101: Stress Reduction with ADHD, with Diane Dempster

Stress Reduction with ADHD, with Diane Dempster | ADHD reWired

101: Stress Reduction with ADHD, with Diane Dempster

Stress and stress reduction are the topics at hand, as Diane Dempster of Impact ADHD walks through ways those with ADHD can better manage themselves while under stress. Problem-solving, storytelling, emotional triggering, and resiliency are all addressed during Diane’s discussion.

About Diane Dempster:

  • A certified professional coach, speaker, and educator, Diane is the co-founder of

  • Diane works with parents of children with ADHD, teaching them coaching techniques and skills to help improve both their family and professional life.

  • The other co-founder of Impact ADHD, Elaine Taylor-Klaus, was previously a guest on ADHD reWired in episode 79.

Stress and ADHD:

  • Managing stress and the effects it can have on one’s brain is integrally important to learning to manage ADHD.

  • The part of the brain impacted most by stress is also the part affected by ADHD – if one is under stress and has ADHD, it becomes that much more challenging to be successful.

  • For parents in particular, managing the raising of children can increase one’s level of stress a great deal.

  • Eric: Much of the recent research of brain science and general business productivity shows a trend of less-is-more, where the less a person is dealing with at once, the more productive they tend to be and the greater number of goals they tend to be able to accomplish.

What is Stress?

  • Stress is a natural reaction to a perceived threatening situation. When we feel threatened, our brain creates hormones that enable us to take quick action in a fight-or-flight sense.

  • While the stress reaction can be extraordinarily powerful, it’s also not designed to be sustainable.

  • Diane: “The brain doesn’t distinguish between the mountain lion and some other threat. […] If your boss comes to you and says, ‘Eric, you’ve got a deadline tomorrow,’ and you’re like, ‘holy crap, I didn’t prepare for this,’ it’s just exactly the same as the mountain lion.”

  • If one reacts with a “fight” response, they could end up taking it out on their spouse, children, or self. If one reacts with a “flight” response, they could leave the situation to hide, find a distracting activity, or just shut down entirely.

  • Eric highlights how some people will brag about how many hours they’ve worked in a week – 60, 70, 80, or more – but miss the reality of the toll it takes on one’s personal, family, and work life. The discussion of whether people are working smart and efficiently is an important one.

Stressful Storytelling:

  • Diane also discerns between “real” and “imagined” stress.

  • People don’t place enormous amounts of stress on themselves because they want to – no one really wants to work 80 hours per week. No one really wants to run that hard on their hamster wheel – they just end up there and can’t find a way off.

  • In most cases, it’s the way one views their work and the tasks they have to complete that influences how much stress they have.

  • Thinking you’re going to lose your job if work isn’t completed, that you’re a bad person because you haven’t met a certain goal, that your child will be unsuccessful in life because they performed poorly in school, and more, are all patterns of thinking that create conditions for unnecessary stress.

  • “We create a large percentage of our own stress.”

  • Eric “If we think that everything is important, then how can we prioritize what’s actually important?”

  • Failure doesn’t have to be bad as long as we can receive feedback from it and learn from it.

  • Everybody’s reaction to situations is different and they should be willing to consider the possibility that certain stressors can be thought of differently and become less stressful as a result.

  • Diane: “If it’s not happening right now, we’re creating a story about it. […] If you’re going to create a story, create one that makes you feel good.”

  • Diane remembers receiving an email out-of-the-blue from her one child’s teacher that asked to talk to her after school that day. Not being able to contact the teacher for more information, Diane was left to wonder what had happened, which could have lead to a lot of stress. Instead Diane took some deep breaths and “for the next two hours, I was convinced that my son was getting an award.”

  • When you notice yourself creating a negative story, take some deep breaths or drink some water to calm down and “escape the threat cycle”, then be willing to consider that another story – a positive one – is true.

  • Whatever the situation, be confident that you’ll be able to deal with it when it occurs and you actually have information about what is happening.

