With everything you have to juggle, it’s easy to think that everyone deals with that sinking feeling as they go through another busy day. Still, this feeling, combined with overwhelm and extreme disorganization, may indicate attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Almost 10 million adults in America and 365 million worldwide are thought to have ADHD. Because symptoms manifest differently in adults, realizing you might have ADHD is usually a slow burn, with the overlooked signs causing major strains in your health and life. Adults seeking a diagnosis typically have subtle signs instead of outright symptoms.
The trademark symptoms of ADHD, like impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention, aren’t noticed in adulthood. Adults whose ADHS missed diagnosis in childhood have had a while to develop the necessary skills to compensate for their symptoms. Some ADHD symptoms mimic the signs of depression or anxiety, so most people get diagnosed with those disorders first. Afterward, they get frustrated because treatment doesn’t make their symptoms better.
You may attribute certain behaviors and feelings to other things at the moment. For example, you may blame your jittery feelings on too much coffee or blame sleep deprivation for snapping at your frozen computer, when in reality, they’re signs of adult ADHD. Here are symptoms of ADHD in adults that you may have missed.
ADHD brains are always looking for activities that will give them a rush of dopamine, a brain chemical that leads to feelings of pleasure and reward and tends to be lower in people with ADHD. Because people with ADHD have trouble keeping enough dopamine during everyday tasks that don’t interest them, they find themselves doing whatever they can to avoid them.
The typical person might find routine tasks boring, but with ADHD, the negative feeling is extreme, and the avoidance of it is too. Procrastination can be missed as an ADHD symptom because it looks like a lack of motivation and intentional laziness.
Hyperfocus on the same task for extended periods.
Starting tasks can feel overwhelming if you have ADHD, especially jobs that you think can be time-consuming or daunting. However, once you start, you find yourself so wrapped up in the task that you neglect other essential jobs. People miss hyperfocus as a symptom because it appears like the person is only motivated to complete specific tasks, which is sometimes mistaken as selfishness.
Struggling with switching gears is usually caused by low dopamine levels in the brain. The more captivated you are with the task, the higher the dopamine boost. It’s like being in the zone, but you’re stuck there. At its worst, hyperfocus looks like writing and rewriting an email response and struggling to switch to another task or missing an event because you can’t pull yourself away from work.
Adults with ADHD usually make poor spending decisions. Impulse purchases account for that dopamine hit, so they lose track of when bills are due or put off paying them. Basal ganglia deficiencies, a group of structures in the brain that process how you evaluate goals and risks, could be a factor.
These structures serve as a communication highway for different areas of the brain that must work together to help you learn and develop habits, like sticking with a budget and carrying out tasks like saving money for rainy days. The basal ganglia of a person with ADHD can almost short-circuit when it comes to managing the signals passing through.
Losing sense of time.
People with ADHD find it challenging to keep track of time or know the amount of time they need to complete a task, better known as time blindness. No particular brain region has been identified as being responsible for time perception. Still, time estimation is linked to the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that helps with focus, attention, and organizational skills. It also depends on signals from dopamine-related pathways to function correctly.
Issues with time estimation may look like always thinking you have enough time, then rushing or always running late. For example, you could know the exact time of an appointment but leave the house later instead of on time to give yourself time to get there, find a parking spot, and sign in.
From edgy and anxious to chatty and happy, then aggressive and angry, people with ADHD can experience emotional rollercoasters that make them have strong emotional reactions that they don’t see coming. These emotional rollercoasters are related to the challenges of directing energy, managing attention, and finding the right level of mental stimulation. When you only focus on the result and not the underlying issue, it’s another sign of adult ADHD that people typically overlook.
Forgetting to eat.
Research indicates a strong connection between abnormal eating patterns and ADHD, with the more prominent patterns being forgetting to eat entirely or binge eating. The exact mechanisms haven’t been ironed out yet, but it could be multiple factors at play, including reduced brain activity in the limbic system and prefrontal cortex.
When the prefrontal cortex doesn’t have the necessary dopamine to function correctly, it messes with your ability to plan, organize and execute healthy meals and sustain consistent eating habits. The dopamine drought can also increase the chances of grabbing convenient food to satisfy the brain’s reward centers and provide the necessary stimulation to focus. Meanwhile, the limbic system oversees regulating our emotions and attention. As a result, you could use food to cope with emotional distress and boredom or get so caught up in a job that you forget to eat for hours due to feeling disconnected from your body’s fullness and hunger cues.
You may want to get tested for ADHD if you experience five or more ADHD symptoms that persist for six months or longer. Also, if these symptoms manifest in more than two settings, like at work and in your relationship, and decrease the quality of how you function in life. ADHD looks different in adults than in children, so you may think you’re struggling with everyday life when you’re dealing with ADHD.