However, high stress levels can throw a wrench in your plans. On top of dealing with whatever is causing you to feel worried or frustrated, your ADHD symptoms may intensify as a result of the added stress. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help manage your ADHD in times of high stress. Learn more about how stress affects your ADHD what to do in these situations to keep your symptoms in check. 

Does Stress Worsen ADHD Symptoms?

If you feel like your ADHD is even more challenging when you’re stressed out, you’re not alone. It’s common for people with ADHD to struggle more with their symptoms when they’re dealing with chaotic or overwhelming challenges in their lives.

That may be due to the way stress affects our brains. According to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, the prefrontal cortex of the brain can be impaired by exposure to acute, uncontrollable stress through reduced neuronal firing and impaired cognitive abilities.

The prefrontal cortex also happens to be the area of the brain that is affected by ADHD. This is the part of the brain that regulates behavior, attention, judgment, impulsivity, and emotional responses. When stress impairs the prefrontal cortex, your ability to organize information, solve problems, manage your emotions, and perform other executive functions can be affected, thereby worsening your ADHD symptoms.

The Vicious Stress Cycle

Just when you think you’re managing your ADHD symptoms well, a stressful situation can throw it all out of whack. Whether it’s a difficult project at work, family conflict, money problems, or health issues, there are all kinds of potential triggers that can send your stress levels skyrocketing.

As described in the previous section, that can often lead to worsening ADHD symptoms. Unfortunately, that in itself can become another trigger for stress. As you find it harder to deal with inattention, emotional regulation, or impulsivity, the pressure can build even further.

This is the vicious cycle that can often develop when someone with ADHD encounters times of high stress. You’re trying to deal with whatever triggered your stress, but your worsened symptoms seem to act as roadblocks along the way. The two sources of stress start to amplify one another, making it even harder to find balance.

Solutions for Stress with ADHD

Stressful experiences are inevitable. Because there’s no way to avoid them entirely, it’s important to have some strategies at the ready so you can better manage your ADHD when you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, frustrated, or anxious. The following techniques are recommended for managing your ADHD when you’re stressed.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness can be a great tool to minimize ADHD symptoms, particularly if you have trouble with regulating emotions and impulsive behaviors. It can also help with reducing stress, allowing you to think more clearly and feel calmer. One of the best ways to practice mindfulness is through meditation. Breathing exercises can also be helpful, especially during moments when you’re feeling especially overwhelmed or anxious. Experiment with mindfulness techniques to find out what works best for you.

Stick to a routine

Another way to deal with stress is to create a routine—and stick to it. This can help you manage your symptoms on a daily basis and avoid having them spiral out of control during times of acute stress. Your routine should include a consistent sleep schedule, time set aside specifically for relaxation, a manageable to-do list, and other elements that improve your overall well-being.

If you don’t have a set routine currently, the best time to develop one is when you’re not in a period of high stress. That way, when stress does occur, you’ll already have a schedule set up to help you remain calm and organized.

Get some exercise

Many people find that physical activity can be a particularly effective stress reliever. Exercising actually increases serotonin levels in your brain, which helps to counteract the production of cortisol (otherwise known as the stress hormone). You might want to try hitting the gym or going for a run to help ease your tension. 

Don’t have the time or energy for an intense workout? Try going for a walk around your neighborhood to feel similar effects. In addition to having benefits for your mental and physical health, spending time outside been shown to reduce stress and improve ADHD symptoms.

Ask for help

You don’t have to deal with stress entirely on your own. If you feel like you’re struggling with your ADHD symptoms due to your stress, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from people within your trusted circle. Perhaps a friend could take a couple errands off of your plate or join you for a walk or jog to relax. Ask your partner to help you remember things and stay organized when you’re feeling frazzled. Schedule an extra session with your therapist. Knowing that someone has your back and understands your ADHD challenges can be a huge relief when you are going through a tough time.

Find Medication That Works for You

For many people, getting on the right medication can be a game changer when it comes to managing their ADHD. Knowing that your symptoms are under control can help you feel better prepared to handle life when things feel out of control. If you’re not taking any ADHD medication at the moment, or if you’re not satisfied with your current prescription, talk to a licensed practitioner about your treatment options.

Consider bookmarking this page or writing down your favorite tips from the list so you have them on hand when you feel your stress levels start to rise. Once you figure out which management techniques work best for you, it will be easier to keep your stress in check and minimize any effects on your ADHD symptoms.