Why Stress Management Is Vital for Adults with ADHD

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Managing stress is important for everyone. When stress is managed, people experience greater happiness and good health.  However, when you are living with ADHD, stress management is even more of a priority. Not only are adults with ADHD at a greater risk of experiencing stress, such as work stress and stressful life events (e.g. bankruptcy, divorce, etc.), stress actually causes ADHD symptoms to become worse.

What exactly is stress?

Stress is what happens in our body as a result of perceived danger. When you feel stressed, it is usually because of a change that you don't feel able to handle. Different people have different perceptions of what is stressful to them. Some examples include: a child crying, being stuck in traffic, a fast approaching deadline at work, certain people, a large bill to pay.

When your mind notices a stressor, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. The fight or flight response is then initiated and stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol are released. Your pulse increases, blood pressure goes higher, and you breathe faster. This means you can respond quickly to get out of danger. Your body is focused on immediate survival and non-essential functions, such a digestion and general repair stop. Blood is diverted to the heart, brain and large muscle groups, so you can think and act quickly.

Once the danger has passed, the parasympathetic system takes over from the sympathetic nervous system and gets your body back into its normal state.

As an adult with ADHD, you might have noticed that you enjoy a certain amount of stress. It makes you feel motivated, focused and 'switched on’. You might even find yourself creating stressful situations because you like that “alive”feeling.

  Though sometimes, that stress can quickly turn into overwhelm and anxiety.

Our bodies aren’t designed to stay in a high alert situation for long periods. When our ancestors lived in caves, after danger from a sabre-toothed tiger passed, they would be able to relax and allow the parasympathetic system to take their body back to a normal healthy state. However, in today's world, it is very easy to jump from one stressful situation to the next. Unless you actively manage stress, your body can stay in flight or fight mode. This puts you at increased risk for colds and flu, as well as more serious illnesses such as heart disease and stroke. Depression and substance abuse are also common in people with long term stress.

Here are 3 steps to becoming a master stress manager.

1.     Identify what causes you stress

As you are going about your day, start to notice the things that trigger you to feel stressed. It doesn’t matter how small they might seem, take note!

Here are 6 categories of common stressors to help you identify yours:

a)     Physical environment – temperature, noise, quality of light

b)    Relationships – tension or conflict with the people in your life

c)     Money – Worries about bills, filing taxes

d)    Lifestyle – Alcohol and drugs, health, clutter, time management

e)     Life events – Wedding, death or illness

f)     Organization – Rules, Laws, deadlines


2.     Problem solve

Once you know what is causing you stress, you can do some problem-solving to find different ways to do things. For example, if being stuck in traffic is a trigger for you, you might decide to take a different route or make it at a different time.

3.     Actively manage stress

Some stressors are out of our control. For example: a sick relative. This is why it is important to have techniques that you practice on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to manage your stress and get you out of ‘fight and flight mode’.

Here are 10 ways to activity manage stress:

1.     Exercise

2.     Meditate

3.     Spend time outside in nature

4.     Make sleep a priority

5.     Eat healthy foods

6.     Reduce caffeine and sugar

7.     Avoid alcohol and cigarettes

8.     Practice deep breathing

9.     Get a massage regularly

10.  Change how you speak to yourself. A lot of stress is caused from the messages we tell ourselves rather than what is happening in our reality.

What are you currently doing to manage your stress? What items from this list could you add?

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