Stress affects all of us. This is especially true for those with ADHD. Between missing important appointments, feeling disorganized at work, or taking on too many projects – ADHD and stress can feel like uninvited guests who never leave.
ADHD symptoms, such as poor focus and memory, can cause stressful situations to pile up. ADHDers may experience careless mistakes, misplaced items, missed deadlines, or frequent conflicts.
Over time, encountering these daily hiccups trains your brain to keep a constant eye out for signs of new problems. This can put you in a continuous state of stress. And because ADHD can make it harder to regulate emotions, fear and anger may compound the challenge.
But that doesn’t mean ADHDers can’t thrive in demanding careers and busy lives.
Stress can be difficult for adults with ADHD to manage, but you’re in the right place. With the right tools and strategies, you can break the cycle, reducing stressful situations and boosting your confidence.
ADHD and the Stress Response
Research has found that ADHD, particularly inattentive-type ADHD, is linked to increased perceived stress.
Inattentiveness in ADHD often shows up as getting easily distracted, struggling to follow instructions, and being forgetful in daily activities. These ADHD symptoms may lead to issues at work, home, or school, as well as in relationships with others.
Additionally, ADHD might be linked to emotional dysregulation, which refers to difficulty controlling and regulating emotions such as anger and anxiety. Emotional dysregulation can make it harder to cope with stress.
Does Stress Worsen ADHD?
The link between stress and ADHD may be a multidirectional relationship. This means that while ADHD symptoms can increase stress, stress may also worsen ADHD symptoms.
More research is still needed to confirm whether stress can exacerbate ADHD.
However, some research suggests that long-term stress can lead to sleep problems, which can impair your body’s stress response and increase inflammation.
Inflammation has been shown to affect the brain’s structure and functioning. This can worsen ADHD symptoms or contribute to immune dysregulation.
In this sense, effective stress management may be a great way to prevent the worsening of ADHD symptoms. On top of that, it can also help improve your sleep and other aspects of your physical wellness.
Strategies to Reduce Stress With ADHD
Trying to stay on top of things without the right tools and strategies adds to the demands on your attention, focus, and brain. It’s also the hard way to do things.
To reduce stress when you have ADHD, you need to first identify what stresses you the most.
Does talk of money make you cringe because your bill payments are always late? Would you rather call in sick to work because you just can’t stay organized? Do you get annoyed at yourself for missing important family events?
Start with one small change to tackle your biggest stressor. It may be as simple as automating a bill payment or setting up a family calendar.
We all have things that stress us out, but stress mixed with ADHD can make things a lot worse.
Here are some ways to reduce stress by improving your organization, focus, and memory:
- Write down your tasks. Keep a daily to-do list of the tasks you need to complete. You can prioritize them based on urgency and focus on 1-2 main tasks you need to finish. As new tasks pop up, add them to your list in order of importance.
- Add key events to your calendar. To reduce the stress linked to missed appointments, meetings, or deadlines, insert these important dates into your phone’s calendar as soon as you get them. Set a reminder a day, an hour, or a few minutes before, depending on how much time you need to prepare for it.
- Use timers and alarms. Time blindness in ADHD can cause you to lose track of time, which can increase stress. To better gauge time, you can set alarms and timers that go off when a certain time limit is up. This can be especially helpful if you lose track of time when doing activities you enjoy.
- Make use of physical and digital reminders. Do you frequently forget to run important errands or pay your bills? Having recurring reminders on your phone can be helpful, but be sure to leave the notification on your screen until you’ve completed the task. Having sticky notes in places you often look at, like the mirror, and writing reminders on a whiteboard can also help you recall things better.
- Try body doubling with a friend. Body doubling is a productivity technique where you enlist the help of another person to be present while you both work on your own things. The body double can help anchor you into the present moment, keeping you focused and motivated as you work on frustrating tasks.
- Set financial goals: Money issues are often center stage when it comes to stress. To avoid or minimize this, find effective ways to manage your money. From setting goals (like buying a house) to scheduling automatic payments, there’s always a solution. You just have to find the one that works with your ADHD brain.
- Ask for help. If you find yourself missing out on family or social events, ask your partner for help. Get creative and try using a family calendar that tracks everything. If your office is too busy, ask for a distraction-free space to get work done or a project management tool to keep track of tasks.
- Seek support from others. One of the best ways to seek advice and encouragement from others on a similar journey is by joining a virtual support group for adults with ADHD.
You can start with one or two tips that target your stress triggers best. It might take some time for you to notice improvements with these strategies, so patience and consistency are key.
Tips and Coping Strategies for Stress Relief in ADHD
When these hiccups and roadblocks come along, it’s important to be able to relieve stress in a healthy manner.
The following are examples of ways you can do so:
- Exercise: Research shows that regular exercise helps protect against the negative consequences of stress, in addition to maintaining your physical health. In general, adults are recommended to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week.
- Meditation: Mindfulness meditation is shown to help reduce perceived stress and anxiety. This form of meditation trains you to be aware of what you’re feeling and sensing in the present moment.
- Breathing exercises: Different breathing techniques can help you relieve stress. In general, the aim of a breathing exercise is to train you to go from upper chest breathing to abdominal breathing. This may help calm your nervous system.
- Journaling: This typically involves writing down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Journaling may help you better identify your stress triggers and unhelpful thoughts or behavioral patterns.
- Self-care: Schedule time for your hobbies or activities that help you relax. Examples include taking a hot bubble bath, visiting the farmer’s market, or reading a book.
Take some time to explore these different stress management techniques. You can also combine two or three of them for better outcomes.
Stress and ADHD FAQs: Your Questions Answered
The following are some common questions about stress and ADHD.
Can stress lead to ADHD shutdown?
Being in a stressful or fast-paced situation can quickly overwhelm the ADHD brain. This may cause it to shut off due to information overload, leading to ADHD paralysis, where the person cannot think or work efficiently.
Do I have ADHD, or is it just anxiety or stress?
ADHD and anxiety can both lead to trouble focusing. If you have anxiety, you might find it difficult to concentrate when anxious or fearful. However, ADHD can make it hard to focus in different situations, even when anxiousness and fear aren’t present.
How do people with ADHD react to stress?
People with ADHD may experience burnout due to stress. ADHD burnout happens when the individual becomes exhausted due to prolonged stress and increasing demands. On the other hand, some ADHDers have developed healthy ways to cope with stress, such as joining support groups or practicing meditation and journaling.
The Role of Treatment and Support in Dealing With Stress
Living with ADHD can be frustrating, and you’re not alone if you feel this way. But what makes all the difference is how you cope with stress.
By developing healthy coping mechanisms, you can process stress in a way that helps you grow and find solutions to your problems.
ADHD medications can help you manage your symptoms better, improving how you function in different areas of your life. Support through therapy and ADHD coaching can also equip you to build personalized stress management techniques.
It’s also important to avoid dwelling on your mistakes. Navigating life with ADHD is tricky, so be sure to show yourself kindness and compassion along the way.
If you’re looking for more ways to deal with stress and symptoms of ADHD, check out ADDA+. This premium resource hub provides information, tools, and courses to help you regain control and succeed in achieving your goals!
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