If you feel like your constant lateness and total disorganization is getting in the way of your life, it may come as a relief to know that these "bad habits" may be signs of adult ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). While it's likely you struggled with it more as a kid, ADHD habits can stick around, affect you into adulthood, and truly make life difficult.
So, how do you know if you have it? If you’ve ever wondered why can’t I sit still, it could be worth it to pay closer attention to your daily experiences. As psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez says, "Inattention and hyperactivity are the most common types and symptoms of ADHD." For instance, you might notice that you struggle to sit through a meeting, or you might feel like you're wound up and running a mile a minute.
Whatever the case may be, it's a good idea to seek some help if you feel like you have symptoms of the disorder. "The majority of people with ADHD as a child will develop coping tools and learn to work with it and around it to manage the disorder, and be able to be focused and successful," Martinez says. It’s also important to note that adult-onset ADHD is quite rare, says Jaclyn Halpern, Ph.D., director of the SOAR program at Washington Behavioral Medicine Associates. “It’s a neurodevelopmental diagnosis, meaning the traits and signs of ADHD begin in childhood,” she says. However, it's possible you were never diagnosed. Read on for some habits that might indicate that's the case. If any sound familiar, definitely talk to a therapist. There are many healthy treatment plans that help adults with ADHD thrive in the workplace and beyond.
1. Losing Things All The Time
While it's totally normal to occasionally misplace your wallet, it's not so normal to never know where anything is. As author and psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz tells Bustle, ADHD can make you feel scatter brained and disorganized. So take note if you're constantly losing things like paperwork, books, or your phone.
2. Feeling Incredibly Fidgety During Long Meetings
What's your MO in long, boring meetings? If you can't seem to sit still, it may be a symptom worth looking into. "Adults with ADHD often have difficulty remaining seated for long periods of time (frequently fidget or get up from their seats), feel restless, [or] move as if driven by a motor," says New York-based clinical psychologist Dr. Ben Michaelis. Sound familiar?
3. Getting Into Fender Benders
Impulsiveness is a major symptom of ADHD. It can affect you at work or in your relationships, but it can also lead to careless traffic accidents. As life coach Dr. Richard Horowitz says, there is data that shows a correlation between adults with ADHD and increased auto accidents. If you can't keep your eyes on the road, it may be time to chat with a doctor.
4. Becoming Sidetracked Super Easily
Let's say you're about to wash the dishes or send an email. If you almost always forget to do it — or leave the task halfway finished — it might be something to worry about. According to Saltz, people with ADHD often get sidetracked and distracted, leaving their to-do lists mostly untouched.
5. Having A Hard Time Listening To Your Partner
If you're having constant (seemingly unexplained) problems in your relationship, an undiagnosed case of ADHD may be to blame. As licensed counselor Christopher M. Stroven says, your partner may perceive your poor listening skills and/or inability to stay organized as being disrespectful or lazy. Of course you don't mean anything by it, but they don't know that. And thus problems ensue.
6. Always Running Behind Schedule At Work
If you're feeling fidgety, disorganized, and distractible, it'll most certainly show up in the form of problems at work. "This combination makes it very difficult ... to achieve success as deadlines are often not met and having disorganized and unfinished work is the norm," says psychologist Dr. Michele Barton, director of clinical health at Psychology Life Well. Definitely not OK.
7. Constantly Interrupting Others When They're Talking
Occasionally stepping on the end of someone's sentence is really NBD. But if you can't keep yourself from interrupting, take note. As Michaelis tells Bustle, interrupting and excessive talking are both things people with ADHD do on the regular.
8. Multitasking To The Max
Take a look at your desk. Do you currently have about 55 projects going on at once? If so, this is often an indicator of the disorder. As licensed mental health counselor Marion Rodrigue LMHC, NCC says, this is all thanks to the hyperactivity that occurs in ADHD. You might feel the need to start many projects at once (even though you hardly ever finish them).
9. Failing To Ever Show Up On Time
Are you late to everything every single day? As Martinez tells Bustle, this is typical for people with ADHD. It has to do with your lack of time management skills, as well as all that intense disorganization mentioned earlier.
10. Avoiding "Difficult" Or Mundane Tasks
According to Saltz, those who struggle with ADHD are often "reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time." So that project you've been meaning to start? Or that piles of books you've been trying to read? They're both probably sitting around untouched.
11. Making Lots Of Little Mistakes
Think about how things go for your at work. If you make a million little "careless" mistakes, Saltz says it may be due to ADHD. You might send emails before you finish writing them, or leave out tiny but important details during a meeting.
12. Making Impulsive Decisions
If you find yourself not thinking big decisions through, that may be another sneaky symptom. “ADHD adults may notice more impulsivity than hyperactivity,” says Halpern. “They are likely to desire instant gratification, may act before thinking about consequences, and may even place themselves in risky behaviors due to both their impulsivity and restlessness (e.g., car accidents due to speeding).”
13. Trouble Regulating Your Mood
Halpern says that many ADHD adults describe rapid mood swings, low frustration tolerance, difficulty managing stressful or boring situations, and even fiery tempers to their psychologists. “This can lead ADHD adults to feel anxious, and on guard, further increasing their distractibility and leading them to internalize frequent negative feedback and reprimands, causing low self-esteem and a high level of negative self-talk,” she says.
14. Your Friends Call You Unreliable When You Don’t Feel That Way
Ever been called out by your BFF? “They may seem to ‘tune out’ or become disinterested during conversations, which can make them seem rude or uncaring, when they are not at all,” says Halpern of those with symptoms of ADHD. “Because of their distractibility, ADHD adults may miss important social and environmental cues which might lead them to say or do something offensive or seemingly inappropriate, but not on purpose.” If you have ADHD, letting your friends know the signs and symptoms of your diagnosis could help them better understand your reactions and work to let you know when you appear uninterested.
If you feel like you've got the disorder, don't be afraid to talk to a therapist. There are plenty of treatment options to make your life way easier, and help get things back on track.
Shaw, P. (2015). Emotional dysregulation and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Am J Psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4282137/
Singh, A. (2015). Overview of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Young Children. Health Psychol Res. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4768532/
Song, P. (2021). The prevalence of adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: A global systematic review and meta-analysis. J Glob Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7916320/
Dr. Nikki Martinez, psychologist
Jaclyn Halpern, Ph.D., director of the SOAR program at Washington Behavioral Medicine Associates
Dr. Gail Saltz, author and psychiatrist
Dr. Ben Michaelis, New York-based clinical psychologist
Dr. Richard Horowitz, life coach
Christopher M. Stroven, licensed counselor
Marion Rodrigue LMHC, NCC, licensed mental health counselor
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