Living with ADHD brings unique challenges. We look at some common struggles and coping tips.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) involves patterns of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. These symptoms create struggles that can interfere with everyday tasks, especially at work and school.
Symptoms of ADHD typically include:
- hyperactivity, such as fidgeting, talking a lot, and feeling restless
- inability to focus or difficulty paying attention
- impulsivity, such as having trouble waiting, acting on urges without considering the consequences, and making hasty decisions
ADHD is usually diagnosed in children but it affects people of all ages. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), the lifetime prevalence of ADHD in the United States is
ADHD symptoms can complicate routine parts of work or school life, such as following instructions and completing assignments.
While there is no cure for ADHD, effective treatments and management strategies can help you overcome the challenges this condition creates.
Many people have trouble maintaining a sustainable work-life balance, and ADHD can complicate things further.
Due to difficulties with executive function, people with ADHD may find it overwhelming to juggle both work and personal life. You may feel as though you have too many things on your plate at once — and a tendency toward perfectionism or procrastination at work can further interfere with your productivity.
If your work-life balance isn’t ideal, you might find yourself thinking about work during your downtime, ruminating about work, or feeling guilty after work ends.
If you feel you need to improve your work-life balance, it can help to keep a consistent schedule and build a routine around work, avoiding overtime where possible. Limiting the number of tasks you take on can also help.
It can be tricky to adjust, but over time, you’ll learn to leave work at work so you can enjoy your personal life with less guilt or worry.
Difficulty focusing can be especially problematic for children in school. While the teacher is talking, children with ADHD may become easily distracted by their surroundings.
Background noises, such as the sound of someone clicking their pen, can drown out the lesson. This can negatively impact the child’s academic performance and ability to stay on task.
For some kids, school accommodations can help. This might look like seating the kid in an area with fewer distractions and allowing extra time on assignments to account for distraction time.
For adults with ADHD, it can help to remove distractions from settings where you need to focus. This might mean turning off your phone and retreating to a quiet place for work. A clear workspace that you use only for work can help you keep focus.
ADHD isn’t just about the inability to focus, but rather having difficulty regulating your attention span consistently.
Many people with ADHD experience bouts of hyperfocus, when they zero in on a task. This refers to an intense fixation on one thing, where you find yourself “in the zone” and lose track of time.
Hyperfocus can be beneficial for productivity in some cases, but it can also take out off track. If you tend to get caught up in hyperfocus, it can help to:
- set a timer to help you keep track of how long you spend in hyperfocus
- leave yourself reminders about other tasks you need to get to
- take care of other time-sensitive tasks before tasks that you might hyperfocus on
Adults with ADHD are especially prone to experiencing racing thoughts, which can lead to restlessness and insomnia as your thoughts keep you from resting.
If you have an overactive mind, you may feel like your thoughts are moving at a mile per minute. You likely have several things on your mind at once, making it difficult to focus on a single task or subject at a time.
Racing thoughts can be taxing. To mellow your mind, try some mindfulness exercises. Focus on the present moment and take some deep breaths. You can try repeating a mantra that encourages you and helps you to focus on one thought, like, “it will be okay.”
When you have ADHD, even small tasks can seem overwhelming. You might find yourself easily distracted and procrastinating on tackling your to-do lists, leading you to feel stressed, ashamed, and even more overwhelmed when you don’t make much progress.
It might take you longer to complete a task, so you put it off but think about it often. This can lead to feelings of burnout and exhaustion, even when you haven’t made a dent on your to-do list.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to break down large tasks into smaller tasks that aren’t as intimidating. Physical clutter can also be overwhelming, so it can help to keep a tidy space.
When you’re easily distracted, it’s easy to lose track of time and realize you missed a meal. You might then find yourself hungry, leading to overeating or binge eating.
Consider the following tips to keep more consistent eating habits:
- space out your meals evenly through the day
- avoid distractions during mealtimes, like scrolling on your phone or watching TV
- practice being present during your meal so you’re less likely to rush through it
Boredom isn’t an official symptom of ADHD but can result from being easily distracted and having difficulty focusing.
Tasks you find less interesting are less likely to hold your attention, so you may lose satisfaction and want to change to something more exciting. This might include chores, work tasks, or school.
Children who feel bored in school can lose interest in academics and their grades might slip as a result. Adults may lose interest in certain important work tasks or elements of their relationships.
Some tasks can’t be avoided, but you can make them more tolerable by taking breaks and rewarding yourself after. You can also modify tasks that otherwise bore you, such as listening to music while doing chores.
Children with ADHD are often misunderstood. They’re seen as misbehaving or having too much energy, which may be met with constant criticism about their behavior or personality. Over time, this can lead to self-esteem issues.
Adults with ADHD often experience shame over feelings that they don’t meet expectations due to deficits related to attention, focus, and overwhelm. This can lead to or reinforce low self-esteem.
Practicing self-compassion can help you be kind to yourself and accept yourself as you are, which can be a helpful tool when low self-esteem strikes. Dr. Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, offers self-compassion exercises on her website.
Living with ADHD isn’t easy, but it’s possible to lead a productive life. The condition can make it difficult to focus on tasks, tune out distractions, and perceive yourself positively.
But it’s never too late to learn to better manage your ADHD.
Medications and therapy are two treatment options. Overcoming obstacles may require some adjustments in your life, but with time, small changes can make a big difference.
For more information on coping with an ADHD diagnosis, these resources might help: