ADHD at the Center: A Whole-Life, Whole-Person Condition
In the circle of your life, ADHD sits at the center. Its symptoms affect all areas of functioning — perhaps more than you realize. Here, gain life-changing insights how ADHD impacts your health, relationships, careers, friendships, and self-esteem.
ADHD is more than the sum of its symptoms. It touches your life from the moment you wake up to the instant you finally nod off. (In truth, ADHD continues to work its influence while you sleep.) Your health, personality and preferences, friendships and relationships — and truly everything else in between — is colored by your ADHD. It is there 24/7, 365 days a year, influencing every single part of you.
As an ADHD coach with ADHD myself, I help people see how it is a whole-life, whole-body condition. I help them connect the dots between ADHD and other areas of life, with the goal of encouraging personal awareness and understanding.
Here, I present facts, observations, and questions to get you thinking about how ADHD is at the center of your life. As you gain insight into your person and condition, please remember that you have your own brand of ADHD — and you deserve to be treated with kindness above all.
How Does ADHD Affect Overall Health?
ADHD & Sleep
Why So Many Night Owls Have ADHD
Delayed sleep phase syndrome, defined by irregular sleep-wake patterns and thought of as a circadian rhythm disorder, is common in ADHD.1 The ADHD brain takes longer — about an hour longer on average (remember, that’s just an average) — to fall asleep than does the non-ADHD brain.2 That’s why it’s not uncommon for us to stay up late at night, and regret it in the morning.
Poor-Quality Sleep Worsens ADHD Symptoms
Suffering a sleep deficit with ADHD is like waking up to ADHD times two — or five. Lack of sleep slows a person’s response time, processing speed, and decision-making. We’re not as alert or as focused when we’re tired. We become crabby and inflexible. We imitate three of the Seven Dwarfs: Dopey, Sleepy, and Grumpy. Lack of sleep is a self-fulfilling prophecy; it only continues to throw our circadian rhythm off kilter and cause more dysregulated sleep.
[Get This Free Download: Lifestyle Changes for Adults with ADHD]
Is Your ADHD Medication Causing Sleep Problems?
Sleep problems are a common side effect of stimulant use. Then again, many people with ADHD find that stimulants help them to go to sleep. This is worth personal exploration.
ADHD & Nutrition and Eating Habits
Why ADHD Brains Chase Dopamine
The dopamine-deficient ADHD brain seeks this chemical in many places, from tobacco to junk food. Caffeine also boosts dopamine levels in the brain.3 And it’s always tempting to reach for simple carbs, since they rapidly break down into sugar and stimulate dopamine release.
ADHD Symptoms Influence Eating Behaviors
Symptoms like impulsivity and inattention easily invite dysregulated eating, which may lead to unintended weight gain.4 In fact, studies link ADHD to excess weight and obesity5 — which is linked to other conditions ranging from fatty liver, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. Relatedly, research also links ADHD to Type 2 diabetes.6
Are Other Health Conditions Linked to ADHD?
From autoimmune diseases and skin conditions to hypermobility and pulmonary disease, a string of other health conditions have been linked to ADHD.7 8 9 Take a moment to think about how ADHD impacts your diet, health, and overall wellness.
[Free Guide: Health & Fitness Lifestyle Changes for Adults with ADHD]
How Does ADHD Affect Education and Careers?
Adverse School Experiences with ADHD Are Common
Our experiences in school often foreshadow our careers and other aspects of our lives. Did ADHD prevent you from graduating high school or from enrolling in or finishing college, as it did for so many of us?10 8 Or did ADHD help you excel in school? Did you have to navigate school with a learning difference like dyslexia or dysgraphia, as 45% of children with ADHD do?12
What Kind of Job Is Ideal for You?
Do you prefer to work in an office, or outside? Do you thrive in fast-paced, unpredictable environments? Or do you succeed with more structure and stability? Do you need complete silence to focus? Or do you work best with lots of stimuli? Are you self-employed? No matter your responses, know that ADHD guides your decisions across all these factors.
How Does ADHD Affect Relationships?
ADHD & Romantic Relationships
The Wonderful, Attractive Qualities of ADHD Partners
We’re spontaneous and lots of fun. We have a great sense of humor. (Because let’s face it: If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.) We’re also really affectionate — and tend to pour it on when we’re in new relationships.
How Non-ADHD Partners Can Misunderstand Us
Our loved ones don’t always understand why we’re sometimes forgetful or disorganized. They don’t always know that we’re trying our absolute hardest. They don’t always know how to avoid taking our ADHD personally.
We Need Acceptance, Not Tolerance
Acceptance and compassion are key to a happy ADHD relationship and a true partnership.
ADHD and Family
Did ADHD Affect Your Decision to Have Children?
Some parents with ADHD have impulsivity to thank for their families. Other adults with ADHD choose not to have children, perhaps because of the very real challenges of managing symptoms while parenting a child who may also have ADHD. Are either of these true for you?
Are You a Parent with ADHD Raising Kids with ADHD?
If so, you’re in a unique place. Yes, it can be overwhelming, frustrating, and just plain hard a lot of the time. But it’s also worth it — especially when your own family can provide empathetic and constructive support because they understand your ADHD challenges.
Navigating the Opinions of Extended Family Members
They may doubt that you have ADHD, or they may mistakenly believe that only children can have ADHD. They may not think ADHD is real at all. They may only remember the version of you before you were diagnosed and informed. Either way, many of us are unfortunately forced to skirt the topic of ADHD with certain family members, or avoid some family altogether. But sympathetic family members do exist. They often have ADHD themselves, or they have children who are diagnosed with ADHD.
