Impulsive behavior and ADHD go hand in hand. Though ADHD is not the only mental health barrier and/or diagnosis that comes with the experience of impulsive behavior, in this post we will focus primarily on the impulsive behavior commonly associated with ADHD.
ADHD is a mental health condition that thrives on lacking specific executive functioning skills. This does not mean that a person with ADHD does not have the capacity for executive functioning skills, this means that a person who identifies with said diagnosis has to work harder on reining in and building those skills. That also does not mean that people with ADHD have a deficit in every single executive functioning skill, oftentimes there are only a couple of items that may be more difficult. Executive functioning can be anything from planning/time management (e.g., time does not exist); working memory (e.g., wait, what did they just say), motivation; attention (e.g., on items that are not interesting to the person, think: hyperfocusing), flexibility (e.g.,you said we were going to that restaurant at 6PM; not the one in the other neighborhood at 7PM.); and self-control.
Self-control can be self-monitoring or to be able to reflect on past mistakes in addition to self-regulation. Self regulation can be difficult especially when we become heightened and/or strong emotions are elicited. Self-regulation often presents as impulsivity. Impulsivity is making a decision without really thinking about the outcome. For instance, decisions of impulsivity can be making a purchase without having the funds (hello dopamine) or ordering a 3 course meal when you just had dinner (see: ADHD and binging). Impulsivity can impact our relationships with others. Impulsivity can mean ending a relationship or saying hurtful things when in the moment of heightened emotions, that a person may later regret. Impulsivity can also lead to more painful behaviors toward the self or onto others.
To reduce impulsivity, of course first and foremost is to make sure you are taking care of yourself, this means getting enough sleep, drinking water, eating vegetables, moving your body, connection, and getting outside. This also means to limit alcohol, limit sugar, and limit caffeine intake. Sometimes, easier said than done.
Additionally, if able, getting a therapist is helpful. Together a therapist and you can work on mindfulness, sitting with uncomfortable feelings without feeling a need to immediately act, and even radical acceptance. Some of this is easier said than done, it takes effort and work and healing is not linear. When we do what we can to live a healthier lifestyle our behaviors will start to catch up, too.
PS – ADHD also comes with positives and experiences that can be beneficial for overall life.
To learn more about ADHD and emotions, check out: Emotions & Shame
About Jessica Zaehringer, LCSW
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