ADHD Adults

Adult ADHD Is Misunderstood: Realistic Solutions for Managing Life, Time & Emotions

ADHD in adults impedes getting organized, managing emotions and time, communicating in relationships, parenting kids, and more. Here, learn strategies to manage ADHD symptoms through major life changes in the workplace, at home, with finances, and more.

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ADHD in Adults (25 Years+): Challenges and Solutions

Developmental Milestones in Adulthood

ADHD is not just a childhood disorder. It’s a lifelong condition for most individuals that can change in presentation through the stages of adulthood — getting married, starting a family, moving up the career ladder or changing jobs, and managing a home. For adults with ADHD, navigating these milestones successfully requires specific developmental skills:

  • Harnessing focus and attention on demand is necessary to productivity at work and at home, where there are many distractions to undercut your efforts.
  • Building reminder and scheduling systems helps adults keep track of doctor’s appointments, school events, work deadlines, and all of life’s nagging to-do items. Without a system, the information rattling around in an ADHD brain can (and often does) cause overload.
  • Estimating and managing time for not only yourself but also your children becomes a daily chore in adulthood. Mastering schedules makes the difference between catching the bus or ruining your whole day.
  • Mastering emotional regulation — learning how to recognize and deal with out-of-proportion irritability, anger, sadness, and excitement — is a key to relationship health and longevity.
  • Devising physical organizational skills for managing bills, mail, clutter, and life’s other “stuff” is not easy, but it can mean the difference between wasting a Saturday searching for an overdue bill or using the slush in your budget for a well-deserved treat.

[Take This Self-Test: Do I Have ADHD? Symptom Test for Adults]
[Take This Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women]

ADHD in Adults: Strategies for Managing Time, Emotions, and Getting Organized

ADHD symptoms that have been effectively managed for decades can flare out of control with major life changes, like starting a family or changing jobs. To manage the ADHD effect on an aging brain and a complicated life, use these practical strategies:

1. Work in 25-minute bursts with short breaks in between. When random thoughts sidetrack your focus, write them down in a separate document for later. Use fidget tools or chewing gum to boost focus.

2. To compensate for working memory deficits, put relevant information in calendars, planners, sticky notes, apps, emails, and other tools. Automate tasks and bill paying as much as possible, and set reminders for recurring events.

3. To create a simple budget, note your take-home pay and subtract monthly expenses — rent or mortgage, electricity, cable, heat, water, and groceries. Schedule payment due dates or, better yet, set up automatic payments. Manage the remaining income by using tracking apps, and curb impulse shopping by carrying minimal cash.

[Read: Getting Things Done Just Got Easier]

4. To chip away at piles of stuff, categorize items and create rules for them (e.g., recycle all magazines and catalogs). Set a timer and limit your work to small areas, using baskets or clear containers for easy, sustainable organization. Consider hiring an ADHD coach or a professional organizer to help you stay organized.

5. Combat emotional dysregulation by anticipating stressors and practicing self-regulation when they are unavoidable. For example, pause and name your feelings, or practice a two-minute deep-breathing exercise when you feel anger or frustration welling up. Many adults with ADHD use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them identify distorted, unreasonable thoughts and provide productive tools for dealing with emotions.

6. When tensions run high in your relationships, remove yourself from the situation by taking a walk or drive and return when you’ve calmed down. Practice accountability — talk openly about your difficulties with your partner when appropriate, and apologize for mistakes. Above all, communicate.

ADHD in Adults: Treatments

Outsmarting ADHD is a life-long balancing and fine-tuning act that often uses ADHD medication, but almost never medication alone. Most effective treatment plans include behavior interventions, ADHD coaching, exercise and healthy eating, and school and/or workplace accommodations.

To aid all-day focus at work, adults with ADHD may consider extended-release formulations and/or revisit their stimulant medication choice, dosage, and timing. Talk to your doctor about making mid-life medication adjustments, and consider augmenting your meds with CBT or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which work to disarm and replace the negative thinking patterns that cause chronic problems at work, at home, and in relationships.

ADHD in Adults: Next Steps

The Ages & Stages of ADHD

Access more articles from ADDitude’s 5-part “Ages & Stages” series exploring common ADHD-related challenges through the lifecycle, along with strategies and treatments for each:

Download the Full Ages & Stages of ADHD Booklet

These strategies for adult ADHD were derived in part from Meg Leahy’s, MS, NCC, BCC, work and expertise as an educator and ADHD coach. Read more about her recommended ADHD strategies through the ages in “The Life Coach Guide for ADHD: Strategies for Every Age and Stage.” 

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