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These days, adult ADHD can feel less like a medical condition and more like a blanket statement for “burnout.”
Deep down, we know ADHD is a medical condition that impacts one’s ability to focus and stay organized — but how can you tell if you might actually have it? And if you already have a diagnosis, what do you do next?
Since adults are currently the fastest-growing age group receiving ADHD diagnoses (to the point where some experts are actually concerned it might be over diagnosed), we put together this guide to help you understand the condition from top to bottom. Let’s begin.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsiveness. As you may have guessed, adult ADHD is just ADHD, but in adults.
While adults and children experience the same core symptoms, they can manifest differently. In children, you’re more likely to see symptoms like:
- difficulty paying attention
- aggressiveness and/or emotional turmoil
- disobedient behavior
- loud, disruptive tendencies
In adults, you might notice:
- poor time management
- low tolerance for stress
- restlessness and anxiety
- lack of focus
- feel driven by a motor or unable to sit still
To apply that to real life, children with ADHD may get lost in daydreams, be rowdy during quiet time, butt into conversations out of turn, and have a room that looks like a disaster zone.
For adults, it can be tougher to spot, as the symptoms align closely with signs of burnout and stress — something almost everyone struggles with these days.
Adults with ADHD might jump from job to job or relationship to relationship, have a chronically hard time staying on top of their calendar (not just during busy times), be overly self-critical or have low self-esteem, and struggle to sleep or relax (i.e., the person who’s simultaneously on their phone, reading a book, and checking email, while watching Netflix).
Furthermore, adult women and men may also experience ADHD symptoms differently.
While men typically exhibit hyperactive characteristics, women with ADHD often display quieter inattentive qualities. They might forget to follow through with plans or feel constantly overwhelmed by a growing to-do list they can’t seem to tackle.
No, you’re not losing it. Getting a diagnosis later in life is surprisingly common, especially for women.
Since ADHD doesn’t develop in adulthood, an adult diagnosis means you’ve likely been living with these symptoms since you were a kid. Anyone else feeling an “aha moment” right about now?
If you aren’t already living with a diagnosis but suspect you might have ADHD, you can get tested with the help of your healthcare provider.
Chat with them about your symptoms and they can refer you to a specialist who will administer a psychological evaluation and examine your family history to determine if you meet the criteria for an official diagnosis.
From there, it’s a matter of choosing the right treatment plan and getting back to living your best life.
ADHD has three primary characteristics (inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity), which present to varying degrees in different people.
The “type” of ADHD you have may be classified based on the characteristic that is most present in your life:
- Type 1: Inattention. You’re easily distracted, forgetful, unorganized, and have difficulty paying attention.
- Type 2: Hyperactivity-impulsivity. You fidget, are constantly talking or moving, and are known to interrupt people or engage in risky behavior.
- Type 3: Combination. You experience a delightful mix of both of the above types.
Your doctor can help you figure out which type of ADHD you have and in turn, an ideal course of treatment. Which brings us to…
While there’s no cure, you have a ton of resources at your disposal to manage your condition, including medication, behavioral therapy, lifestyle changes, and at-home/over-the-counter (OTC) options.
Adults tend to benefit most from a combination approach, but it’s worth noting that figuring out the secret sauce to managing your symptoms can take time and experimentation. Don’t give up if one method doesn’t work!
The most commonly prescribed medications for treating ADHD are stimulants and non-stimulants.
Stimulants, in general, work by increasing amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain (the chemicals that impact focus and energy).
Non-stimulants are slower acting and work using different neural pathways in the brain. They’re ideal for people who experience unwanted side effects from stimulants.
Some of the most common Rx’s on the market are:
Learn more about how these drugs work here.
Behavioral therapy aims to identify the negative behaviors triggered by ADHD and create actionable steps to cope with your symptoms. A therapist can help you put together a daily routine that improves organization, productivity, stress management, and sleep.
While not intended as a solo treatment without approval from your doctor, many people report seeing positive results from adding on these at-home treatments:
- Fish oil. The omega-3’s in fish oil have been shown to boost serotonin and dopamine levels.
- Melatonin. For people with ADHD who struggle to sleep, melatonin supplements can help you get some much needed shut-eye.
- Light therapy. Utilizing a light therapy box not only helps establish a healthy sleep routine, but studies have found it can improve mood and reduce core ADHD symptoms.
- Exercise. Exercise is a great way to manage the need to move and release excess energy. Even just walking around the block at lunch or after dinner can be immensely helpful.
- Essential oils. Oils like frankincense, rosemary, vetiver, and cedarwood are just a sampling of EOs shown to help improve ADHD symptoms. One word of caution: Essential oils are not FDA-regulated, so it’s important to source your oils carefully. Choose only quality oils and follow this user guide to get the most benefits.
Struggling with the symptoms of ADHD is no small thing, and it impacts just about everything (and everyone) in your life. However, with a proper treatment plan and some basic knowledge about your condition, you can absolutely manage your condition.
First up, a proper diagnosis is essential, as undiagnosed ADHD can lead to chronic stress, unhealthy relationships, trouble at work, and a chaotic personal life, among other serious health issues.
Once the proverbial ADHD cat is out of the bag, you’ll be able to make smarter, more informed decisions, and implement a helpful dialogue to properly communicate with the people in your life.
Ever heard someone ask why you act the way you do? A diagnosis should help things become more clear.
Have kids and feeling stressed the eff out (especially if they also have ADHD)? Treatment for yourself and/or your little ones will make parenting easier (this guide can help, too).
Once you develop a solid routine and stick to it, life will level out. Be clear and consistent with house rules and discipline, prioritize play and exercise, and don’t forget to take time for you. You can’t pour from an empty cup, as the saying goes.
A person with ADHD may seem like they’re not even listening when you’re speaking right to them.
They might forget birthdays or to do the chores they’ve been asked to do 100 times. They might be too overwhelmed to keep their space clean. They might seem aloof, uninterested, or like they’re ignoring you. They might not text you back for a whiiiile.
All that can lead to problems in your personal and professional life, but especially with your significant other. Your S.O. might say you have “selective hearing” without realizing it’s not by choice.
On the other hand, your ADHD might make you flakey or make it hard to stay in a long-term relationship. Awareness is the first step — acknowledge your struggles and don’t rake yourself over the coals for it. You’re not a bad person.
Next, work with a doctor or therapist to develop strategies to combat the behaviors that are messing with your relationships. You’ve got this!
Depression, anxiety, and stress are all linked to ADHD. In fact, a whopping 50 percent of people with ADHD are estimated to also have an anxiety disorder.
Anti-depressants may be an option to help with any lingering depression or anxiety symptoms. Your doctor can also help you determine the best method of treatment.
Most importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for help — whether it’s a friend, a healthcare provider, or a family member. You’re not alone and the support you need is out there. All you have to do is ask!