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E33. Emotional Regulation and Mindfulness of Emotions

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course, and today we're going to talk about the mindfulness of emotions. Now, I've already talked about mindfulness. I've already talked about emotional regulation (probably more than one time). This specific topic, how to be mindful of your emotions, comes up daily, even hourly, in coaching and the coaching that I do with individuals and groups.

I wanted to give some examples of what this looks like. I wanted to give examples of what it actually looks like, because this happens all the time where we hear, "Oh, people with ADHD struggle with emotional regulation." My question is always, "So what? So what do we do about this? How do we support ourselves?" People with ADHD might have difficulty with mindfulness. What do we do about it?

This, for me, is always the next question. How do we become more mindful of our emotions in order to help regulate them? How do we become more mindful in order to decrease impulsivity, or to act more intentionally in our lives? This last week, I offered a free group coaching call to the people on my mailing list. If you're not on my mailing list, hop over to and get on my mailing list.

I send out things like this. I send out free trainings, or offers for free coaching from time to time. Don't worry, I won't spam you. I'm honestly not consistent enough to spam you. If you want to take advantage of that, hop over there and get on that list. I offered that free group coaching call along with a mini training on emotional regulation.

That training was a very short training, and I didn't go super deep. I talked in that training about tools to support emotional regulation, and that we have these body based tools. These are things like sensory strategies. These are things like our breathing techniques. This is body level. You do it physically, and it impacts your emotional regulation. Then we have that mind level support, things like cognitive behavioral therapy, growth, mindset, thought tolerance, etc. This is that approach where you're looking at your thinking and how it impacts your emotions.

I don't ever start with the thinking piece of things. I start with a body piece of things, for a couple reasons. It's easier, and it's accessible to everyone. The thought stuff takes practice, and it takes longer for those kinds of interventions to impact your emotional regulation and your body level strategies.

You can use those out the gate with your thought type strategies. You need more practice, and you need some skill. They both impact emotional regulation. We started, of course, with body level approaches with this training. We also talked about mindfulness. Now you can see mindfulness as a body based strategy or a thought based strategy, but I see it as somewhere in between.

It's a really powerful place to start when you're looking at emotional regulation. One of the points that I made in that training, and that came up in this group coaching call, is that when you are super elevated emotionally, you're not available for thought level work. Let's suppose you had a near miss, and you almost got in a car accident.

Those moments right after that, your nervous system is sky high. You are not in a place where I can sit down next to you, chat with you, and tell you what's going on with my day. You're not in a place to connect with me, to remember, to focus, or to make decisions. You are too elevated. This came up in the group coaching call. People were saying, "Hey, I have worked with mindfulness, but in the moment when I'm really amped up, I can't use it."

That is exactly right. When you're practicing a skill, you really have to get to a certain level of mastery to use it in real time. That's true for anything, but especially with this mindfulness piece. You practice this on what I would call a lowercase emotion. You practice on the smaller emotions. I am annoyed. I'm frustrated. Even I'm excited.

Just noticing those emotions in your body, being mindful of those emotions and how those show up for you, eventually can influence a really much more elevated moment. However, this is not until that whole process is automatic. I wanted to give you an example of this group coaching call. These were two people I had never met before, but they both were willing to be coached on emotional regulation for the group and in front of the group.

They brought great things to the coaching session. The first person was just expressing that she felt so emotional, and overwhelmed with her emotion. She just hit this overwhelm. What could she do to start being more aware? Work with her emotional regulation. We talked about this mindfulness of emotions, which is basically the first step of noticing where a big emotion shows up in your body.

She said, "You know what, I just shut down. If I'm trying to notice where this is in my body, if I'm feeling angry, and I try to pay attention and notice that, I shut down. It's totally unavailable for me and I just go blank." Yeah, I really appreciate when someone's going to put that out there, especially in a group setting.

You're being asked to do something, and sometimes the impulse is to say, "Oh, I'm kind of doing it." She was just really real and vulnerable when she said, "I'm shutting down with this." This is perfectly legitimate and understandable, because a lot of times we're not in the practice of connecting with our emotions.

I want to take a second to clarify something really quickly. When we're talking about this whole process, we're looking at interoception, emotional regulation, and mindfulness. This context is in the realm of a coach.

This being said, if you are talking about trauma and trauma impacting your connection with your body experience, that is outside of the realm of coaching. You'd want to be working with not just any therapist, but a trauma informed therapist who has certain modality strategies to help support you with that. It's definitely outside of coaching realms, and I want to be really clear about that.

What we're doing here is not trauma therapy, we're talking about body level regulation strategies. Okay, moving on. Of course, she thought this was so strange that when she tried to tune in to her body's feelings, they just slipped out of her reach. It's not as uncommon as it sounds, especially with ADHD. With ADHD and with other neurodivergent peeps, sometimes we have an impact in interoception.

