ADHD and Emotions: A Visual Metaphor for Context

ADHD is a self-regulation and working memory challenge. Two things that those with ADHD need to regulate are attention and emotion, according to Dr. Russell Barkley. Yes, according to Dr. Barkley, emotions are as much a part of ADHD as attention. The words “emotional self-regulation” are just words. Often it is easier to “get” what the words mean with a visual metaphor.

In this video I express emotion using my hand in a way to demonstrate emotional self-regulation that many can relate to.  Getting the concept is important to managing it. I encourage you to watch. The old adage says a picture is worth a thousand words. This video is worth ten thousand words.  Invest a few minutes to “get” emotional self-regulation.


Welcome, everybody, to this edition of Attention Talk Video. I’m your host, ADHD and attention coach, Jeff Copper, and we’ll have a little bit different format than what I usually do in terms of our videos, but I stumbled across somebody talking about the brain and the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex in a way that I thought was really kind of powerful, and then I’d have to kind of demonstrate it. So basically, if you will, think of this as your brain. Actually, I’ve got my little aha Bob guy back here. Maybe we should switch this. Let’s kind of come over here. So, think of this as your brain. This is the prefrontal cortex, this is the brain stem and under here is my thumb represents the amygdala, limbic system. This is the more of the emotional side into the prefrontal cortex, which is the forehead part represents the thinking brain, the executive functioning brain.

And so those are the ADHD struggle with self-regulation often and visually what happens is when you get into an emotional state, your primitive brain kind of takes over and you go to sometimes a fight flight or freeze response or whatever. But kind of visually what kind of happens is your amygdala, if you will, kind of takes over and hijacks the executive functioning brain, the prefrontal cortex. And I’ve done some other videos on this because when that happens, your executive functioning brain can’t even remember what to do in these types of the situation. And I think this is an interesting visual thing because as you can see, when the amygdala here takes over the prefrontal cortex, you notice the fist that’s really kind of made, which represents that fight, flight or freeze. And the idea is when you’re in this state and you have AD… the challenges to down-regulate, how do you let go of that and get this back in here so you can bring the executive functioning brain online.

By the way, this is no easy trick. I’ve coached lots of people around this, emotion is emotion. But one of the things that I do know is that when this happens and you take over, you’ve got to pause. You’ve got to take a bunch of deep breaths and you’ve got to distance yourself and kind of calm the brain down so that your prefrontal cortex can kind of come online and effortfully override that amygdala brain that ef… in the brain.

And again, this is a little bit of a visual type thing that I thought captured the essence of this challenge so easily. I’ve done a lot of videos of talking about the concepts, how ADHD is a self-regulation issue. Much of what I learned from a Dr. Russell Barkley, but again, I just want to share this with you because I just think it’s a great visual tool that kind of helped put everything into context and again, when that amygdala hijacks and take things over, it really, really gets kind of anxious and the idea is to pause, relax, take a couple of deep breaths because we want to bring the executive functioning brain back online so we can think and do what it knows to do.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tip. Click on the subscribe button and please to our weekly tips. Leave a comment. I’m very interested in if you guys liked this video, if it really made a lot of sense. So with that, I hope you enjoyed this edition. Take care.

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