By Marie Suszynski If Simma Lieberman isn’t careful to lower her stress and anxiety levels, her mind will race so much that she can’t get much done. “It’s like I’m on a highway and I don’t take an exit, ever,” says Lieberman, an organizational development consultant in Albany, Calif., who has adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
Dealing with anxiety and stress is vital for managing ADHD symptoms, partly because people with ADHD have more stress in their lives than the average person, says Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in West Chester, Penn., and author of More Attention, Less Deficit.
Still, Lieberman has learned stress-busting strategies to keep her ADHD symptoms under control and has become a successful consultant.
The Connection Between ADHD and Anxiety
People with ADHD genuinely have more things to be stressed over than people without the disorder, Tuckman says.
By definition, people with ADHD have trouble paying attention, controlling impulses, and dealing with hyperactivity. As a result, they’re less efficient at getting work done and they tend to make more mistakes than people without ADHD, he says. Adults with ADHD are more likely to lose their jobs and tend to make less money than the general population, he says.
In the meantime, the medications used to treat ADHD, like methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall), are stimulants and can cause people to feel more jittery and anxious.
However, Tuckman says those side effects typically fade after taking the medication for about a week. Ultimately, the medications should make you feel more in control and calm because they should help you feel on top of things and manage ADHD symptoms
The first step for treating anxiety, of course, is to take your prescribed medication. Here’s what else you can do:
1.Get educated about ADHD. Tuckman tells his patients to learn everything they can about ADHD. It helps to see yourself in a different light, and to understand that “it’s not that I’m lazy or passive-aggressive,” he says. “I have this brain-based information processing disorder.” That alone can help you feel less anxious about your symptoms.
2.Take practical advice from a coach. Working with an ADHD coach or therapist on gaining the practical skills you need to be more successful with things like time management will help you get better control of your life and your symptoms, which will help you feel less stressed.
3.Consider neurofeedback. Lieberman has started doing neurofeedback to work on calming her brain. A practitioner measures her brain waves while she watches a movie. During the session, she works on staying focused and relaxed.
However, Tuckman says neurofeedback is still in the “maybe” category of treatments that work. One problem is the lack of good quality studies on it. But practitioners may also be using different neurofeedback techniques, some more effective than others.
His advice: Go to a licensed psychologist for the treatment and be realistic about the results. “Some people out there make outlandish promises” about what neurofeedback can do, he says.
4.Center yourself. This is a term Lieberman uses to slow her mind when she feels it’s running too fast. She stops and asks herself, “What are you doing right now?” Then she visualizes herself doing what needs to be done in a calm way.
5.Try meditation. When Lieberman meditates first thing in the morning, she’s able to start the day in a very calm, focused place. Meditation makes you feel less anxious, so that alone will help you feel better, Tuckman says. Because people with ADHD tend to have trouble sitting still, it’s perfectly fine to meditate while you’re pacing around the room, he says.
6.Breathe. Lieberman uses breathing exercises almost every day during meditation and at night before going to sleep. “It really makes me calm and I can close my eyes and fall asleep quickly,” she says. “I separate from stress.”
7.Simplify your life. It’s advice everyone can benefit from, especially people with ADHD anxiety. “Have less stuff and fewer commitments so that what you have is easier to manage,” Tuckman says.
8.Set yourself up for success. Being organized is a big part of managing ADHD and anxiety, so Lieberman does everything she can to help her day go smoothly. She uses an appointment book, but also puts Post-It notes on her computer to remind herself to make phone calls and do other tasks.
Lieberman is also working on a book proposal, but sitting at a computer long enough to write can be difficult. So she works once a month with three people who also are writing book proposals. “We keep each other focused,” she says.
But perhaps the most important thing: Accept that when you have ADHD you have to deal with anxiety and stress. Once you’ve done that, Lieberman says, keep trying new strategies to manage them, until anxiety attacks are a thing of the past.