Tips for helping vulnerable adults in a bad mood

We all have days when things don’t go our way, which can make us feel frustrated, upset and even angry. Adults with disabilities have days like this too. However, some struggle to regulate or recognize their negative emotions, causing these emotions to manifest in quirky and sometimes inappropriate behaviors.

In many cases, adults with severe disabilities may have trouble regulating these behaviors on their own. Fortunately, there are many ways you as a direct support professional can be there for them and help mitigate their stress.

What can make them upset?

No person with a disability is exactly the same, so the things that set them off can vary from person to person. Here are a few examples of things that could upset them:

  • Feelings of uncertainty
  • Sleeping troubles
  • An argument with a friend or family member
  • Unpleasant stimuli (sounds, noises or textures they find upsetting)

During these times, it’s important to remember that vulnerable adults are people too. When they’re not feeling great, they deserve to be treated with respect, compassion and empathy. Here are a few ways you can help a vulnerable adult when they’re in a bad mood:

Listen to what they have to say

When we’re upset, we want to feel heard and have our experiences validated. Most vulnerable adults want the same thing. Ask them what’s wrong and if they decide to talk about it, give them your full attention and an open ear. If they don’t, ask them if there is anything else you can do to make them feel better. However, if the person you’re working with is nonverbal, you can try to engage them in a soothing and enjoyable activity.

Give them space if they need it

If they’re not at risk of harming themselves or others, vulnerable adults just need some time to themselves. That can mean processing their emotions independently. In other cases, it means taking a break from working or group activities until they can collect themselves.

If they show harmful and aggressive behaviors, safely intervening is crucial. Provide them with a safe environment and reward positive behaviors while attempting to minimize negative ones. If aggressive behaviors persist, reach out to specialized care professionals for help.

Find out what’s making them upset

Some people have very specific things that can upset them, like not having the same food on a particular day, a specific noise that makes them uncomfortable or an event that throws them off of their routine. Some triggers are easier to avoid than others but knowing what sets a person off can help mitigate their discomfort. If the triggers aren’t easy to avoid, you can work with the vulnerable adult to come up with different coping mechanisms that help them remain calm.

You can make a difference in their day

Vulnerable adults have bad days just like everyone else. And no matter the root cause, you can make them feel a little better by being there for them and helping them with life’s ups and downs.