Mood regulation is known to be disrupted in adults and children with ADHD. People with Inattentive ADD are known to exhibit the symptoms of anxiety, depression and moodiness. People with the Combined type of ADHD can be not only anxious and depressed but also prone to angry outburst and oppositional behavior.
The study findings in this new study may explain why. The findings showed that when children with ADHD are exposed to positive or negative stress, their bodies react strongly and their ability to recuperate from the stressful exposure is diminished.
All the children in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology study had a normal sympathetic response to the stress but the children with ADHD had a malfunctioning recovery response. This inability to regulate emotion occurs at the parasympathetic control center and not at the sympathetic control level. The difference is important.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are part of the autonomic nervous system and they are hard wired in our brains. Our parasympathetic system handle our resting autonomic functions and our sympathetic reflexes handle the reaction reflexes such as those used for "fight and flight".
The job of the parasympathetic system is to balance the sympathetic system and to promote rest and relaxation after action. It is the parasympathetic system that lowers our heart rate and brings our body back to a 'balanced' and relaxed state after a state of heightened stress.
The study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology demonstrated that kids with ADHD have malfunctioning parasympathetic systems. What this means, in English, is that these kids stay at a heightened stress state when exposed to good or bad stress. Their systems do not properly return to a state of relaxation. We know from many other studies, performed on both adults and children, that being in a chronic stress state leads to illness and disease.
Attention Deficit Disorder treatment with meditation, yoga and relaxation techniques can counteract the damage of a faulty parasympathetic response and can enable our bodies to recuperate from stress and to return to a relaxed state. This may be the physiological reason why studies performed on meditation and ADHD have shown that meditation can improve Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms.
I have found, at home, that limiting stress can be a very effective treatment for improving the symptoms of ADHD. Relaxation CDs, anxiety and depression Cognitive Behavioral therapy exercises and other measures of stress relief such as exercise, yoga and meditation can all help improve the inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity and moodiness of ADHD.
Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 2011 Mar 11. [Epub ahead of print]
Emotion Regulation via the Autonomic Nervous System in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Musser ED, Backs RW, Schmitt CF, Ablow JC, Measelle JR, Nigg JT.