How Does ADHD Impact Women?
Updated: Oct 9, 2022
Many people are surprised at the diagnosis of ADHD in women and girls because they assume it’s a diagnosis given to young rambunctious boys. No mental health condition discriminates on the basis of gender. However, the stereotype that only energetic boys have ADHD, has led to many women being misdiagnosed, or diagnosed at a later age.
Often, women feel relieved after receiving their diagnosis. It answers a lot of questions for them, and they can finally stop blaming themselves. While the symptoms of ADHD may look different in women, their struggle is just as real as men’s.
ADHD in Women and Why It Often Goes Undiagnosed
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children. It’s a condition that continues well into adulthood. The belief that people can outgrow ADHD is a myth. According to the DSM-5, ADHD presents itself in three ways: hyperactivity/impulsivity, inattention, or a combination of the two.
Research shows that females tend to exhibit symptoms of inattention more than hyperactivity/impulsivity and thus, their behavior is less disruptive than their male counterparts, who show more hyperactivity/impulsivity. Females also seem to mask their symptoms and develop better coping strategies than males. This is often the reason why their symptoms may be overlooked as they are not so outwardly visible.
I have met so many women who said they’ve been in therapy for depression and anxiety for years, but still struggle with something else they feel is unidentified. This is another reason why women don’t receive the ADHD diagnosis. Their symptoms are often explained away as personality traits or thought to be stemming from other (often secondary) mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
A misdiagnosis or lack of a diagnosis affects women’s mental health negatively. It in turn, impacts self-esteem, self-worth, and personal problems magnify.
Women are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood when their symptoms become more apparent.
How ADHD Impacts Women’s Lives
ADHD isn’t caused by just one factor, genetics and environment both play a role in it's development. ADHD can significantly impact the executive functioning skills in a person. The symptoms may look something like this:
● Difficulty regulating emotions
● Trouble concentrating on tasks
● Struggle in starting and finishing tasks
● Forgetfulness/trouble recalling things
Women’s lives are affected differently by ADHD. In addition to the executive functioning issues, they deal with many other challenges. Society expects them to be polite and quiet, which often leads to women with ADHD trying to suppress their symptoms. If they are unable to suppress them, society may label them with character statements that can hurt women’s self-esteem.
In my practice, I’ve also seen women with ADHD struggle with perfectionism. They often get stuck on small details and try to get things “just right.” This causes a lot of anxiety and worry. If the end result doesn’t come out as expected, they may spend a long time dwelling on what could’ve been done differently. In an effort to meet unrelenting high standards, women with ADHD may engage in perfectionism behaviours and "all or nothing" thinking that actually leads to lack of productivity and high anxiety.
As a parent too, women with ADHD suffer. They’re expected to handle household chores and take care of the kids—tasks which can quickly become overwhelming when women are unable to be organized and control their lives.
While the stereotype that ADHD only affects males is changing gradually, it is important for women to educate themselves on the subject if they suspect they might be struggling with ADHD.
Some Tips on Dealing With ADHD
Please keep in mind that these are general tips and not meant to replace therapy and coaching, which would be individualized for you. While ADHD is not curable, its symptoms can be managed. Making changes to your lifestyle and in the way you think about yourself can help you deal with ADHD better and improve your day-to-day life.
1. Prioritize your sleep: Women with ADHD can struggle with consistency. Form a routine where you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and stick to it as best as you can. Avoid anything distracting, like your phone, or other electronics before bed.
2. Accept your ADHD diagnosis: Self-acceptance is about embracing who you are, with all positive and negative traits and still working on self-improvement. While day to day life can certainly be challenging with ADHD, there are also many positive aspects of it. It might be helpful to learn about ADHD – both the challenges and the positives – reach out to other people who have ADHD, get coaching/therapy, talk to your doctor about medication, surround yourself with positive and supportive people, and develop good habits, so you can live a fulfilling and happy life. Accept the challenges that come your way and don’t put the blame on yourself for challenges, hardship, or mistakes along the way.
3. Manage/organize your time: There are many different ways to go about managing your time. Try to create a schedule where you allow yourself enough time to accomplish tasks. Develop an organizational system that is consistent and works for you. Create a to-do list for yourself the night before so that you know what’s on your plate the next morning. Set a specific time each morning that you check your schedule to plan for the day ahead.
4. Practice self-care: Become okay with putting yourself first sometimes. Make time for physical exercise and your hobbies. Allow yourself to enjoy things that bring you joy, whether that’s taking a hot bath or making pancakes.
While these tips can certainly help, ADHD can be
difficult to manage alone. Therapy and coaching are great options to learn to cope with and manage the symptoms of ADHD. Therapy can also help you identify the negative thought patterns you’ve formed over the years and replace them with more positive, healthy ones.
If you are a woman struggling with ADHD and feel you might benefit from support, contact me for a free consultation!