For many, the new year brings resolutions and the desire to get organized. But for some adults, staying focused and on task can be challenging. This is especially true for adults with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).
“People with ADHD tend to be easily distracted and have trouble managing time,” says Dr. Maggie Wilkes a psychiatrist with Roper St. Francis Behavioral Medicine.
The science behind ADHD offers an explanation.
“Those with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that helps us feel pleasure, reward and motivation,” says Dr. Wilkes. “Without the proper amount of dopamine, we look for more instant gratification. This desire for immediate feedback can distract us from achieving long-term goals.”
Adult ADHD can do more than sabotage a New Year’s resolution. When left unmanaged, it can affect work, finances and relationships.
Wilkes says it’s important to recognize ADHD symptoms—especially if they are affecting your life in a negative way—and talk with your doctor.
Recognizing adult ADHD
“Adulting” can be stressful, and the pressures of balancing work and family can be a lot to handle.
So how can you tell if your lack of focus or time-management problems are actually ADHD? First, says Dr. Wilkes, think back to your childhood.
Adults with ADHD likely had symptoms of the condition as children, whether or not they were diagnosed. In fact, clinicians who treat adult ADHD will ask about early childhood years before making an adult ADHD diagnosis.
Some symptoms you may recall include:
- Blurting out answers, talking nonstop or being constantly in motion
- Failing to finish schoolwork or other duties
- Having trouble organizing tasks and putting things in sequence
- Losing things necessary for specific tasks or activities, including school supplies
Adult ADHD can look different from the childhood version. The hyperactivity associated with childhood ADHD often decreases into adulthood, while symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity and disorganization persist.
Specific ADHD symptoms to look for as an adult include:
- Extreme restlessness
- Forgetfulness in day-to-day activities
- Inability to follow-through with instructions
- Inattention to detail
For adults with ADHD, these symptoms can combine with others to impact marriages, friendships and careers.
Develop skills to cope with ADHD
Some adults with ADHD benefit from medication combined with therapy. People with ADHD can also develop skills to manage symptoms better.
Dr. Wilkes recommends five coping skills for adults with ADHD:
- Break larger tasks into smaller ones. A large project—like organizing the garage—can feel overwhelming. Break this up into several smaller tasks that feel more manageable.
- Create routines. If you’ve resolved to stay ahead of your laundry, then create a daily routine that helps you reach this goal. You can do this by adding a laundry-related task to one of your established practices. For example, if you make coffee each morning, plan to throw in a load of laundry while it is brewing. Over time, this routine will become a habit.
- Dedicate time to organization. Schedule time each day to get organized and use a timer to stay on task. Whether it’s clearing your inbox at work or sorting mail at home, dedicating time to organization can help to reduce messy distractions.
- Exercise. Daily exercise can reduce stress, which can help to boost concentration and attentiveness.
- Say no. Don’t agree to do everything that’s asked of you. Be thoughtful about what you say yes to. Check your schedule first. Doing this will help you feel less stressed and improve your ability to accomplish your goals.
“These coping skills would be helpful to anyone—not just someone living with ADHD,” says Wilkes. “But adults with ADHD can feel a great deal of accomplishment by developing skills that eliminate chaos and make them feel more in control.”
If you have trouble coping with your ADHD symptoms, it may be time to seek help.
To connect with a doctor at Roper St. Francis Healthcare, call 843-402-CARE (2273) or search our online physician directory.