will know that you are not alone. Try to remember that ALL of us have days with “blips” – even those of us without ADHD. Your blips are just more noticeable.

      You might want to look into some books about anger management as they might have helpful suggestions. I have recently started reading books “Scattered Minds” – they have various selections for teens, adults, etc.

      Good luck and tell your wife to hang in there. Along with the chaos of your ADHD are some AMAZING traits – I wouldn’t change these in my son for anything!!!!

    • #92056

      HI my name is Angela I have a 7 year old son who has adhd-autism ocd odd and absent seizures I need help I have 7 children he is the youngest and it seems my other children are so tired of him he is getting worst now he’s swearing like out of control he will now push me around or try hit me or throw things at me I try everything time outs holding him tell him he strong enough to control his anger and we hug but that not working no more I think bc he older now … I just really need help my bf won’t even try to help me or want to understand some things I’m in a mess I’m more stressing out … I really need help ..

    • #92087


      I’m wondering since your child has a diagnosis of Autism has he ever had ABA therapy. If not ask your child’s provider , case manager or social worker. Easter Seals provides this to children but they need to be referred. I do not know you state or county area, but also many communitys offer therapy and counseling, some even come to your home, to help. Search under free in home therapy in my community, or again speaking with a social worker may help. I sincerely feel for you. I am a mother of 6 children, mostly grown now, but know first hand how these disorders can impact not only the child but the family. I also work in pediatrics with this particular population of children. Keep in mind, he may want to control himself, but some of this may be out of his reach at the moment.

      Hope this help in some way. Take care.

    • #92156

      Hi. I experience the same meltdowns, as you call them. Context: I am a 34yo woman with ADHD (combined).

      I recognize everything you write, from the feeling of being trapped in yourself to this huge anger towards your own person, even kicking buildings or hurting yourself. It’s a horrible feeling and does nothing more than making things worse, right?

      I can only speak for myself, but since our issues overlap maybe it’s of some value, I don’t know. I think in my case the root of this problem lays in the fact that as a child I used to make lots of ‘typical’ ADHD ‘mistakes’. But instead of being diagnosed and treated, everybody just got angry at me. My parents for loosing my things or making a mess, teachers for my forgetfulness or inattention (‘you can do better!’), peers bullied me for over ten years because of my ‘weirdness’. I basically was taught that everything I did, from the way I interacted with people to the way I moved, was wrong.

      At a certain point I made a decision that both saved and wrecked me: I decided – and I remember the moment I decided, I had switched schools so I had ‘a new change’ etc. – that I would do ANYTHING not to be the weirdo people saw in me. In which I didn’t succeed fully of course but I managed to make friends, to set some goals, to direct my over-the-top-energy into sport and creativity. If I got angry, at myself or other people, I just fled. Into smoking cigarettes, 9 hour bike rides, sometimes self harm. It ment a lot of suppressing, and also not learning how to deal with emotions like this. It resulted in the meltdowns you describe, though I’ve known them from since I was little.

      I still experience them. But also recently have learned what has caused them. And this panic (because that’s wat it feels like, horrible panic) has a lot to do with self esteem, with being sure you are doing things or emotions wrong. So I know (believe me…) this is easier said than done but find a way to work on that self esteem, and also a way to learn that it’s okay to feel frustrated: just to let the frustration be, without spiraling (‘i did/feel something bad’ > ‘i am ashamed’ > ‘i do everything wrong’ > ‘anger’ > ‘angry for being angry’ > ‘ashamed of being angry’ > ‘PANIC’ etc…).

      So try a coach, or mindfulness or therapy. And talk about it with your wife. Not only by trying to explain yourself, but also by trying to find (part of) a solution together. It means being vulnerable and asking for help, it means some adaptation from both of you. Ask yourself what would help both of you when you notice going into a meltdown, or when she notices? Being held? Or having the space to leave the house for an hour or so, as a ‘cooling down’, without it being read as an act of aggression? Making a list together? A cold shower? (for me it’s leaving the house or lay under a blanket for a while: my partner was very hurt for me leaving sometimes, but after multiple conversations he now understands that it’s for the best, that I prevent myself from exploding that way, and that when I got back, I was able to explain myself instead of just crying and wanting to throw stuff, hehe).

      It seems so simple right, not getting angry at yourself for feeling angry, but it sure isn’t. You need (professional) help, and it will take some time…

      I’m very happy a psychologist is helping me, though for the next few months I’m on a waiting list for a therapist who is specialized in AD(H)D because the issues sprout from the ADHD-mind I guess.

