Adult ADHD: Managing Stress

Health Writer

If you are an adult with ADHD, you probably experience stress on a regular basis. According to a study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders in 2012, “the experience of ADHD symptoms in adulthood is associated with stress.” The authors of the study found that symptoms of inattention and deficits in executive function brought about more stress than symptoms associated with hyperactivity or impulsiveness. This may be because symptoms of inattention cause more disruption to daily routines and require more behavioral interventions as well as a “lack of persistence” in dealing with daily stressors.

Chronic stress can be dangerous to your health. In the short term, it can cause stomach aches, headaches or when more severe can trigger heart attacks. When stress is chronic it can result in serious, long-term health problems. According to the Centre for Studies on Human Stress, chronic stress can cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

The good news is that there are steps you can take to manage and lower your stress levels.

Exercise - If you are feeling stressed, exercising for about 30 minutes should lower your stress level, temporarily. However, regular or daily exercise can help to lower overall stress levels and raise your stress threshold. Try for 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day.

Structure your day - Although you might feel you are confined or held back by routine, it usually has the opposite effect. Structure can reduce the chaos in your life and keep you more centered and focused on the task at hand. Take time early in the morning (or before you go to bed) to plan out your day; that way you will know exactly what you want to accomplish and have a plan to how to achieve your goals.

Learn to say no - One common complaint of adults with ADHD is that they are overbooked. They might agree to do whatever someone suggests, maybe impulsively or maybe because you think you can do it without weighing other commitments. Once you have, you realize that you are frazzled trying to get everything done, which often amounts to getting nothing done. Whenever you are asked to do something, give yourself 24 hours to make a commitment, giving you time to decide if it is something that will fit into your life right now.

Keep track of your time - Are you the type that “gets lost in your thoughts or activities” and doesn’t realize how much time has passed? Once you do, you are late for the next task, activity or appointment. Use a timer, either a kitchen timer or one on your watch or phone, to keep you on track. When the timer goes off, stop what you are doing and move on to the next task.

Take time to slow down - Your ADHD brain might go 100 miles an hour; often your lifestyle keeps the same pace. Plan time into each day to slow down - listen to music, go for a walk, meditate, do yoga. Find activities that help you unwind and relax. Chaos and high intensity lives can increase stress levels. Start small, such as 15 minutes a day to sit and listen to music and then slowly increase your “down” time.

Stop comparing yourself to others - You might be embarrassed because your house is not as clean as your sister-in-laws or worry about your desk being much more cluttered than your coworkers. Your expectations or wanting to live up to other’s expectations can be increasing your levels of stress. Accept yourself, ADHD and all, and choose what you want to improve and what you want to accept. Then work toward your own goals.

Sit up straight and smile - It doesn’t sound like much but when you are feeling stressed, you probably slouch and your facial expression might show your frustration. Consciously sit up straight, shoulders back and smile. Take several deep breaths. Doesn’t that make you feel a little better?

Take deep breaths - Deep breathing is a great stress reduction technique. Stop what you are doing and take 10 deep breaths, paying attention to each breath and making sure your abdomen rises and falls with each breath.

Practice mindfulness - Stress usually results because you are reliving an event from the past or worrying about the future. Instead, take a few moments to live in the present moment. Mindfulness has been found to help reduce ADHD symptoms.

Laugh - Stress can often result in a swirl of negative thoughts. Laughter tends to break the cycle of negative thoughts and put you in a better mood, allowing you to see your problems from a new perspective.

For more information:

10 Tips to Reduce Stress at Work for Adults with ADHD

Executive Functioning Deficits: Planning and Organization

Executive Function Deficits: Losing Track of Time

Apps to Help You Get Organized