7 Tips for Women With ADHD

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Many women feel a huge sense of relief when they find out they have ADHD. They feel happy that it is "just" ADHD because prior to being diagnosed they were blaming themselves for their struggles. Many women with undiagnosed ADHD feel inadequate and stupid.

Having ADHD isn’t a reflection of your intelligence. In fact, lots of people with ADHD are extremely bright and have above average intelligence. However, many women presume that the reason why they can’t seem to master the day-to-day tasks that other people appear to do effortlessly is that they aren’t smart.

You might experience:

  • Psychological distress
  • Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted
  • A sense of inadequacy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Chronic stress
  • Feeling out of control

Yet, when you realize that you have ADHD, feelings of inadequacy can fade away, which puts you in a better position to treat and manage your ADHD symptoms.

Why Didn’t I Know I Had ADHD in School?

In general, girls with ADHD are less hyperactive and more inattentive, which is one of the reasons why they are less diagnosed than boys. It is much easier for the teacher to notice a hyperactive boy than a daydreaming girl.

There are other reasons, too. An intelligent girl with ADHD can successfully hide her ADHD while she is in school. School provides structure and deadlines, both of which are very helpful when you have ADHD. Classes are small enough for her to develop relationships with her teachers, which give her extra motivation to study and hand in assignments on time.

Girls are more concerned than boys about what people think about them. They will do whatever they can to fit the expectations of teachers and fellow students. This can lead to perfectionism and anxiety; however, if grades are good, then usually no red flags are raised.

After graduating from high school, problems can start to appear. When the structure of the school is no longer in place and the academic standard is higher, the ADHD symptoms can start to cause problems The same is true in the workplace, where you are required to manage your own time and not have as much external accountability.

Women and Hyperactivity

Yes, women can be diagnosed with hyperactivity-impulsivity ADHD, although less frequently than women with inattentive ADHD. Having hyperactivity poses its own challenges. For example, it is hard for a hyperactive female to conform to what is generally agreed to be acceptable behavior for girls and women.

If you have hyperactive-impulsive ADHD or a combined type you might be thought of as a Tomboy because your behavior seems so different from what the social norms are for girls. You might find you have more physical energy than your peers and be accused of talking constantly. Because you seemed different you might have memories of feeling rejected, judged and excluded by your peers. This rejection can continue into adulthood too.

Women and the Home

Women with ADHD have an additional source of shame and guilt that men with ADHD don’t usually face and that is managing the home. Traditionally women were in charge of the home, taking care of the housework, laundry, grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, child care, and often the budgeting and bill paying, too.

Unfortunately for people with ADHD, those things are very hard. They are mundane tasks with no external deadline.

It doesn’t matter how supportive your partner is, that we live in the 21st century or that you have a job outside the home, most women feel they should be good at these things. It can be an area of constant struggle and can take a toll on your self-esteem.

Tips to Live by When You Have ADHD

  1. Get Diagnosed: If you think you have ADHD but haven’t officially diagnosed yet, make this your priority! Getting diagnosed has a very positive effect on how you feel about yourself. One study found that women were able to forgive themselves for mistakes in the past and felt more in control of their current lives once they were diagnosed with ADHD. Knowing they weren’t crazy and that there was a name for what they were going through provided a huge sense of relief.
  2. Coexisting Conditions: ADHD rarely travels alone, which means you might have one or more other conditions in addition to your ADHD. Try not to feel alarmed. Knowing which conditions you have allows you to treat each one directly, which in turn means you can be your healthiest. The most common co-existing condition that women with ADHD experience are depression, anxiety, alcoholism, eating disorders, and chronic sleep deprivation. Sometimes it can be hard to know which condition is which because they can mask each other, so work closely with your doctor to identify which ones you have.
  3. Let Go of the Domestic Guilt: Don’t feel guilt or shame that your house isn’t as tidy as your neighbors'. There are more important things in life to worry about. Learn some ADHD-friendly ways to organize and clean your house, but don’t let it nibble away at your confidence. Plus, it is fine to hire a cleaner or let your spouse do the things you aren’t good at, while you focus on something that is easy for you to do.
  4. Driving: Women with inattentive ADHD are at greater risk of accidents while driving because of their inattentiveness. Here are some safe driving strategies. Consider driving a car with a manual gearbox rather than automatic because it forces you to be more engaged in the moment with and less likely to zone out. Before you start to drive, switch your phone off so that you aren’t distracted by incoming calls or texts. Don’t talk on the phone—even with a headset. Never drink and drive or take recreational drugs as these can further reduce your attention.
  5. Perfectionism: Let go of the need to be perfect. Striving for perfection can help you feel in control, but you might find yourself spending too much time on small things that don’t have a big impact on your life to the detriment of more important tasks. For example, you might spend hours finding the perfect sized font for a report for work, while neglecting to start a presentation that is due tomorrow. Since you have such high standards for yourself, the internal pressure to be perfect can also stop you from starting a task because it feels overwhelming.
  6. Speed: Many women say that it takes them longer to do things that other people. For example, regular tasks at work, perhaps replying to email, filing forms or time sheets or housework. If this is true for you, then what you might not realize is that there are some things that you can do with record-breaking speed. It might be problem-solving or creating a marketing plan. Starting today, begin noticing what you seem to be able to go faster than other people. It isn’t a competition, but it will help you to realize that while some things do take you longer, you have other talents that you might not be in the habit of recognizing. When you can take a balanced look at your strengths and weaknesses, it will help your confidence and self-esteem.
  7. Hyperactivity: If you have hyperactivity, find an exercise or sport and take time every day for it, in the morning if at all possible. It will help you feel focused and calm. You might find you have more male friends than women friends, and that is OK! While some friends might say you wear them out with your energy, it also helps you look and feel at least 15 years younger. You can also use it in many positive ways. I know one hyperactive woman who is on almost every charity committee in her community. Everyone wants her to be involved because of her tireless energy.
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Article Sources
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  • Nadeau KG. Adventures in Fast Forward: Life, Love, and Work for the ADD Adult. Brunner-Routledge, New York. 1996.