With so many people affected by ADHD/ADD—yet so much misunderstanding still persisting around the condition—October has been designated as ADHD Awareness Month to help spread information and share the stories of those affected to blast through the stigma. According to Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), approximately 10 million adults have the condition, which is associated with difficulties with attention, memory, and executive function in the brain (the part that involves higher-level cognitive skills like thinking and planning). These symptoms can interfere with school, work, relationships, and daily activities. Having ADHD/ADD also increases the risk for other issues, such as substance abuse and depression. Basically, it makes life harder than it needs to be, and it’s even harder for women.
The CDC reports that, among children, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD/ADD than girls, but among adults who live with ADHD/ADD, it’s women who may face unique struggles associated with the condition. That’s partially because, as one scientific review of more than 40 research studies noted, women tend to exhibit the symptom of inattentiveness more prominently than the hyperactivity or impulsivity that’s often associated with ADHD/ADD. Let’s look at some more ways in which women can be uniquely impacted by this condition.Females with ADHD/ADD tend to internalize their problems, blaming themselves rather than others for their issues, which can lead to higher levels of anxiety overall. Click To Tweet
6 CHALLENGES FACING WOMEN WITH ADHD/ADD
1. Self-esteem issues
Because girls and women often lack the hallmark symptom of hyperactivity, they have a subset of this condition called inattentive ADHD/ADD. This type is marked by a lack of focus, tendency to be distracted, trouble paying attention to details, forgetfulness, and low motivation, among other symptoms. But, since these traits are often instead seen as character flaws, women may be incorrectly labeled as slow, lazy, spacey, or unmotivated, which can lead to longer-term self-esteem issues.
2. Remaining undiagnosed
While hyperactive boys and men often attract negative attention with their conflict-driven behavior, girls and women with inattentive ADHD/ADD tend to be more quiet and distracted. This is shown by the higher rates of diagnosis in males, despite the fact that, as a paper in The ADHD/ADD Report estimated, women are just as likely as men to have ADHD/ADD. Another study found that women may even experience more severe ADHD/ADD symptoms. Unfortunately, girls and women often go undiagnosed and untreated, meaning they don’t get the help they need, leading to ongoing problems throughout their lives.
3. Sexual issues
Due to symptoms like distractibility and lack of focus, many people, especially women, with ADHD/ADD struggle to have orgasms, which can lead to relationship problems and feelings of dissatisfaction. In addition, women with ADHD/ADD may also face more unplanned pregnancies, since they’re more likely to engage in risky behavior, including within the realm of sexual activity. A 2019 study found that girls with ADHD/ADD are 6 times more likely to become pregnant as teenagers, compared to those who don’t have the condition. This is related to the fact that those with ADHD/ADD are not always able to properly think through the consequences of their behavior.
4. Hormonal influences
Because a woman’s hormones play a major role in ADHD/ADD, she can experience worse symptoms during certain times of her life, including at puberty, during the premenstrual phase of her cycle each month, and around the time of menopause. These fluctuations can keep women with ADHD/ADD feeling more off-balance. Numerous brain SPECT studies have shown an overall decrease in brain activity when estrogen levels are low, so many women with only mild ADHD/ADD can develop more acute symptoms during perimenopause or menopause.
5. Increased risk for depression and self-harm
Major depressive disorder is more than twice as common in teenage girls with ADHD/ADD than in girls without the condition, according to research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. What causes such a big difference? It starts in the deep limbic system, the brain’s emotional center, which is involved in bonding, nesting, and emotional tone. Females, on average, have a larger deep limbic system than males, which makes them more in touch with their feelings (and generally better able to express them) than men—which are certainly advantages. They also have an increased ability to bond with others. But this larger deep limbic system also leaves females somewhat more susceptible to depression. In addition, according to one study, girls with ADHD/ADD have shown a higher risk for self-harm and suicidal behavior when they reach adulthood.
6. Chronic stress and feelings of failure
Women are often expected to be the primary caretakers in our society, and certain obligations may automatically fall to them, such as organizing and carrying out all of the family’s get-togethers, dinners, and birthdays, not to mention overseeing the household’s childcare. But when women with ADHD/ADD have difficulty planning and organizing their own lives, doing so for the entire family can quickly feel overwhelming, leading to chronic stress. Also, since ADHD/ADD is associated with symptoms like forgetfulness, diminished attention to detail, inability to follow through, and organizational challenges, complex tasks can be much more difficult. Then, when women forget to send that birthday card or overlook a key ingredient in their holiday dinner, they can end up feeling like a failure. Females with ADHD/ADD tend to internalize their problems, blaming themselves rather than others for their issues, which can lead to higher levels of anxiety overall.
HEALING ADHD/ADD IN WOMEN
The good news is, there is hope for healing for women with ADHD/ADD. Some simple strategies include:
- Understand which of the 7 types of ADHD/ADD you have.
- Exercise daily to boost blood flow to the brain and improve executive function.
- Eat a diet that is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates to enhance focus.
- Try nutraceuticals that support attention, focus, and energy, such as rhodiola, ashwagandha, and green tea extract (I take BrainMD’s Focus & Energy).
- Consider natural treatments, such as neurofeedback.
In addition, it’s important to remember that ADHD/ADD is also associated with a host of advantages that can make you spontaneous, creative, and willing to take risks. Be sure to play up your ADHD/ADD strengths while minimizing unwanted symptoms.
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