Stress and the ADHD Brain: There’s only One Antidote

Stress and the ADHD brainIt can happen in an instant. One second you’re catching up on your kid’s day, the next you’re in a screaming match. You end up asking yourself: how did we get here?

It's all about stress and the brain – especially when anyone has ADHD.

Our guest expert Tim Edwards-Hart calls this the “argument by emotions trap,” and learning about it holds the secret to avoid future meltdowns.

Parents must start by understanding the relationship between the brain and stress (with or without ADHD). Dr. Edwards-Hart explains: "We all have a stress response, and it acts in the same way for all of us. It just gets exaggerated with ADHD.”

The brain’s stress response can be triggered by anything seen as a potential threat. It can be a “threat to our physical safety, but it could also be a threat to our emotional safety, our perceived well-being.” Once the stress response is set in motion, it’s nearly impossible to snap out of it. Unfortunately, even a simple question about homework can set off the chain reaction. “Even if the question isn't threatening, if it's associated with things that are threatening, the stress response is going to get triggered."

The stress response is a physical reaction that can happen in a split second. In other words, your child isn’t meaning to act out. "One of the key things to be aware when the teen's responding that way: their body has bypassed their consciousness… The body's in survival mode, in that stress mode. And all their brain can focus on is the perceived threat."

But there’s something we can do to stop it! Or at least diffuse it. It's the only true antidote, but it's not exactly easy.

Dr. Edwards-Hart explains: “The opposite of the stress response is a relaxation response… drop the shoulders, breathe slow, and keep calm.” It’s hard, but if the parent can keep calm, the child will eventually calm down. And no more meltdowns!

Yes, the antidote to a stressed out child's brain with ADHD is for the parent to calm down!

We know – easier said than done – but we have lots of tricks to help with stress and the ADHD brain. Start by reminding yourself that your child's response is neurological – it's like the amygdala has hijacked the brain.

To learn even more about the ADHD brain and stress, listen in!

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