Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder also classified under the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) typically associated with lack of focus or inattention. When we visualize ADHD, many of us can envision a child that couldn’t sit still or needed to be reprimanded regularly for being disruptive or misbehaving. Perhaps it was the child that took several hours to complete his or her long division homework and needed a lot of prompting at the expense of everyone’s patience. A child with such a presentation might show symptoms of frequently interrupting, trouble waiting their turn, frequent temper tantrums, daydreaming, or avoidance of tasks that require time, effort, and thinking.
However, despite we often associate ADHD with children, it has a prevalence of approximately 4% of the adult population in America. According to Healthline, many cases of ADHD in adulthood frequently go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety because the symptoms of both can present similarities.
ADHD affects the executive functions in both children and adults. These are the day-to-day skills that directly impact our ability to complete tasks, such as making decisions using judgment, memory, and initiative. There is often a significant negative impact on social, romantic, and professional relationships with the lack of these qualities, causing frequent misinterpretation as carelessness or disinterest. While there are no known direct causes of ADHD, studies suggest that Dopamine plays a significant role in its presence. Dopamine is responsible for the emotional response we have when we get something we want. It is the “pleasure and reward center” in our brain.
While ADHD can be reminiscent of the symptoms we see in childhood, it can present differently in adulthood. If you struggle with ADHD as an adult, it might look like this:
- Lack of Focus- making careless mistakes, finding oneself distracted by conversations or small noises regularly, having trouble completing basic tasks.
- Hyperfocus- Finding yourself engulfed in a topic or task so much that you completely lose track of time or lose boundaries when the workday should end.
- Disorganization- trouble with keeping a schedule, appointments, keeping track of what tasks need completion, and prioritizing them effectively.
- Time management struggle- Procrastinating on projects, showing up consistently late, ignore or avoid responsibilities that feel tedious.
- Forgetfulness- forgetting dates, assignments, and commitments, or where you left your keys or wallet.
- Impulsivity- talking over or interrupting in conversation, making hasty decisions or overstepping social boundaries, excessive shopping.
- Irregular emotional fluctuations- frequently feeling bored, restless, dissatisfied, triggered by a frustrating event allowing it to spiral into a depressive state.
- Negative self-image or low self-esteem- Looking at every mistake as a significant failure, thus encouraging defeatism.
- Lack of motivation- Struggling to find the energy to begin a task. Low self-esteem and a negative self-image play into this, consequently counting themselves out before the job has even started.
- Restlessness and anxiety- Many individuals report they battle between the need to “keep moving” and the loss of motivation to finish their task at hand. As a result, they become upset or angry when they cannot successfully deliver responsibilities immediately. These battling emotions lead to spiraling thoughts of ruminating on the past or envisioning an event that hasn’t happened. When the mind is on overdrive, fidgeting is a common physical manifestation.
- Fatigue- Despite the spikes in energy previously described, anxiety can be debilitating when an individual cannot rest because a lengthy task is at hand.
How To Manage ADHD in Adulthood
Depending on the severity of your ADHD, there several options to manage it, including different types of medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) offers support to help change behaviors that amplify the consequences of ADHD. Here are some simple solutions to manage your symptoms:
- Get Organized- Utilize a planner to keep track of commitments and appointments. It can be the old-fashioned pen and paper kind, or if you are tech-savvy, maybe a calendar on your phone. Visual representation of tasks with an idea of when they happen can help one significantly understand time management and set up a realistic expectation. Make To-Do lists for concrete ideas of what is required.
- Set Realistic Expectations- When you begin to get into a routine, small changes will create a more long-lasting impact than radical changes, which one cannot maintain. Stay Consistent, and be mindful of your commitment/time ratio. If you have 2 hours available and try and fit 4 hours of work in that space, you put yourself in a position to overpromise and under-deliver.
- One at a time- When making your to-do list, prioritize what is time-sensitive and has more urgency attached. Be mindful to complete one thing at a time to avoid unfinished projects.
- Get Support!– It is not always easy to change behavior. Be patient. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. Our team at Gateway to Solutions can help you learn tools and stay accountable.