ADHD & Friendships
ADHD Sometimes Sabotages Relationships
Sometimes, we don’t know how to navigate social settings. Things like striking conversation or joining an ongoing conversation are tricky. In the company of friends, we sometimes blurt out whatever comes to mind, even if it’s brutally honest and not totally appropriate. Though we don’t mean to create divisions, these moments often cost us our friendships.
We Desperately Need Friends Who Get It
We need friends who understand us and will be there for us, either to cheer us on or offer their shoulder to cry on — without judgment or guilt.
[Read: How a Better Relationship with Food Can Benefit Your ADHD Brain]
Special Focus: ADHD in Girls and Women
ADHD is Often Unrecognized in Girls and Women
Women and girls with ADHD tend to be people-pleasers. We try really hard to mask our symptoms and perceived flaws. We blame ourselves entirely for our mistakes — often leading to a lifetime of shame, self-hate, and self-recrimination. That’s why early diagnosis and treatment are so important. Yet they are still so difficult to obtain.
Why? Because we don’t tend to fit the ADHD stereotype of a hyperactive little boy. The symptoms of inattentive ADHD, more common in women, are not as obvious and are harder to observe. Others tend to brush us off as dreamy and ditzy. If anything, we’re often misdiagnosed with depression or anxiety.
ADHD & Estrogen
Estrogen has an amazing and astonishing effect on the body.
- The menstrual cycle: Estrogen levels rise and fall during the monthly cycle. We focus best when estrogen levels are at their highest. When estrogen levels bottom out, all hell breaks loose. We’re unable to focus and our ADHD symptoms become more severe. Also, it’s important to note that premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and its more serious form, premenstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD), are more common and more severe in women with ADHD.14 Check with your doctor to see if you would benefit from an additional dose of stimulant medication or an antidepressant during the lowest point of your cycle.
- Pregnancy and postpartum: Estrogen shoots up during pregnancy, peaks in the third trimester, and drops considerably postpartum — changes that are bound to have considerable effects on the ADHD body and mind at the time women face the greatest risk for postpartum depression.
- Perimenopause and menopause: Brain fog, memory lapses, irritability, and other symptoms increase as estrogen levels decrease. It stands to reason that these changes worsen ADHD symptoms, too. These changes may also explain why so many women are finally diagnosed with ADHD in midlife. If you’re at this stage, talk to your doctor to see if estrogen supplementation is appropriate for you.
Wait, That’s ADHD, Too? Other Features and Strengths
- We are time blind: We often miscalculate how much time has elapsed, or how much time it takes to complete a task. This can have career implications, among others.
- We have sensory sensitivities: Can’t stand the feeling of certain textures and fabrics on your skin? Do bright lights and loud noises bother you? Sensory sensitivities are common in ADHD, causing us to react strongly to sights, smells, tastes, and more. This can impact nutrition and even anxiety.
- We experience rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD): Are you sensitive to criticism, real or perceived? That’s RSD — a core part of the ADHD experience. Our sensitivity can cause us pain, but it also means that we’re intuitive and empathetic. It means we know how to take care of other people — because we know how we would like to be taken care of. RSD has an undeniably sizable impact on relationships touched by ADHD.
- We carry shame: Living with ADHD in a neurotypical world often means receiving negative feedback. It’s why so many of us feel like bad people. But ADHD is nothing to be ashamed about. Remember that you’re not alone.
- We love our pets: Whether it’s a turtle or a St. Bernard, many of us with ADHD have beloved pets. Could it be because they calm us? Because they’re not judgmental? Dog lovers often report that their daily walk schedule is an added benefit.
- We are good in a crisis: Whether it’s a true emergency or a manufactured one, we tend to perform well under serious pressure. (Is it any wonder that so many firefighters have ADHD?15)
- We are creative: We have a lot of great ideas, and we’re out-of-the-box thinkers. We like to hyperfocus for hours (a dopamine surge in itself) until we figure it out.
- We are absolutely resilient: We fall off a horse or two, but we get back on every single time.
Respect Your ADHD: Stop Trying to ‘Fix’ Yourself
Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been diagnosed for years, chances are you keep throwing heaps of spaghetti at the wall to see what will stick and “fix” you, once and for all. My bet is that you’ve tried all the planners, time-management tips, and other productivity strategies and tricks available on the market.
But what if you tried giving yourself credit and praise instead of constantly focusing on the “wrongs” in your life?
- You already have strategies that work. You’ve been coping with ADHD your entire life. You’re the expert on you. You have wisdom in yourself, and you can trust that wisdom.
- 98% (or more) of your life is working. Focusing on the 2% makes your problems seem bigger than they are.
Today, I invite you to give your ADHD a little respect. Don’t fight it or treat it as the enemy. Think of it as your alter ego. No, you’re not defined by your ADHD, but you certainly live with it. So allow yourself to accept that every now and then and just be. (The truth is you probably really like that little part of you that’s kind of different. I mean, who wants to be boring?)
The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “ADHD Is a Whole-Life, Whole-Body Experience” [Video Replay & Podcast #427] with Linda Roggli, PCC, which was broadcast on October 26, 2022.
How ADHD Affects All Areas of Life: Next Steps
- Free Download: The ADHD Healthy Habits Handbook
- Read: My 25 Rules for Life — A Practical Cure for ADHD Shame and Stagnation
- Read: Beyond Genes – Leveraging Sleep, Exercise, and Nutrition to Improve ADHD
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