Signs and Symptoms of Adult ADHD
Some people may be diagnosed with ADHD as a child and continue to experience difficulties related to ADHD as an adult, whilst some may find their symptoms fade away or are easier to manage as an adult. Others will not have been diagnosed with ADHD as a child but may wonder why they constantly struggle with certain elements of their lives and may receive a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult.
In adults the symptoms of ADHD are unique for everyone but usually common symptoms include:
Trouble concentrating and staying focused
- Difficulty attending to or finishing mundane tasks
- ‘Zoning out’ without realizing
- Distractibility, where attention wonders making it hard to stay on track
- Problems paying attention/focusing on tasks such as reading/listening to others
- Difficulty completing tasks – even simple ones
- Overlooking details leading to errors or incomplete work
- Poor listening skills leading to difficulty following directions/remembering conversations
Tendency to hyperfocus or become absorbed in stimulating or rewarding task
Become oblivious to things happening around whilst hyperfocusing leading to losing track of time/neglecting other tasks etc
Hyperfocus can be an asset when channeled into productive activities but causes difficulties at work or in relationships if unmanaged.
Disorganisation and forgetfulness
Life can often seem chaotic and out of control because staying organised and on top of things can be extremely challenging when you have ADHD. Similarly, deciding what information is relevant for specific tasks, prioritising work, managing time and keeping on top of responsibilities and tasks is also difficult.
Symptoms of disorganisation and forgetfulness include:
- poor organisational skills (home, office, desk or car messy and cluttered)
- tendency to procrastinate
- trouble starting and/or finishing projects
- chronic lateness
- frequently forgetting appointments, commitments and deadlines
- constantly losing, misplacing items such as keys, wallet, phone, documents etc
- underestimating the time it will take to complete tasks
Those suffering from symptoms of impulsivity may have trouble with the following:
- frequently interrupting or talking over others
- blurting out rude or inappropriate thoughts without thinking
- addictive tendencies
- acting recklessly or spontaneously without regard for consequences
- behaving in socially appropriate ways
Common emotional symptoms of adult ADHD include:
- sense of underachievement
- inability to cope with frustration
- easily flustered and stressed out
- irritability or mood swings
- difficulty getting/remaining motivated
- hypersensitivity to criticism
- short, often explosive temper
- low self-esteem and sense of insecurity
Hyperactivity or restlessness
Hyperactivity in adults with ADHD can be similar to that seen in children - extremely energetic and constantly 'on the go' as if driven by a motor. For many people with ADHD the symptoms of hyperactivity become less visible with age. Common symptoms of hyperactivity in adults include:
- feelings of inner restlessness/agitation
- tendency to take risks
- getting bored easily
- racing thoughts
- trouble sitting still/constantly fidgeting
- craving excitement
- talking excessively
- chronic multitasking
Adults with ADHD are much less likely to be hyperactive than children with ADHD. A small minority of adults with ADHD will have prominent symptoms of hyperactivity but if you don’t have any hyperactivity symptoms but you have some of the other symptoms you may still have ADHD.
Effects of adult ADHD
If you discover you have ADHD as an adult, there is a strong possibility that you have suffered over the years by being labeled ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’ due to your forgetfulness or difficulty completing tasks or you may think of yourself in negative terms because you just can’t seem to ‘get on top of life’.
The effect of the consequences of ADHD may lead you to feel a loss of confidence, frustration, hopelessness or disappointment. Realising that the cause of your problems is ADHD can be an enormous relief and give hope. You are now able to understand what you are dealing with and realize that your difficulties are not the result of personal weakness or a character flaw.
Adult ADHD is not a barrier to success
ADHD does not dictate intelligence or ability. Certainly you may find some things more difficult but that doesn’t mean you don’t have strengths enabling you to find your calling and achieve success. The key is finding out what your strengths are and playing to them. Some of those strengths might include incredible creativity, passion, energy, out-of-the-box thinking and original ideas.
However, having said that if ADHD is untreated its effects can be far-reaching as follows:
Physical and/or mental health problems
The emotional difficulties mentioned above and the co-morbid conditions associated with ADHD can result in anxiety, depression, chronic stress and low self-esteem.
Chronic stress is not healthy for anyone and can eventually cause physical health problems. In addition, disorganisation could result in neglecting check-ups, missing appointments or forgetting to take important medication.
Work and financial difficulties
Adults with ADHD often experience career difficulties and feel a strong sense of underachievement. Because of these difficulties they may have trouble keeping a job, following corporate rules, meeting deadlines or simply sticking to a 9-5 routine. Managing finances may also be challenging due to forgetting to pay bills on time, lost paperwork, late fees or debts arising from impulsive spending.
ADHD symptoms may put a strain on your work, love and family relationships. Loved ones may be continually nagging you to get organised and be more tidy or listen properly or they may feel hurt over insensitive comments you make or feel you are irresponsible.
How can you help yourself manage your adult ADHD?
Once you have an understanding of what your challenges are you can seek help to use strategies to overcome and manage them. However, outside intervention is not always necessary at the beginning as there are many ways in which you can help yourself immediately.
The following are important ways you can start to help yourself:
Regular exercise helps work off excess energy and aggression in a positive way and soothes and calms the body. In addition, exercise like yoga can be extremely beneficial for slowing an overactive mind and calming the central nervous system allowing you to relax.
- Avoid additives such as colourings, preservatives and flavourings
- Avoid highly processed foods and opt for fresh produce
- Avoid sugary foods and refined carbohydrates to regulate blood sugar levels
- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables but limit fruit (organic where possible)
- Buy organic, grass fed meat, dairy and eggs
- Eat plenty of good fats
For more information on healthy eating and diet click here.
Get Enough Sleep
Everybody, regardless of whether they have ADHD, will find it more difficult to focus, manage stress, stay productive and keep on top of their responsibilities if they are over-tired. For t hose with ADHD who already have problems in these areas, it makes sense to always get a good night's sleep of at least 8 hours. See ADHD & Sleep for more tips on better sleep hygiene.
Improve your time management
There are countless books on improving time management that can benefit everyone. As time management is a real challenge for those with ADHD it makes sense to incorporate the best time management techniques you can into your routine. Small changes can make a big difference to what you can achieve and therefore your stress levels. See here for tips on time management.
Work on your social skills
Schedule activities with friends and use a diary or reminder system to ensure you keep your engagements and arrive on time. Be aware that you may be interrupting or hogging conversations. Once you realise you may be guilty of this try your best to listen more carefully to what others are saying and give others a chance to add to the conversation.
Choose a career suited to your individual strengths
As mentioned above, work to your strengths and find a career that motivates and interests you. Often people who struggled in the rigid education system notice symptoms less as adults because they enter a career which interests them and suits their strengths. A partnership with someone highly organised but perhaps less creative is perfectly mutually beneficial.
When should you seek outside help?
If you find that, despite helping yourself in the above ways, the symptoms of ADHD are still preventing you from functioning optimally in life, you may be best seeking outside help.
Adults with ADHD can benefit from a number of treatments including behavioural psychology, individual or group therapy, biomedical investigations and treatments, support groups, vocational/life coaching, educational assistance and/or medication.
Treatment for adults with ADHD should involve a team of professionals and include where possible/appropriate the person's family members and/or spouse.
Professionals trained in ADHD can help you with:
- Co-morbid conditions such as anxiety/depression
- controlling impulsive behaviour
- managing your time and money
- organisational skills
- boosting productivity at home and work
- managing stress and anger
- communicating more clearly
- discovering any physical reasons for your ADHD symptoms