      (you also asked for triggers: in my case it’s when I loose something important such as keys, wallet, official documents, or when I feel I am being misread by others, when I’m overwhelmed and am unable to function as a ‘normal person’ at home and I feel guilty for letting my partner (who doesn’t mind AT ALL) do more chores in the household, and especially when things happen that remind me of being ‘the weirdo’ – if I’m having a bit of a ‘shaky’ day I won’t go to the gym for example because I’m afraid people will judge me, see mee. Also I live in quite a ‘rough’ neighborhood and remarks about my appearance are not unusual, on bad days they can trigger everything, even if the remarks are ‘positive’).

      Take care. You are certainly not the only adult feeling like a 5yo with an anger fit sometimes.

    • #92177

      I am a 38 year old woman, and my melt downs express differently, but I don’t have a lot of control (or any at all) when they hit me. If get overwhelmed or am criticized, sometimes, just in jest, my best case scenario is to go completely still, even physically numb. I curl into myself, and get very stony.

      If I am not so fortunate, I cry, and try to explain, and justify. I get quite like a frightened child. I flinch at noises and sudden movements, and my friends who don’t understand what is happening will often exacerbate the whole thing by telling me not to be so sensitive, and even belittling my tears or attempts to explain. This sort of situation can set me off of an even keel for days. I fear I haven’t any advice, but wanted to say you are not alone.

    • #92239
      Penny Williams

      The emotional part of your brain is hijacking the frontal lobe and the cognitive function. You’re right, you can’t really stop it in the throes of it, but have to wait for your brain to recover.

      It’s an amygdala hijack:

      What Emotional Type Are You?

      Relates to flight or fright, but is essentially a freeze.

      I think knowing what’s happening and learning to recognize when it’s coming can help you to step away from situations before they get that intense… sometimes.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #92249

      I have a similar issue but they are usually exhibited in crying and fear, like an anxiety attack. And I generally know it’s not a huge deal but it’s so hard not to picture getting in trouble and being yelled at and just crumbling under that. I think mindfulness is a good tool for me. Stopping, backing up, and looking at the situation helps. I use a cognitive behavioral therapy app sometimes called Pacifica that helps me look at the problem. Today I pulled out my notebook that I always keep in my bag and wrote out what I was feeling and why, then wrote what I can do about it. This is something I’ve been able to do better after therapy, lots of reflection, and being in a job that has a lot of supportive people in it.
      Criticism and the fear of getting in trouble or being yelled at are definitely the biggest triggers, as are someone getting mad at me or pointing out that I’ve hurt them unintentionally.

      I think it may help during a calm time to tell your wife you’re having trouble managing your temper and need her help at first. THEN construct a plan. Maybe it’s a code word, or a sidestep strategy, or checking in with you. Maybe it’s a calm touch checking in before things go downhill or finding another way to communicate criticism. A couple’s therapist can also help with this!

      Best of luck to you and good for you for asking for help. You can do this.

    • #104934

      I can relate to this and it hurts.
      I’m in high school and it is hard for me because I hate judgment. Like any kind, even if it can help me. I feel like I’ve messed up.
      recently I had two friends I really cared about and they started dating. While they were dating, one started to act like the other (she was generally nice) but she would say jokes like “Shut up” and stuff, but not in a joking way and it really hurt. So eventually the other one broke up with her saying “I need space” (Which we gave her but anyways) and she was doing all these things that made me mad, upset and I resorted to self-harm for a bit and it sucks, a lot. But eventually, she said that she felt “unloved and unsupported” even though all of us have bent over backward for her. This sent me over the edge. I blew up at her, I said somethings I regret, but I told her what she needed to hear.
      Whenever I feel like I’m going to blow up, I just put in my other earbud (I generally listen to music constantly because it helps me focus and I have better conversations when I do) and write out my emotions.
      I wish I knew more but I’m still struggling
      Good luck!

    • #106160

      I experience them in a different way, but experience them!

      I’m extremely triggered by any failure in the professional sector of my life.

      The way I blow up is feel acutely overwhelmed with shame and I suddenly completely shut down from everybody. I don’t yell, but I feel everything just sludge itself to a stop. I punch myself in the face or neck when nobody’s looking. I cuss myself out. It gets hard to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

      What I do to fix that is go for a walk, then think of a task I know I can succeed at. Then I do that task. Then I use that momentum to get “on a role” if I can. And if I can get on a roll, it’s easier not to dwell on whatever just happened because I’m doing the next right thing.

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