A new adult ADHD diagnosis can rock your world.
If you’ve recently received an adult ADHD diagnosis, you may feel surprised, shocked, or disbelief.
Or you may feel relief and validation with your adult ADHD diagnosis because you now see how ADHD symptoms may have played out throughout your life.
When an adult ADHD diagnosis is confirmed, it can feel both disastrous and hopeful at the same time. Many adults with a new ADHD diagnosis report a sense of relief, and comfort in knowing that it wasn’t just that they were lazy, unmotivated, or stupid.
A new adult ADHD diagnosis may help to explain many difficulties you’ve encountered in life. Chronically impaired executive functions, often triggered by dysregulated feelings and thoughts, cause the greatest problems for adults with ADHD.
Whether it’s because of the pandemic, work-from-home and school-from-home wave, or a worldwide sense of pandamonium, mental health, and brain-based conditions have become front and center for many. It seems that ADHD is the diagnosis du jour.
But, is it new? Or is it just that so many people are now seeing symptoms that have been there all along?
If you’re new to an ADHD diagnosis as an adult, what do you do first?
At first, your new adult ADHD diagnosis may consume your thoughts. But, after the shock is over, you’ll need to make peace with yourself, and find sustainable ways to accommodate your lifestyle and your needs. Below I’ve outlined steps you can take and resources available to help you make peace with your new adult ADHD diagnosis so you can thrive in life and work.
1. Let the dust settle and take a minute.
As with any big life news, an adult ADHD diagnosis requires some time to settle in. Most people have had ‘a hunch’ that something was different about them, but couldn’t really put a finger on it. It will take some time to review your history, revisit your self-narratives and differentiate ADHD symptoms from ‘traits’ or character flaws. You’ll also want to learn more about how to live well with ADHD.
I like to frame a new adult diagnosis as an opportunity to gather data. To do so, work on present moment awareness. Building awareness is a critical skill of self-management. So, instead of getting wrapped around the alarm of a new diagnosis and diving down an information rabbit hole, just start pausing to notice. You are not your emotions, and you are not your thoughts. Pausing allows you time to exhale and stop for a minute.
2. Seek professional support.
Today, it seems ADHD is one of the most diagnosed brain-based conditions out there. And there are plenty of people in popular media poking fun at ADHD symptoms. There are many reasons for the prevalence of adult ADHD diagnoses. You can be diagnosed by medical doctors, family practices, psychiatrists, and practitioners. However, there is no X-ray, no blood test, or scan (currently) to ultimately prove a diagnosis, so it’s important to look at symptoms over a lifetime.
And it’s important to point out that sometimes people are misdiagnosed because they live over-committed, frustrated, distracted, and dysregulated lives. Additionally, research has linked childhood trauma or sustained adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to ADHD symptoms. So, although many folks are self-diagnosing, it’s important to seek an adult ADHD diagnosis from a professional and get reliable, trained support.
It’s critical to work with an ADHD doctor or treatment professional who can gain a detailed family history. ADHD is inheritable so family history matters. You want to feel good about your diagnosis and the doctor who is providing it. That’s why it’s important if you’re an ADHD adult who is self-diagnosing, to seek a specialist’s opinion and professional support for treatment.
Whether you’re a child or an adult, ADHD is one of the most treatable conditions in mental health today.
Since many ADHD meds fall into the ‘stimulant’ category, (and stimulants can be addictive), treatment using meds can be a bit heated. But, without a formal diagnosis, you will not truly know, nor will you be able to pursue a complete treatment plan. And if you’re interested in trying ADHD medications, to manage symptoms, you’ll need an accurate, formal diagnosis and script to see if meds are an effective part of treatment for you.
3. Gather data for adult ADHD.
Here’s the thing, just because you have an adult ADHD diagnosis doesn’t mean things are magically going to be any different than they currently are so, just take a minute. Take a breath. Then give yourself some grace and time to catch up to this new understanding. It’s tempting to jump right in (impulsive) and get straight to work (initiate), looking for a coach or someone to help. But, it’s important to spend some time after a diagnosis learning more about ADHD, and especially how ADHD symptoms manifest for you.
In these early days, learn what you can from trusted, reliable sources. The two resources I recommend to everyone are ADDitudemag.com and CHADD.org. You are your best resource and have been with yourself all along. So it’s important to value what you already know about yourself. Take some time for the dust to settle and seek out how a diagnosis lands for you, should be your first step. The first skill to build with an adult ADHD diagnosis is awareness. Developing a practice of pausing to create moments for thoughtful awareness will inform any changes you wish to make.
4. Notice what you do instead of what you resist or avoid.
A new adult ADHD diagnosis doesn’t mean you’re broken. You won’t grow horns or a tail. On the contrary, an adult ADHD diagnosis simply means that your brain processes differently than a neurotypical brain. So, instead of moving from coherent thought to coherent thought, your brain makes associations between thoughts, emotions, perceptions, memories, and sensations. Some ADHD adults explain it as having racing thoughts or an inability to land on one topic or idea because everything is connected.
The good news is that neurodiversity makes the world go round. Some of the highest, most creative minds through history had ADHD.
Look back. DaVinci, Einstien, Sagan, Marie Curie, and millions of other brilliant neurodiverse brains have made amazing contributions to humanity, all because they thought differently.
Since self-development begins by thinking differently, that’s where you need to start. Accept the fact that an ADHD diagnosis means you think differently, and use that new definition as a way to view your life in reverse. This can be reassuring and helpful.
