How To Improve Emotional Regulation For Autistic & ADHD Adults

Restful Life
5 min read

Do you feel like your emotions overwhelm you daily?

As an autistic or ADHD adult, navigating the world can be a rollercoaster of feelings. Sensory overload, social interactions, and unexpected changes can trigger intense emotions.

Whether you struggle with meltdowns, anxiety, or overwhelm, this post is for you.

We’ll explore emotional regulation, a set of skills that:

  • empower you to understand your emotions,
  • respond constructively, and
  • stay calm even when things get tough.

Remember, emotional regulation is a skill. It doesn’t mean you’ll never have a bad feeling ever again.

But with practice and the right tools? You can build greater emotional resilience and live a calmer, deeper life.

Why Autistic and ADHD Adults Find Emotional Regulation Hard

Emotional regulation is the ability to manage your emotions effectively. And it can be particularly challenging for autistic & ADHD adults.

This isn’t due to a lack of intelligence or desire for control. It is because of underlying neurobiological differences.

This distinction is crucial. Because it means that struggles with emotional regulation are not your fault.

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Here are some common struggles that can lead to emotional dysregulation:

Sensory Overload:

Imagine being in a crowded room with blaring music, flickering lights, and strong odours. For people with sensory sensitivities, this bombardment can be overwhelming. You may struggle to filter out irrelevant sensory details. Which can cause you to feel overstimulated and emotionally dysregulated.

Reduced Bodily Awareness:

Interoception refers to your ability to sense internal bodily signals. Like hunger, thirst, fatigue, and physical discomfort. You may have difficulty noticing these subtle cues, leading to a disconnect from your physical needs. This can contribute to emotional dysregulation. Because unmet physical needs can easily trigger frustration, anxiety, or anger.

Misinterpreting Bodily Signals:

Even if you notice internal sensations, you might misinterpret them. For instance, feeling restless might be misinterpreted as anxiety. So you might try to “calm down” when you actually need to move around and release energy.


Some autistic people experience alexithymia - difficulty identifying and describing emotions. This can make it hard to understand your internal state and communicate your needs. In turn, this confusion can lead to social isolation and emotional dysregulation.

Rejection Sensitivity:

Both ADHD and autism can heighten sensitivity to perceived rejection. A seemingly neutral comment can be misinterpreted as criticism. Which could create intense feelings of hurt, anger, or social withdrawal. This emotional volatility can make navigating social interactions and building healthy relationships difficult.

Prefrontal Cortex Differences:

Self-control is closely linked to executive functions. These are a set of mental processes governed by the brain’s prefrontal cortex. These functions include planning, impulse control, working memory and emotional regulation. Research suggests that the prefrontal cortex may function differently in ADHD brains.

Needing Predictable Routines:

Many autistic people value consistency and predictability. This is because processing change takes a great deal of mental and emotional energy. Which can make navigating change distressing when things don’t go as planned.

Emotional Intensity:

Both ADHD and autism can amplify the intensity of emotions. A minor inconvenience can quickly spiral into overwhelming frustration. On the flip side, joy can be intense. This emotional volatility can make maintaining a sense of calm and balance challenging.


Since self-control is a key component of emotional regulation, ADHD can make it difficult to manage emotions effectively. You may struggle to resist impulsive reactions and dysregulation.

Understanding the neurogenetic basis of regulation challenges doesn’t mean there’s no hope.

By acknowledging how your neurodivergence impacts your emotional landscape? You can learn emotional regulation skills with greater ease and self-compassion.

Why Traditional Emotional Regulation Strategies Don’t Work For Autistic & ADHD Adults

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Many emotional regulation strategies rely on being attuned to internal signals.

For example, mindfulness exercises often focus on your breath or bodily sensations. But if you struggle with interoceptive awareness, it can be hard to use these techniques.

Addressing interoceptive difficulties can become a powerful tool for emotional regulation. Especially for autistic or ADHD adults.

By increasing interoceptive awareness, you can improve your ability to:

  • Identify physical triggers
  • Meet your physical needs
  • Develop self-soothing techniques

Why Increasing Interoceptive Awareness Is Key For Better Emotional Regulation

For autistic & ADHD adults, emotional regulation can feel like navigating a storm without a compass.

Often, the internal cues that signal emotional shifts are faint or misinterpreted.

