ADHD in Women

Sister. Wife. Mother. Living with ADHD.

Moms don’t have ADHD, do they?!? Oh, yes — in fact, adult women are the fastest growing population of ADHD diagnoses. In other words, you are not alone — in your conflicting emotions, your healing, or your chance at a new start.

Woman with ADHD smiling
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The Feminine ADHD

Many women with ADHD who were diagnosed in adulthood experienced their "Aha!" moment when their child was diagnosed. Suddenly, you start to recognize yourself and your life's struggles in the diagnosis, too. You’ve always known there was something going on, and now, after learning about the condition, you think you have ADHD. What steps should you take? Read on to find out how you can know for sure, and find the resources for moving forward.

[Self-Test: ADHD in Women and Girls]

A doctor listens to a woman with ADHD talk about her symptoms
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1. Become an Expert

Does your life feel like one big struggle? Are you perpetually disappointed and frustrated? The first step in your ADHD journey is to pursue a correct diagnosis. Begin by learning all you can about adult ADHD — to the point where you’re more educated about the condition than is your doctor! Talk to her about related conditions—like anxiety, depression, or thyroid problems—to help you explain symptoms ignored or misdiagnosed in the past.

A woman with ADHD sits on the ground with her hand on her chin and looks thoughtfully into the distance
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2. Allow Yourself to Grieve

Getting a diagnosis is Step One. Step Two is beginning to look at your life in two distinct phases: pre- and post-diagnosis. After your doctor tells you that you have ADHD, it’s a whole new beginning! But first you need to get closure on the pre-diagnosis phase, so make sure you deal with your emotions. You need time to grieve and come to terms with the information. Only after you work through your feelings can you start moving forward with a clear vision of your life post-diagnosis.

A therapist talks to her upset patient about the symptoms experienced by women with ADHD
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3. Seek Professional Help

Once you’ve accepted your diagnosis, begin considering your options for treatment, including medication, diet, exercise and therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy based on the theory that how we think and feel directly impacts our behavior. Research shows that it does reduce ADHD symptoms. I suggest you start there.

A woman with ADHD fills out a form at the doctor's office
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4. Evaluate Comorbid Conditions

ADHD rarely travels alone. Most individuals with ADHD have at least one comorbid condition that exists in tandem—depression, bipolar disorder, and OCD are common examples. If you’re concerned about a related condition, the first step is to find a doctor who can tease apart symptoms and figure out where the ADHD stops and the other condition begins. If there’s an ADHD clinic nearby, start there—they can refer you to doctors who are experts in both conditions.

Middle-aged woman with ADHD relaxing after her exercise routine
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5. Regulate Your Hormones

Hormones during menopause, puberty, and a menstrual cycle change how ADHD symptoms manifest and how medication affects women. During menopause, for example, estrogen levels drop 60 percent, which means lower dopamine and serotonin. The result is less mental clarity, difficulty concentrating, and more distraction—which, when combined with ADHD symptoms, can make life a formidable challenge. More research is needed, but in my experience, alternative therapies can help to keep fluctuating hormones under control.

A woman with ADHD sits in lotus position on rocks overlooking the beach at sunset
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6. Meditate

Learn to stabilize your mood through meditation. By altering your perception of time, meditation can help you feel like there are more hours in the day. If you’re hyperactive and sitting still makes you panic, never fear! You can try other alternative treatments, like physical exercise or herbs. Motherwort is great for moods, and lemon balm is good in a tea to help with sleep. I’m not an herbalist, so make sure you consult with one before you start any herb regimen.

Woman with ADHD has problems with her husband
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7. Teach Them About ADHD

Sometimes, family members just don’t get ADHD. If you were diagnosed late in life, this can be heartbreaking—we all just want to be accepted for who we are. Your family can either step up to the plate and grow with you, or they can fight you. Help them choose the right path by sharing what you know and teaching respectful ways to talk about ADHD. Remember, though, that your diagnosis is for you, not your family. If they can’t play nice, you need to stand up for yourself.

An overhead view of a group of women with ADHD and coworkers work at their computers at a communal table
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8. Revisit Your Passions

Many adults with ADHD have trouble holding a job, or struggle with the daily structure of office life. But, in my opinion, structure is overrated! Of course, every job has some structure, but the trick is finding the one that lets you have the most unstructured time within the larger organization. Take a hard look at your life's passions and ask yourself what job would make the most of your unique capabilities and potential.

A sales woman with ADHD talks to two prospective clients
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9. Market Yourself

To land the perfect career, you must market yourself—particularly in interviews. Be upfront about your challenges, but spin them in a positive way whenever possible. There’s no need to use the word "ADHD." If you’re a slow learner, tell them, "It sometimes takes me longer to learn new things, but once I learn, I never forget!" Address the issues openly—without labeling yourself.

A woman with ADHD wears a knit hat and poncho and sits on a park bench
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10. Never Feel Inferior

If you’ve been diagnosed late, you may have spent a long time feeling “less than” other women. This is hard to get over, and can leave its mark even after you’ve been diagnosed. Once you get a treatment in place that works for your ADHD, it’s important to go back and un-learn the negative self-talk. Learn to love yourself. There can’t be better advice than that.