The Threat Cycle and Strategies:

  • When one’s brain feels threatened, it produces a hormone that allows them to act – fight or flight. Blood pressure and heart rate change, while the brain shifts from its problem-solving section (the frontal lobe) to its emotional reaction section (amygdala).

  • Taking a deep breath actually shifts the hormones in the brain away from stressful ones (cortisol) toward others that help to relax and reclaim one’s brain.

  • Sipping water can sometimes help to calm oneself down. Diane was told that when drinking, the “animal” in our brain thinks it’s at a watering hole and calms down. Eric also remembers working with children with anger problems and how drinking water was used as a goal.

  • Some of Diane’s clients will carry water bottles around with them all the time, especially if they know they’re going to be involved in a stressful situation.

  • Many people with ADHD experience stress with a higher level of intensity and a less gradual cycle of escalation than most others. Instead of progressing linearly toward being more stressful, one with ADHD might jump ahead to maximum stress suddenly.

  • When in a family context, the family can agree beforehand to a strategy when someone is emotionally triggered into a high-stress state. Calling out that someone has been emotionally triggered by saying “the room is hot,” “you seem upset,” or some form of codeword can work well. Diane’s family is well adjusted enough that they can say “trigger”.

  • Diane: People lose their cool – it happens. If it happens, they have to own it, apologize for it, and realize it shouldn’t be a common occurrence. That said, berating, judging, and speaking hurtfully to others is not okay.

  • Diane controls potential negative outbursts by diverting to hyperbole – saying her children will never again be allowed to watch TV or play videogames, etc. – and other time she will force herself into a time-out.

Trigger Warnings:

  • Eric highlights a recent trend of providing “trigger warnings” across media and society. He suggests the risk of creating a society that is less resilient in the face of these triggering situations.

  • For those with PTSD, for example, Eric notes how exposure to triggers as part of re-acclimating the brain to society is an accepted strategy to deal with misappropriated stress responses. Avoiding completely any triggering situations will not usually help deal with the symptoms.

  • Bring triggered by situations is normal. Management of the emotional state that follows being triggered into stress is really the important part.

  • Diane: We need to be careful not to label being triggered as bad. It can create situations where people are uncomfortable and can cause myriad negative outcomes, but just as people manage their ADHD, they need to learn to manage their stress and what triggers it.

Impact ADHD’s Sanity School:

  • At Impact ADHD, Diane and Elaine work with parents of children with ADHD to change their approach to parenting with “the coach approach” – teaching them coaching techniques and strategies to assist with their children

  • The goal is to teach strategies that are both easy to implement and empowering for the children.

  • In their Sanity School, the number-one topic they work on with parents is how to maintain their “cool” and composure in the face of stressful and overwhelming situations.

Products, Services, and Other Links:

Find and Contact Diane Dempster:

Other information:

  • If you are interested in reserving a spot in the next ADHD reWired Coaching and Accountability Group group, visit

  • Visit for Carolyn D’Argenio’s list of her top audio-book picks, complete with preview links.

  • If you like Eric’s idea of live streaming shows on the service Blab, Tweet at @erictivers and use the hashtag #blabrewired. You can also contact him via or email [email protected].

  • Eric is collecting videos describing people’s experiences with CHADD. If you are currently involved with CHADD, record a video however you wish (horizontally, please!) of you describing your relationship to ADHD and what CHADD does for you. Send it to Eric via Facebook, Twitter, or email here: [email protected].

  • If you want you hear your question or comment on a future episode, go to and look for the comment form, or click on the yellow button for either “Be a Guest” or “Record your question”.

  • Help CHADD, an ADHD organization dedicated to improving the lives of those with ADHD through useful research and support, by donating to their fundraising campaign here:

  • Are you looking for a coach? You can schedule a free 20-minute consultation with Eric. Go to and click the blue “Schedule an Appointment” button


  • Northern Illinois chapter of CHADD

    • Third Monday of every month at 6:45 PM

    • Grayslake, Illinois

(CHADD does not endorse this podcast)

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