Consider this example of adult ADHD symptoms: it’s 11 pm, and you’ve been playing guitar for hours. You’ve lost all track of time, and now as you glance up at the clock you realize that all the dishes from dinner are still left in the sink, you haven’t packed the kids’ lunches and for some reason, the last three hours felt more like fifteen minutes.

It feels almost physically painful to stop doing something you were so absorbed in, but you drag yourself through the night’s chores while your mind wanders. You realize as you’re heading upstairs that you have no idea where you put your phone. You spend another twenty minutes searching for it and find the utility bill you’d forgotten about hidden under the couch cushion.

It’s late. You tell yourself you’ll deal with it tomorrow. By the time you finally get to bed it’s 1 AM and you’re left wondering, “man, what is wrong with me that I can’t just get things done like a normal person? My mom was right, I am so undisciplined.”

Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you should consider the possibility that instead of being undisciplined you’re dealing with adult ADHD symptoms.

What is ADHD?

You’ve probably heard someone joke about how they “have ADHD” when they’re struggling to focus. However, for people who have clinical ADHD, it can be much more than a joke when it significantly affects their daily ability to function. ADHD stands for “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” and though researchers still don’t know exactly what causes it, it’s likely a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors.

It is now recognized as a lifelong condition, but it can look different in adults than it does in children. In the context of a school environment, the inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that are the hallmarks of ADHD tend to be disruptive.

Because of this, many do receive a diagnosis before they’re out of school years. However, if you were one of the many cases of ADHD that flew under the radar, managing to compensate well enough to get along, there is a good chance you are still living with adult ADHD symptoms.

Specifically, ADHD causes issues with executive function which is the part of the brain responsible for organizing thoughts, managing time, and making decisions, and prioritizing. Estimates place the prevalence of ADHD in the adult population at about four percent, though it could be higher, and females are more likely to go undiagnosed.

Differentiating Adult ADHD Symptoms

In children, ADHD can manifest in a variety of ways, but the three main categories that create the ADHD picture are inattention, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. This could look like struggling to stay on task, not hearing directions, having trouble controlling their hands and bodies, constant movement, inability to sit still, etc.

Adults tend to internalize symptoms more than children. Rather than the bouncing off the walls kind of hyperactivity of a child, hyperactivity in an adult can simply be mental and manifest as difficulty resting or relaxing. Impulsivity can look like taking unnecessary risks or poor financial management.

In general, adult ADHD symptoms are much more likely to trend towards inattention and struggling to complete concrete tasks. Everyone struggles with motivation at times, but with ADHD it’s not a lack of motivation so much as it is difficulty pulling pieces together to gain momentum to complete tasks.

Another tricky aspect of ADHD is time management struggles. Things like estimating how long a task will take, or having an internal measurement of time passing are difficult, often resulting in missed deadlines, missed appointments, frustration in relationships, etc.

This is a neurological phenomenon for some people. Some data relates this to brain chemistry, specifically the balance of dopamine, so medical treatment can help to improve some of these symptoms. Emotional dysregulation can also be a symptom more common in adults. This also means that there can be an overlap between ADHD and other mental health struggles.

The combination of all these things can make it difficult to maintain healthy function as an adult. Other people, your spouse, boss, family members, etc., might get frustrated with what they perceive as laziness or a lack of follow-through and if you’re not aware of strategies to cope with some of the challenges ADHD presents, it can lead to low self-esteem and feeling frustrated.

So, I have ADHD – now what?

Realizing that there’s a biological and neurological reason for your behavior can be a huge relief for someone who feels like they’re struggling with normal tasks. Realizing that you have specific wiring and may not operate within the same parameters as everyone else can free you up to learn how to work with your strengths and better compensate for weaknesses.

The truth is that everyone is created with unique capacities and capabilities and just because you struggle to work within a time-bound system does not mean there’s something wrong with you. As an image-bearer of God your worth is inherent, no matter your level of performance and the creative and energetic part of your brain is just as much a reflection of God’s creativity as someone who excels at bringing order reflects God’s movement to bring all things right.

Knowing that your prefrontal cortex is slower to develop than your peers’ can provide a level of freedom when you realize you had no control over it. It’s important to be a good steward of the body and brain that you’re given by God, but it’s also so important to realize that the limitations you deal with in your physical body are not a moral failing.

Learning to see yourself as God’s precious child, no matter what your struggles are, can be a powerful motivator to treat yourself well and begin to do the hard work of figuring out how to work with the brain you’ve been given.

Some of the things that make ADHD challenging also bring unique gifts. The ability to hyperfocus on an interesting or important task means that you may achieve a level of work in some areas that others won’t. A brain that is constantly moving means that you can generate ideas that other people won’t, and if hyperactivity can be directed, you have the potential for energy other people can only dream of.

The challenge is to learn to work with your strengths and to direct them in a way that you’re able to put them to good use. To be able to make a living, complete tasks, and do adult tasks that life may require, it can be helpful to find concrete strategies to work with your wiring, not against it.

Helpful Strategies for Coping with Adult ADHD Symptoms

Because ADHD does involve an imbalance in certain neurotransmitter circuits, certain medical treatments can be helpful. Every person’s treatment will be highly individualized, so talking with your doctor can be a good place to start. There’s a variety of possibilities, ranging from pharmaceutical stimulants to simple lifestyle changes.

A counselor who’s versed in adult ADHD symptoms can help you to sort through the challenges that you’re facing in your life and develop personalized strategies to work with your unique set of skills and struggles. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and specialized ADHD coaching can give you tools to help complete tasks on time.

Simple things, like completing a simple task to build momentum before attempting a hard task, can make a big change. Co-working, a strategy where you are simply working alongside another person to help you stay on task, can be another helpful strategy.

So much of learning to succeed despite adult ADHD symptoms is learning your currency and how to harness the things that you are good at while systematizing the things that fall through the cracks. If you need someone to walk alongside you, give us a call.

Sources:

Diagnosing Adult ADHD: Team ADHD for HCPS. Diagnosing Adult ADHD | TEAM ADHD For HCPs. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2021, from https://www.team-adhd.com/adult/diagnosing-adhd

Ptacek, R., Weissenberger, S., Braaten, E., Klicperova-Baker, M., Goetz, M., Raboch, J., Vnukova, M., Stefano, G. B. (2019, May 26). Clinical Implications of the Perception of Time in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Review. Medical Science Monitor: International Medical Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research. Retrieved December 20, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6556068/

Photos:
“Medication”, Courtesy of Christina Victoria Craft, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Class”, Courtesy of NEXT Academy, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reading in a Meadow”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Be Here Now”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
By Published On: September 2nd, 20227.5 min read

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Articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All opinions expressed by authors and quoted sources are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, publishers or editorial boards of Irvine Christian Counseling. This website does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Site. Reliance on any information provided by this website is solely at your own risk.

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