Everyone’s distracted these days, but these clues point to ADHD.
It’s the age of multitasking. A recent study found that while watching TV, 42 percent of Americans poke around online, 29 percent chat on the phone, and 26 percent text their friends. We know this isn’t great for our mental health or effectiveness, and studies back this up. Focusing on more than one thing at a time decreases your productivity by nearly half, according to Harvard Business Review. That means the majority of Americans are just drowning ourselves in distractions.
So it’s perfectly normal to feel scatterbrained and distracted sometimes, particularly when you feel more stressed than usual. Of course it’s hard to focus on work when you have the fascinating depths of the internet just a couple clicks away. (Exhibit A: Alllllll those stress-busting cat videos.) With all that chaos, where’s the line between feeling unfocused and scatterbrained and actually having ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder?
It’s true that “ADHD symptoms can appear in almost anyone,” says Khadijah Watkins, MD, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine. “It really is about the level of impairment and how persistent the symptoms are.” If you stayed up late too night, have a crazy deadline coming up, or are feeling under the weather, you might be a bit more spaced out or jittery than usual. “[But for] someone who has ADHD, it’s a kind of pervasive pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, or both.”
Key ADHD Symptoms to Look For
Someone with ADHD may show some combination of the following symptoms, according to Susan Samuels, MD, psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine.
Hyperactivity: unable to sit still and is always multitasking
Impulsivity: engaging in risky or irresponsible behavior
Inattention: difficulty focusing and spacing out
If you notice symptoms disrupting your life consistently for several months—or years—you may be dealing with ADHD. Here are more signs of ADHD in adults to look for.
What Causes Symptoms of ADHD?
ADHD is a neurological condition, which means it’s caused by changes in the brain. Specifically, ADHD impairs the brain’s executive function.
“Executive function describes the ability to plan ahead [and] know what the next steps are going to be,” says Dr. Samuels. “People with ADHD have a really hard time thinking about anything other than that next second or that next minute. Then things don’t get done as efficiently because steps are missed.”
While you might not have been diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, it is a condition you grow up with. There is no such thing as “adult-onset ADHD,” according to Dr. Samuels. Sometimes, impulsivity or inattentiveness can go masked during childhood and become more glaring in adulthood, when you are expected to be more responsible and independent. Learn more about this myth about adult ADHD. When adults are diagnosed with ADHD for the first time, they can often look back on ways they struggled in elementary, middle, or high school (academically or socially) and feel a little bit of that “aha!” moment from recognizing the condition has been there all along.
“It might actually be helpful to somebody to know that this is something that they’ve been dealing with for a long time, and this is the pattern,” says Dr. Samuels, “and it’s not necessarily their fault, [and] there are ways to treat it.”
Treating ADHD may include taking medication as well as learning coping mechanisms to strengthen your organization and focus at work and home. Here are time management hacks to manage ADHD.
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There are people that are just
always on the go, and
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they're constantly multitasking.
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But if somebody has ADHD, mistakes
are being made, things are being missed,
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and people around you are oftentimes
getting very frustrated.
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It's a different flavor altogether than
just being a highly efficient multitasker.
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Somebody who has ADHD might have
symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity,
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and inattention, or might have some
combination of those symptoms.
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So with hyperactivity, you're gonna see
people that are constantly on the go,
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can't sit still.
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It might be somebody who you notice
is multitasking all the time.
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The impulsivity piece comes in when
things are happening that might be
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things that are done without much thought.
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And sometimes kinda getting in trouble for
things being too risky and too impulsive.
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And then, the inattention piece is, as it
sounds, a real difficulty with focusing
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and attending to the thing
that's right in front of you.
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ADHD symptoms can appear in almost anyone.
00:01:15,300 --> 00:01:20,420
It really is about the level of impairment
and how persistent the symptoms are.
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So for someone who is just spaced
out today or inattentive today,
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they typically, maybe,
won't be that way tomorrow.
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It could be because they had a bad night
of sleep or they had a long day at work.
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But someone who has ADHD,
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it's a kind of pervasive pattern of
Inattention, hyperactivity, or both.
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Executive functioning describes
the ability to plan ahead and
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sort of know what the next
steps are gonna be.
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And maybe three or four steps ahead.
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People with ADHD have a really hard
time thinking about anything other than
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that next second, or that next minute.
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And then things don't get done as
efficiently because steps are missed.
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Probably the most common misconception
about adult ADHD is that there is such
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a thing as adult onset ADHD, and
that it never existed before.
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It might actually be helpful for
somebody to know that this is something
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that they've been dealing with for
a long time and this is the pattern.
00:02:13,820 --> 00:02:18,735
And it's not necessarily their fault, but
it's the pattern that their body has kind
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of gotten used to, and
there are ways to treat it.
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Is it ADHD? Use our checklist of common ADD symptoms. New York, NY: ADDitude Mag. (Accessed on April 25, 2018 at https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-symptoms-checklist/.)
Only 2% of people can multitask successfully [INFOGRAPHIC]. Mashable. (Accessed on April 25, 2018 at https://mashable.com/2012/08/13/multitasking-infographic/#Qyazk4Kn15qi.)