For some people with ADHD, hiding the effects associated with the disorder is an everyday situation. It affects you at school, at work, and in public which can lead to increased stress, problems with self-esteem, and trouble socially that contributes to poor mental health.
While it is important to cope with your symptoms so that they don’t severely inhibit your everyday life, trying to hide them just to appear neurotypical isn’t healthy. Over time ADHD masking becomes frustrating, exhausting, and can negatively affect your mental health and sense of self if you don’t allow yourself to be who you are.
What Is Masking ADHD?
Masking ADHD means that you hide actions, thoughts, and symptoms relating to ADHD from others in an effort to be as “normal” as possible. You may not want people to think there’s something wrong with you or you may be downplaying the impact that the disorder can have on your life by trying to cover up the habits that are seen as disruptive.
If you have ADHD, you may naturally experience hyperactive symptoms like bouncing legs, an inability to sit still, and talking too quickly or too often - symptoms that cause you to stick out in public and draw unwanted attention - so you avoid public places. Or you may struggle with speaking because of racing thoughts and brain fog, so you avoid talking on the phone or building relationships with people you don’t know well.
ADHD masking that results in this self-limitation can have a serious impact on your mental health, including contributing to anxiety and depression caused by a lack of socializing and shame about being “different”. Undiagnosed sufferers may also have a hard time getting an accurate diagnosis because the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety are similar, leading to a delay in treatment and the reinforcement of masking symptoms over time. The development of anxiety and depression can also contribute to the side effects of the condition like brain fog or hyperactivity, making symptoms worse.
Why Are People Masking ADHD?
Everyone wants to fit in and be accepted. Unfortunately, as a society, we have a habit of judging books by their covers and not embracing those who are different. As a result, it’s often easier to try to “fit in” by conforming to what is considered “normal” and being accepted to avoid judgment.
Masking ADHD is a coping mechanism that is used to try to avoid being stigmatized, made fun of, or acknowledging that you have a condition that affects your everyday life. It means that you hide actions, thoughts, and symptoms relating to ADHD from others in an effort to be as “normal” as possible.
One reason that people mask their ADHD is because of the stigma and lack of understanding surrounding the disorder. To some, ADHD isn’t a real condition or disorder. Its physical symptoms can be disruptive and may be seen as attention-seeking to give the impression that the symptoms are personality traits that can simply be stopped. Some people expect that everyone has the same ability to focus, and that anyone who deals with the cognitive or physical limitations associated with the condition just needs to try harder or stop being lazy because a lot of the time they can affect productivity in competitive environments like work or school.
As a commonly abused medication that people use to get an “edge” mentally, stimulants and non-stimulant treatments for ADHD like Adderall also face a certain stigma of strictly being performance enhancers as opposed to necessary medical treatment. ADHD sufferers may also delay treatment because they don’t want to be dismissed as “drug seeking” or face prejudice for relying on medication to function effectively.
Should You Mask Your ADHD Symptoms?
Masking your ADHD symptoms can manifest in a variety of different ways, including some behaviors you may not even realize are a part of masking. You may not like to raise your hand to ask questions because you don’t want people to know you were experiencing symptoms that distracted you. Or, you struggle to remember important information but refuse to write things down because you don’t want to be seen as unintelligent or forgetful. ADHD symptoms manifest in anxiety, which then leads to masking. As a result, you could be masking for so long and so often that you begin to struggle with deciphering which mannerisms and reactions are your own and which are learned.
In most cases, masking your ADHD symptoms is not the answer. It may be helpful for sensitive social situations like a funeral to be able to “turn off” your physical symptoms, but the more you mask, the harder it is to stop.
Instead, it’s best to focus on treating your ADHD and finding ways to cope with the symptoms you experience so that you can still be yourself without limiting your ability to be social.
Coping With ADHD Instead of Masking It
When you mask your symptoms, you’re hiding them from view. This makes it easier to fit in, but does not work to address or solve the underlying issues.
To effectively cope with your ADHD, it’s important that you set yourself up for success by addressing symptoms and working towards a treatment plan that helps to make your daily life easier.
ADHD can negatively impact both your cognition state and overall mental health, which in turn, can make coping with its impact on your life more difficult. The symptoms of the disorder can make you feel “dumb” and affect your confidence while the stigma surrounding ADHD can make you hesitant to share your condition or seek help, leading to more suffering.
By working with a therapist or psychiatrist, you can begin to process your diagnosis, address the feelings that ADHD causes you, and work on strategies to improve your mental health so that you’re able to embrace yourself for who you are rather than your diagnosis. The same applies to talking to trusted friends and family so that you can drop the mask safely until things start to improve.
To make things easier, you’ll also want to work to identify the symptoms that affect you and find out how you can treat them as they occur. For example, if you have a habit of fidgeting, you can get a fidgeting toy that you can use secretly in a pocket or bag to alleviate the urge to move. Keeping your phone on you to write yourself notes or setting alarms for important times or events can help alleviate the stress of forgetting things without drawing much attention. Things like exercise can also help to improve your cognition and lessen the severity of symptoms, making them less likely to have a significant social impact.
Medication is another potential way of addressing your ADHD by minimizing the occurrence of symptoms or diminishing their impact. Both stimulant and non-stimulant treatments are available to help you focus better and reduce hyperactivity that contributes to physical symptoms that may not be considered “normal”.
If you’re struggling to be yourself, get in touch with Done today. After a quick assessment, our team will help you address your symptoms with proven treatments that make it easier to live your everyday life without masking ADHD symptoms.