Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is commonly diagnosed in children, but did you know that nearly half of these individuals continue to be affected by ADHD symptoms as adults? Additionally, many adults with ADHD have not been diagnosed or treated. Studies indicate that up to 2.5% of U.S. adults may suffer from ADHD. Unfortunately, the impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattention that characterize ADHD lead to many individuals being labeled as being lazy, a troublemaker, or bad. Given these negative stigmas and misunderstood labels, many adults who do not know ADHD is affecting their lives have likely suffered through years of frustration and disappointment in both their personal and professional lives.
Experts caution that it’s common for these individuals to compensate by living within a system of rigid structure characterized by obsessive or compulsive traits. Such behaviors, such as keeping tons of lists and always putting items in the same place, are intended to ensure that they remember and/or keep up with commitments. In spite of the measures put in place to remain focused and organized, staying on top of things continues to be a challenge that impacts all areas of their lives.
If this sounds like you, or a loved one, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your concerns. If ADHD is present, your health care professional can help to diagnose the condition and recommend coping skills and proper treatment to enhance your quality of life. ADHD is diagnosed based on a specific set of criteria such as having experienced issues related to inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity for at least six months prior. Such issues result in significant and negative impairment in at least two settings: social, work or school settings.
Hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms include:
- Talking excessively
- Frequent squirming, fighting or tapping
- Trouble remaining seated when expected
- Blurting out answers to questions
- Difficulty remaining still
- Interrupting others
- Difficulty engaging in leisure activities
Inattention symptoms include:
- Being easily distractible
- Making careless mistakes and/or overlooking details
- Difficulty remaining focused on conversations or tasks
- Difficulty following through on instructions or duties in the workplace
- Losing things frequently
- Avoiding or refusal of activities that require sustained attention
Adult ADHD is characterized more by symptoms of inattention in which prioritizing activities can result in problems finishing assignments, forgetting social appointments and missing deadlines.
While the symptoms of ADHD are consistent across age groups, the actual behaviors often manifest differently in adults versus children and adolescents. For instance, excessive levels of energy may appear in adults as agitation, overall restlessness or fidgeting. When the behaviors pop up in the workplace or at school they translate into forgetfulness, disorganization, problems concentrating and completing tasks. Impulsivity can also manifest as difficulty managing interruptions, showing up on time, and meeting deadlines.
Adult ADHD can impair personal relationships as well due to difficulty handling emotion, especially frustration and anger which can be expressed as mood swings, irritability, angry outbursts, and low self-esteem. Some adults with ADHD report that because of their oscillating mood and behavior, they sometimes have trouble trusting themselves. They point to decisions made impulsively and words said carelessly that come back to haunt them, resulting in regret and a fear of making the same mistakes again.
Examples of such actions include answering test questions without reading the full passage, sending a work email without contemplating the consequences, or being unable to complete to-do lists. As you can imagine, looking back on such situations can be confusing and upsetting. Unfortunately, if enough of these regretful experiences accumulate, a significant loss of self-confidence and self-esteem can be internalized over time.
Remember, only a health professional can definitively diagnose ADHD. In the meantime, if you have symptoms typical of ADHD there are many self-help, stress-reduction strategies that experts recommend. For starters, make sure that you get adequate amounts of sleep. Studies show that in individuals prone to difficulty remembering and focusing, a lack of sleep can worsen these issues. Second, don’t ignore your body’s need for healthy food from a range of food groups. This includes proper servings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein. Some people find that limiting their sugar intake makes it easier to self-regulate their mood state.
Try incorporating a structured daily routine and brush up on time management skills. Setting alerts, taking notes, making lists and using a time management app are all ways you can proactively manage your resources while keeping procrastination at bay. Lastly, be sure to get in plenty of exercise. Rigorous activity decreases excess energy thereby potentially reducing stressful feelings. If you prefer more calming physical practices, yoga and mindful meditation have also been shown to reduce stress.
In the end, it’s important for adults with ADHD to recognize that the difficulties they experience are not due to a character flaw, laziness, or lack of ambition. ADHD can be treated and managed. If you think you may have undiagnosed ADHD don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
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