Why Stress Makes ADHD Harder to Manage

Research shows that stress affects the prefrontal cortex, which is the same area of the brain affected by ADHD. In fact, there are similarities between the way stress changes the brain and how ADHD symptoms manifest. 

For example, stress can make it more difficult for people to access executive functioning abilities, such as organizational skills, decision making, and problem solving. At the same time, it can cause challenges with managing emotions.

If you’re someone with ADHD, that probably sounds familiar. ADHD can cause a number of executive function deficits and make it tougher to regulate emotions. And since stress can lead to similar outcomes, it’s easy to see how feeling stressed out can intensify ADHD symptoms.

Stress Management Tips for People with ADHD

When your ADHD symptoms feel out of control, it can quickly lead to more stress. That’s why it’s so important to have some strategies for controlling stress that you can fall back on when things get overwhelming. Here are some of the top tips for effective stress management with ADHD:

  • Exercise regularly: Getting some exercise offers benefits beyond physical fitness. When you’re physically active, your serotonin levels increase, which can help to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. 
  • Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep is associated with increased stress levels. It can also worsen your ADHD symptoms and affect everything from memory to mood to judgment. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep at night to manage stress.
  • Eat a healthy diet: The things you eat can have an impact on your stress levels. By eating healthier foods and avoiding caffeine and junk foods, you can help manage your stress and moods more effectively. 
  • Practice mindfulness: Being mindful is challenging when you have ADHD, especially if you struggle with hyperactivity. But even short periods of calming your mind through meditation can relieve stress. Plus, it can help with ADHD symptoms by decreasing impulsivity, improving focus, and helping you to develop better resistance to distractions.
  • Know your stressors. There are things that may cause you more stress due to your ADHD. Try to recognize those stressors and find solutions that work for you. For example, if you experience a lot of stress due to missed appointments and deadlines, try using a calendar app that sends you notifications to help you stay on schedule.

Finding the Right ADHD Treatment

Although the tips listed above can certainly help, a good treatment plan is just as important for controlling stress. Even with useful strategies in place, you can’t eliminate stress — or your ADHD symptoms — entirely. Instead, you need long-term solutions that help you manage your disorder on a daily basis, which can in turn help reduce stress and its effects on you.

If you don’t have a formal diagnosis for ADHD yet, you can contact a licensed clinician at Done to schedule a convenient online appointment. Together, you’ll be able to set up a personalized treatment plan that helps you not only manage your ADHD, but also recognize the strengths that it gives you.