For adults with ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, impulsive behavior can become persistent. Some examples of impulsive behavior may be frequently interrupting conversations or saying things that you regret later, jumping from one activity to another or trying to handle three at once, and becoming impatient while driving and cutting in front of everyone. Impulsive behaviors are generally improvised or unpredicted choices that are based on emotions, rather than logic. Adulthood ADHD can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, anger toward others, and can sometimes cause harm to oneself or others.
Managing impulsivity can be challenging, but it is possible. Along with seeking help from a mental health professional, here are some strategies you can try:
- Become aware of your impulses- ADHD is different for everyone. What does your impulsivity look like? Try making a list of behaviors you think are impulsive. Ask others what behaviors they’ve observed. Which ones might be more harmful? Think about the times or places in which your impulses most frequently occur. Consider both the positive and negative consequences of your impulsivity.
- Practice mindfulness- Mindfulness increases our self-awareness. It involves bringing your attention to the present moment and observing what is happening without judgement. Mindfulness can help you begin to recognize urges before acting impulsively, as well as distance yourself from them. Practice focusing on your thoughts, emotions, and how your body feels when you feel the urge to be impulsive.
- Identify the challenges underlying your impulses and make changes accordingly- Pay attention to your inner dialogue right before you act impulsively and challenge these thoughts. For example, if you had a task to complete, but browsed social media for an hour instead, ask yourself questions like, “Did the task feel doable?” “Was it interesting?” “Did you have any resistance regarding the task?”
- Make it harder to act on impulses- If you engage in impulsive spending, leave your credit/debit cards at home when you go shopping and pay with cash only. Stay away from places where you tend to spend too much money. Throw away catalogs and block emails from retailers. If you struggle with impulsive speech, carry a notebook with you and jot down thoughts when they come to mind. You can return to them later and decide if it is a more appropriate time to say them.
- Pay attention to body language and social cues from others- You can learn a lot about how others receive you through their facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures. Spend time watching before speaking.
- Establish healthy habits- Exercise and spend time outdoors. Stick to a regular sleep schedule with a predictable bedtime routine. Eat smaller meals throughout the day that include protein and fiber-rich whole grains. Avoid sugar and junk food when possible.
- Try calming activities- Impulsivity is often the result of feeling stressed. Some calming activities include guided imagery, listening to music, deep breathing techniques, exercise, and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Plan ahead- Make a list of tasks that have to be completed, decide what to prioritize, and break them down into smaller steps. Use a timer to help you stay on task. Check your calendar before saying yes to commitments.
- Talk to someone you trust- Talking to someone about your struggles can provide you with a healthy outlet and a safe space to work through impulsive behaviors. Ask them to help you become aware of your impulses.
Learning to manage impulsivity takes time and practice. Though impulsivity may always be a struggle for individuals with adulthood ADHD, these strategies can help to improve daily functioning and life satisfaction. For further assistance managing impulsive behaviors and other symptoms associated with ADHD, visit our Adult ADHD page or consider seeing one of our therapists.