Interoception is our sense, our internal sense, of our body. These are things like hunger, thirst, heart rate, even pain, respiration, and any of these sensations that we're experiencing. This whole sensory system, this interoceptive system, is often impacted with ADHD, with autism, and with other neurodivergence. This is impacted, often, with our brain types. Getting the lowdown on what's going down in your body is not as simple as it may sound.

It takes practice. I think it takes practice for anyone, because I do think we tend to be very disconnected from our bodies. We have a very busy pace in modern life. We don't have a lot of moments when we're really tuned into the moment. This is not an easy skill for anyone. As we're talking and she was talking about some pain that she was experiencing, I suggested, "Well, maybe you can practice this with the pain. With just experiencing and noticing where this pain is showing up."

A little more concrete way to practice this mindfulness of emotion, is mindfulness of feeling. She was able to do that with the pain. She was able to describe where the pain was, and what kind of feeling it was. Was it throbbing or burning, was it steady? Was it intermittent, was it sharp, dull, strong, or weak? Whatever it was, she was able to really describe, feel, and be with the pain.

Now I know that sounds maybe silly to some people, that it doesn't really sound necessary, but when you look at what this person was experiencing, the whole reason we're doing this emotional regulation is to be able to ride out your emotions. We're doing this to be able to surf your emotions. When you're being told, "Hey, surf your emotions," that's totally foreign to you. You have no idea how to begin. This is the beginning. The beginning is noticing the emotion.

Once you notice it, then you start working on tolerating it, putting up with it, being with it, and not trying to jump off of it. The truth is, we want to jump off of things that are uncomfortable. In fact, that was the next person who did the coaching. She really felt like she was sabotaging herself.

She found herself agreeing to do things in the moment for co-workers or for friends that if she had more time, would not do. She didn't have the time to do it. She didn't have the resources. In that moment, she would agree to do these things. She was talking about that overwhelm that she experiences, and we backed up and looked at the moment where she was agreeing to do things. She goes, "It's kind of crazy, because right after I do that, right after I agree to that, even though it's not a good idea, I feel this little relief, this little shot of joy."

She said, "It's just so weird. It's like self sabotage." It's really not self sabotage that your brain is trying to keep you safe all the time. A part of that safety is community connection with other people. We may have a culture that really celebrates independence, but we are wired to connect as a safety, security, survival instinct. In a moment, where her brain is saying, "Oh, I don't know if I can do this. It's threatening. Let me figure out how to connect and be accepted here," her brain came up with a solution.

It wasn't a great solution, but her brain said, "Yes, I did it. I kept us safe. I did the thing. Yay." That little jolt of emotion, that feeling of relief (even though logically she probably should not be relieved because she's just over committed herself), is not her trying to sabotage herself.

We are wired for this. We are wired for that reward when we've avoided danger. We are trying to keep away from discomfort and keep safe. That's what our brain is doing all day long. We are more than just these instincts and our reactions. We want to be more intentional in our lives, but it's not so much that she wants to sabotage herself.

With her, when we were peeling this back and looking at, "how's that emotion showing up for you right before you agree to do this thing that you probably know you don't need to agree to do," that's where it's at. That is where it's at. That moment that you are feeling panic, you're feeling nervous, you're feeling unworthy, you're feeling insecure, whatever it is, is happening right before you agree to do this thing to jump off that feeling. All of those feelings are difficult to identify.

What we do is back up even more and we say, "Where is this showing up in my body?" My nervousness? Is that closing off my throat? Does my heart rate speed up? Does my face heat up? Do my hands get tingly? Do I feel shrunken up? Do I feel high energy? It's just backing up to the physical experience of this because we want to have more connection, more awareness, and more warning of what's next. What's next?

A lot of times with ADHD, and without ADHD, we find ourselves responding, reacting, and making choices. It's like we've just arrived there, or we've just been transported there. This awareness, this mindfulness of emotion, is the first step in stopping the teleporting. It is the first step in being more intentional. I am deciding to commit to this. I am deciding to offer this versus, this is uncomfortable, so I'm going to commit to get out of this uncomfortable feeling, and I'll deal with the rest later.

This brings us to the end of our episode on emotional regulation, and mindfulness of emotions. This is such an important tool. I know a lot of times when we think about ADHD coaching and even executive functioning skills coaching and that support, the first thing we think of is supporting us on how we manage time, how we plan, organize, and executive functioning skills.

What I've found in coaching and personally is that this emotional regulation piece absolutely is the undercurrent of so many other things. You can take something that just seems so practical, so cut and dry, and the emotional regulation piece can be this huge factor that's jamming us up.

Emotional regulation tools for that, tools for noticing your emotions, paying attention to them, and working with them is key to learning how to work with your brain and work with ADHD. Thank you so much for being here with me today.


Interested in learning more about my group coaching program, Embrace Your Brain? Considering 1:1 coaching or have other questions for me? Please feel free to contact me here.

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