10 Ways ADHD Adults Can Worry Less

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In their book Delivered From Distractions, authors Edward Hallowell and John Ratey explain that adults with ADHD worry more than people who don’t have ADHD. This is because you are smart and imaginative, 2 characteristics that also contribute to worrying. In order to create worries, people often need a creative and quick brain that conjures up constant worse case scenarios.

Also, the characteristics of ADHD mean there is always lots to worry about.

For example, you could worry about forgetting an important item, something you said impulsively and whether or not it offended your friend, if you locked or even closed your front door in the rush to get to an appointment on time, if you have a cavity because you haven’t visited your dentist for so long, or if you are going to get in trouble for not filing your taxes.

Dr. Hallowell and Dr. Ratey also identify another interesting behavior that is common for people with ADHD: you might use worry as a form of entertainment to create stimulation when there is nothing exciting happening in your life. Even though worrying isn’t fun, it does create a drama. The ADHD brain likes that drama because low key and calm is boring and boring is something you avoid at all cost.

What Is Worry?

It's helpful to understand what worry is before trying to fix it. When you worry your mind is full of negative and upsetting thoughts.

You mull over your concerns and fears and think about potential problems that could happen in the future. You might find yourself worrying about past events too, wondering if you could have done or said something differently. Some people worry about their physical health and the safety of their loved ones.

As you are picturing these worries in your mind's eye you might feel sad, afraid or anxious.  

Can Worrying Be a Positive Thing?

Small amounts of worry can be helpful. A worry can help you prepare for possible situations in your life. For example, if you are worried about a house fire, it might propel you to check your smoke detector regularly, buy a fire extinguisher, and make duplicate copies of important documents. This positive type of worry is short-lived. You have a concern, then you take action and the worry disappears.

Toxic Worry

If worry is a constant part of your daily life and you can’t seem to push negative thoughts out of your mind, worry is not helpful. Dr. Hallowell calls this unhelpful worry "toxic worry." Toxic worry keeps you in a mental prison. Even if nothing bad is happening right now, your mind is full of worried thoughts and so you aren’t able to enjoy the joyful moments of daily life. 

Because you are always expecting the worst, life seems more dangerous to you than it does for other people.

For example, if you are running a marathon, you might worry about a terrorist attack similar to the Boston Marathon bombing. If your husband is going on a business trip, you could picture a plane crash and how sad you would be without him in your life. If you feel unwell, you think you must have a deadly disease.  

If something unexpected happens and you handle the situation well, you worry about what would have happened if you hadn’t acted that way. For example, if you swerved to avoid an accident on the highway, you worry about what would have happened if you hadn’t swerved rather than congratulating yourself on your quick thinking. 

Worrying to this degree affects all aspects of your life from physical and emotional health to your life and relationships both at home and at work.

The Connection Between Worry and Anxiety

You can worry without experiencing anxiety. For example, the helpful short-lived worry that helps you prepare for possible situations in your life often isn't paried with anxiety. However, excessive worry and anxiety often go hand in hand. Dr. Linda Mintle, author of Letting Go of Worry, says worry is the mental part of anxiety. In fact, one of the key ways generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed is if a person is an excessive worrier. 

10 Ways to Reduce Your Worry

Even if you have been a life longer worrier, it is possible to change and find relief from worry. Here are 10  suggestions to help you.

1) Ask if this is a helpful worry. 

When you are worried about a topic, ask yourself  whether this is a helpful worry. If so, what are the practical actions you could take? It might be to take a trip to the doctor or checking your smoke detectors, for example. Write a list of those actions and schedule a time so you feel confident and ensure that you will do them. Being proactive helps you to feel in control.

2) Break the worry loop. 

If your worry isn’t a helpful worry and you are stuck in a worry loop, researching facts is a good way to break that loop. For example, if you are worried about an airplane crash, research how often crashes take place. Or if you are worried about being mugged, find out what the crime rate is in your area.

Facts help to break the worry loop. Often, worries stem from fear and facts help quell that fear. They put things into perspective and reassure you. Sometimes, researching a topic only takes minutes thanks to the powerful search engines that we have at our fingertips. Other times, it is helpful to read in great detail and become knowledgeable about a topic.

3) Build iron door

In the classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie recommends living in day tight compartments. He suggests that rather than letting your thoughts intrude on today, imagine there are iron doors that block out thoughts from the past and worries about the future. When you focus on what is happening right now, it is very freeing and you can really embrace the day.

Next time you catch yourself worrying, push the worries aside and envision iron doors keeping them out of your head. Adults with ADHD are usually ver visual, so having an image of the iron doors can be helpful.

4) Target the Specific Worry

There are lots of techniques to help you deal with the ADHD characteristics that are causing you to worry. First write a list of what yours are and then you can address each one. For example, if you are always worried that you forgot to  turn the oven off, or lock your door, then learning to be more mindful and present at that time will help. 

If you keep forgetting important events then master the art of using a daytime planner. It will support your memory so you can stop worrying about whether you forgot your lunch or your friend’s birthday. 

If you find yourself procrastinating over items that seem overwhelming, there are practical solutions for that too. Treating your ADHD is helpful. Speak to your doctor about ADHD medication and explore the ways you can help reduce ADHD symptoms naturally, such as with diet and exercise.

6) Visit your doctor. 

Sometimes worrying can be a sign of a medical condition, including depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Getting a diagnosis is important because when you know exactly what conditions you have, you can start to treat them directly. Your quality of life will improve and your worrying will also be reduced. 

7) Stop watching the news!

People with ADHD love information and often spend many hours a day consuming news, including watching the morning news on TV, reading news articles on your phone throughout the day, and rounding the day off by watching the evening news. However, when you do this, it gives your mind lots of sad stories and new things to worry about.

To break this cycle, try a 30 day news diet. Minimiza how often you read newspapers, watch TV shows, and surf websites. If you love the news, it will be hard. However, the benefit will be less excessive worry.

Instead of news shows, listen to podcasts about topics you are interested in, watch movies, and read books.These will fill your mind with a different type of information and help you to feel inspired and positive.

8) Dream sweeter.

Sleep makes everything better, including worry. Unfortunately, worrying can stop you from falling asleep at night. Also, if you wake up in the middle of the night your busy ADHD brain can keep you awake.  When you have ADHD and are prone to worry then sleep can feel elusive - 75% of adults with ADHD have problems with sleep! Yet because sleep is so powerful in reducing worry and your ADHD symptoms, it is worth learning how to master your sleep challenges. 

9) Eat healthy food.

If you are very worried, you might find that you go for long periods of time without eating. Alternatively, some people comfort eat when they are worried. If you comfort eat then you don’t reach for healthy food. Eating a clean diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables is helpful to both worrying and your ADHD. In addition, if at all possible, eat your meals at regular intervals.

10) Distract yourself.

There will inevitably be times when you have tried all of these techniques and you are still worrying. When this happens it is time for distraction. It is not possible to worry and be fully engaged in another activity. Find an activity that is very compelling for you. It might be watching a movie, playing a computer game, or having a stimulating conversation with a friend. This distraction will help break the worry loop.

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