This is where interoceptive awareness comes in. It’s the ability to sense your internal bodily signals. Like hunger, thirst, fatigue, and physical discomfort.

By honing this awareness, you gain valuable insight into how to regulate yourself.

Here’s why increased interoception awareness helps with emotional regulation in ADHD and autism:

  • Identifying Triggers: Many emotions have distinct physical precursors. Increased heart rate and rising tension may seem like anxiety but your body might be just overheating. You can recognise triggers before they escalate by attuning to these internal cues.
  • Meeting Your Needs: Emotions can easily spiral when you’re unaware of your physical state. For example, unidentified hunger might be misinterpreted as anger. But you can interrupt this cycle and address the root cause (eg eating a snack) before emotions escalate.
  • Self-Soothing Techniques: Once you identify these internal shifts, you can use self-soothing techniques based on your physical needs. Simply changing clothes, eating or resting could be all that’s required to calm your emotions.

By developing interoceptive awareness, you move beyond simply reacting to sensations. You begin to gain the power to manage them proactively.

This newfound self-awareness empowers you to create a calmer, more mindful inner world. Which in turn can pave the way for improved emotional regulation in your daily life.

How To Improve Emotional Regulation if You’re An Autistic/ADHD Adult

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1. Prioritise Your Physical Well-being

Almost no one can regulate themselves well when their physical needs aren’t met. For adults with ADHD or autism, this connection can be even more pronounced.

When you’re tired, hungry, or overwhelmed by sensory input, regulating emotions can become an uphill battle.

The good news is that taking care of your physical health can significantly increase your emotional resilience. Here’s how:

  • Catch Those Zzz’s: Consistent sleep schedules and good sleep hygiene are crucial. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Try listening to meditones before sleep to quiet a racing mind. Or create a restful sleep routine to wind down before bed.
  • Move Your Body: Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever and mood booster. However, traditional exercise routines might not be appealing to neurodivergents. Explore activities you enjoy, like dancing, swimming, or fidget toys that provide movement release.
  • Fuel Your Body Wisely: While a balanced diet is helpful, you might have allergies or food sensitivities that contribute to emotional dysregulation. Consider keeping a food journal to identify any triggers.

2. Sensory Management Techniques:

Sensory overload is a common trigger for emotional dysregulation in both ADHD and autism. Understanding your sensory sensitivities can help you create a calmer environment.

  • Identify Your Triggers: Pay attention to what sights, sounds, smells, touches, or tastes cause you distress.
  • Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment: Modify your environment to minimise sensory triggers. This might include noise-cancelling headphones, diffusing calming scents, or dimming lights.
  • Practice Calming Techniques: Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and listening to meditones can help calm sensory overload.

3. Journaling and Emotional Expression:

Healthily expressing your emotions can be a powerful tool for emotional regulation:

  • Expressive Writing: Journaling your thoughts and feelings can be a cathartic way to process difficult emotions and gain perspective.
  • Creative Outlets: Explore creative activities like painting, drawing, music, or dance to express your emotions.
  • Talk it Out: Talking to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist can provide an outlet for your emotions.

4. Building a Support System:

Social support can be a powerful buffer against emotional distress:

  • Connect with Others: Surround yourself with understanding people who accept you for who you are.
  • Join Support Groups: Connecting with others who share your experiences can validate you and offer a sense of belonging. There are online and in-person support groups available for both ADHD and autism.
  • Seek Professional Help: Consider therapy with a mental health professional specialising in neurodivergence. Therapy can equip you with evidence-based strategies for managing emotional dysregulation.

5. Technology and Apps:

There are a variety of apps that can support neurodivergent adults:

  • Calm Music Apps: Restful offers calm music specifically for neurodivergent people.
  • Mood Tracking Apps: Daylio allows you to track your mood, identify triggers, and monitor progress over time.
  • Executive Function Apps: Goblin Tools can help you break down tasks and reduce stress.


The key to emotional regulation is finding a toolbox of strategies that work best for you. Increasing interoceptive awareness, taking care of your physical well-being, calming sensory overload and having a solid support system can all help.

These techniques can empower you to manage emotions effectively and create a calmer life. Experiment with them, be patient with yourself, and remember to celebrate your progress.

Discover a growing library of meditones inside the Restful app to help you soothe overwhelm. Download for free today on Google Play or the App Store.