While doing some research this fall in preparation for a conference on ADHD in the Workplace I was invited to do for the Sudbury Partners in Prevention Conference and Trade Show, I discovered a study on how ADHDers manage stress.
The study measured the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, and the heart rate of subjects with and without ADHD and had them complete a questionnaire to measure their level of psychological distress several different times, including before the event, to see the stress they felt in anticipation of a stressful event, during the stressful event and after the stressor was eliminated.[i]
Feeling a Little Stressed? There’s a Good Reason for That
ADHDers demonstrated and reported significantly more psychological distress than non-ADHDers, but despite that, their levels of cortisol, which increase in the face of stress, as well as their heart rate, were lower than those of non-ADHDers when faced with the same stressful situation. In addition, ADHDers took longer to recover from stress even after the stressor was eliminated.
Yes, it’s interesting. But what does it mean for you? Glad you asked! 😉
What Can You Do About It?
This explains why, when faced with the multitude of ADHD-related stressors – disorganization, struggling with decision-making, poor planning, etc. – many of my clients reveal they’ve suffered one or more breakdowns due to stress. Over time, your vulnerability to stress and the very stressful lives you lead can even lead to burnout, anxiety or depression.
No one wants that, but what can you do about it?
Actually, There Are Two Things You Can Do
There are two things you can do. You can change your response to stress and you can reduce the amount of stressors in your life. A combination of the two gives the best results.
Learning to manage how you respond to stress can reduce the intensity of stressors you encounter. A very simple – maybe too simple – approach is to learn to:
- notice cues in your body that you are becoming stressed, and to
- take several slow deep breaths. Each breath reduces the tension you’ll feel in your body.
The other strategy is to reduce the number of stressors in your life. You cannot eliminate stress completely but you have many more stressors in your life than most people because of your ADHD. Managing them better will offer some relief.
Some years ago, often when I was getting ready to go to work, I’d realize I’d lost my keys. I’d look in all the obvious places but couldn’t find them. My stress levels would escalate since I had to be at work on time and I needed those keys. I’d request demand everyone in my household’s help to find them. When we found the keys, I’d run off in a hurry and drive to work, berating myself the whole way for, not only losing my keys again, but for putting my family through the worst possible way to start the day.
I finally found a long-term solution to the problem; I now tie my keys to my handbag, which always hangs at the same place in my home. That one simple habit dramatically reduced the level of stress in my life and in my whole family.
I know you deal with much more than just losing your keys. Each time you need to make a decision you increase your level of stress. Each time you face your To Do “book” (remember back when it used to just be a To Do list?) and don’t know where to start, you’re stressed. Your level of disorganization – visual and procedural – heightens your distress. Poor planning that leads to forgotten commitments or late starts are also major stressors. Let’s face it; having ADHD is very, very stressful. This is why, in the New Year, I will be launching a “Quick Wins” program, a series of actionable steps you can take to help manage the most common stressors in your life. How much will it cost? Nothing! So stay tuned.
1) Notice the body cues that warn you that you are becoming stressed;
2) Get into the habit of taking slow deep breaths when you feel those cues coming on;
3) Share your experiences with me in the comments box below. What are your top 5 stressors? I’ll try to address them here (I can’t guarantee I’ll get to all of them, I will do my best), but I’ll be sure to include strategies for dealing with them in “Quick Wins” (watch for it in January!)
[i] Lackschewitz, H., Hüther, G., Kröner-Herwig, B. (2008). Physiological and Psychological Stress Responses in Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Psychoneuroendocrinology. 33; 612-624