Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can take a heavy toll on women’s lives. Everything from the seemingly minute (such as arriving on time) to the very significant (raising kids) becomes more challenging. Add to that a co-occurring disorder, such as depression or anxiety, and just getting through the day is utterly exhausting.
But while ADHD comes with a variety of obstacles, there are just as many solutions to help you manage symptoms and lead a satisfying life.
Matlen also has ADHD. Below, she discusses the most common problems, along with strategies to try.
According to Matlen, women with ADHD tend to run late regularly, lose track of time and have difficulty figuring out how long tasks will take. These time management troubles can lead to serious consequences, affecting jobs and even ruining relationships.
“Women contact me all the time, worried that they will lose their jobs because they can’t seem to get to work on time. Their partners are furious with them because they can’t get ready for the day or an outing, daydreaming the time away in the bathroom instead of getting dressed. Friends drop them because they forget to meet for lunch dates or worse, forget to call at all, letting the friendships wither away and die.”
Strategies: Matlen encouraged women to use visual reminders, such as Post-it notes on mirrors or walls. You can even get creative with your surfaces, like one woman she spoke to: “She used soap crayons to write reminders on the outside of her car windshield!”
- Instead of focusing on the time you need to be at an appointment, focus on the time you need to leave your house, she said. “Then work backwards from there.”
- Keep clocks everywhere, including your shower. Set multiple alarms, and have them in different spots, “so that you have to get up and turn them all off.”
- Take advantage of technology by setting reminders on your computer, sending yourself an email and leaving yourself a voicemail, Matlen said. “If you constantly find that you’re not getting certain chores or projects done in time, start a journal and note how long it actually takes to do things so that in the future, you can give yourself the allotted time and not fall behind.” To keep in touch with friends, schedule specific times in your planner to call them.
“Often, women with ADD hit the wall when children come into their lives. They’ve been able, somewhat, to keep things together, but once they become mothers, the responsibilities, work and stress multiply to the point of complete overwhelm,” Matlen said.
Strategies: Hire a babysitter even when you’re home. Ask loved ones for help, including your partner, friends and family. Matlen noted that this helps you get much-needed rest and explore your interests. “Though this is an entirely personal decision, it might be helpful to think about the age span between children. Having two or three in diapers means much more work on mother.”
A high percentage of women also struggle with co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety, Matlen said. For instance, according to ADHD expert Ari Tuckman, Psy.D, in his book More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD, “ADHD can give you a lot to worry about…There is also the constant grind of daily stress that comes from not making efficient use of time because of distractibility, avoidance, and procrastination. Life keeps moving, so tasks pile up and the stress builds until it finally explodes in a mad dash of activity.”
Strategies: “It’s important to share these problems or symptoms with your health care provider so that appropriate treatment can be offered,” Matlen said. This might mean taking another medication, such as an antidepressant. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, is tremendously helpful for treating depression and anxiety.
ADHD symptoms tend to worsen in women who are perimenopausal or menopausal, a time when estrogen dips. Estrogen affects the release of dopamine and serotonin. A deficiency in dopamine makes it more difficult to concentrate and focus, while shrinking serotonin dampens mood.
Strategies: Work with your gynecologist and other physicians to find the best treatment for you. Your medication might need to be tweaked, or your doctor might recommend hormone therapy, Matlen said.
(This article discusses four suggestions for managing the hormonal fluctuations of menopause or perimenopause.)
Women with ADHD also can have a hard time connecting with others. According to Tuckman in his book, people with ADHD “…know how to read social cues, but they don’t do well if they get distracted or caught up in what they are thinking or saying. They may get so absorbed in their next comment that they can barely hold it in until the other person finally stops talking. If they do blurt it out, they may be seen as self-centered or controlling because they don’t give the other person an equal chance to talk.”
Strategies: To pay better attention during interactions, focus on the speaker’s mouth, Matlen said. “Try and keep your eyes on the person’s mouth, as if you’re dancing with a partner and need the cues for when to talk, when to stay quiet.”
If you’re still having difficulty focusing – because of distractions in your environment or your internal dialogue – ask the person questions about themselves, or find a quiet space to talk, she added.
Another great resource for improving social skills is books. Matlen recommended Michele Novotni’s book What Does Everyone Know That I Don’t.
Every person with ADHD is different, so the above strategies may or may not work for you. The key is to experiment, seek support and make sure you’re receiving proper professional treatment.