5. Learn as much as you can about ADHD and how it may affect your behavior.
If you have a formal, recent adult ADHD diagnosis and evaluation, and haven’t already done this, sit down with the evaluator and go over your evaluation with them. Doing so can provide more understanding of exactly what ADHD is and how your strengths and weaknesses come to play. Talking with an evaluator may also lead you to possible resources, approaches, and interventions. There are a number of excellent books, articles, and websites available, some on ADHD in general. You’ll find resources targeted for particular groups, such as college students with ADHD, professionals, attorneys, doctors, and women with ADHD.
6. Track your symptoms.
You may hate hearing this, but journaling can really help you now. Resist the urge to use this as a rabbit-hole distraction for yourself to seek perfection… just grab a notebook and start journaling.
Why? Because so many ADHDers are verbal processors. And because of this, talking and writing (which is just silent talking captured on paper) can really help you ‘process’ and sort things out when you feel stuck or overwhelmed.
Before you say you have no time to journal, check out some mood-tracking apps that can make the process easier.
7. Review your life timeline.
Another important step to living with a new ADHD diagnosis as an adult is to look back. When ADHD is undiagnosed, its symptoms are still noticeable. Because of this, many people develop trait-based understandings and self-definitions.
Think back to your childhood
- Did you often interrupt people?
- Were you known to blurt things out without thinking them through?
- Perhaps you were described as moody or irreverent or emotional?
- Was it hard to stay in your seat when a teacher asked a question?
- Do you remember having the answer before anyone else in the room?
- Did you race to get your work in even though it wasn’t complete?
- Maybe you oft forgot your instrument or lunch.
- Did it take you until middle school (or even longer) before you realized other kids were giving you dirty looks for asking questions right before the bell?
- Were you considered a ‘dreamer’ or a ‘procrastinator’, or constantly ‘distracted’, or ‘overwhelmed’.
Since you’re new to your adult ADHD diagnosis, take this opportunity to look back and check in on your own self-definitions. Additionally, think about how your parents and family talked about you. Were you constantly late, disorganized, or a picky eater? Were you forgetful, unreliable, irritable or moody?
Each of us has a back story, and we had behaviors in our family systems that either stuck out or may have been blunted in order for you to lay low and stay out of trouble. No doubt, ADHD symptoms have been a part of your life story and they’ve contributed to who you think you are, and how others see you.
With a new adult ADHD diagnosis, it’s time to take an inventory of your traits and narratives. Instead of experiencing hurt and pain, try to see this information as data. As an adult, knowledge is power. The whole game of living well with ADHD is learning what works and what doesn’t for you.
8. ADHD Adults excel with strengths-based awareness.
With adult ADHD, it’s easy to feel emotionally hijacked or flooded. This can result from your brain doing its best work to help you pay attention to important things. To balance dysregulated runaway emotions, it’s important to inventory your strengths, talents, and superpowers.
When coaching, I often invite clients to refocus experiences by ‘rescuing the positive‘. ADHD can make situations seem bleaker than they are. So, if you’ve experienced hardships, instead of focusing on pain inhibit those thoughts and try to shift your focus to the skills you used, the resourcefulness you’ve employed, the new awareness you’re building, and how your experiences have contributed to results.
9. Reframe ‘negative’ traits as talents and gifts.
Unfortunately, with undiagnosed ADHD your symptoms hide in plain sight. It’s likely your gifted intellect was always there, but your inability to inhibit reactions (a known Executive Functioning challenge) was the culprit for getting in trouble. In fact, you may indeed be not just skilled, but gifted in areas where you’ve historically been shamed. Now with an adult ADHD diagnosis, you can examine that trait through an ADHD strengths-based lens, and instead consider yourself verbally gifted – a strength. Check yourself and see if this rings true.
10. Enlist friends and family or find new ones.
One of the great cornerstones for adults with ADHD is building supportive relationships. Finding a safe landing emotional place to help you cope with your diagnosis is important. ADHD can make it hard to keep relationships healthy though. When you’re known for forgetting plans, arriving late, and dropping out on important dates, it can be truly frustrating for others. It’s important to focus on building integrity with your word. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you struggle, finding an ADHD support group or others who live well with ADHD can make a huge difference for you. A search will lead you to many available resources. Two of the best groups I rely on is CHADD. You’ll find their resources amazingly helpful.
11. Journal to capture your thoughts on paper.
If you’ve never tried journaling before, and stopped, now’s a great time to resurrect this technique. Many adults with ADHD have strong verbal processing skills that were not recognized in traditional schooling. Was your verbal behavior punished, shamed, or dismissed?
Sometimes verbally gifted children are punished for talking too much or for blurting out thoughts at inappropriate times.
It could have been hard for your parents or caregivers to cope and they may have sent damaging messages. This may have caused you to deny or even shut down one of your strongest processing modalities.
IF so – understand that nugget of truth – although you were punished or not endorsed, you may indeed possess this skill and talent, yet may have blunted or shut it down to cope with your environment.
As an adult with ADHD, you can find the courage to try journaling again. Set a timer, and pick a date and see if you can resurrect this skill. As a verbal processor, journaling can help you capture and externalize difficult emotions and thoughts so you can process them.
12. Practice mindfulness and develop a positive mindset.
Have you heard the saying: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Whether or not you’re new to an adult ADHD diagnosis, this is an important reminder of the power of thought and mindset to achieving your outcomes. There is good data that supports this phenomenon as well. If you’re stuck in overwhelm, take a minute to write down all the things, step away and revisit the list.
To develop a positive mindset you need to create time to focus on positive thoughts. This may actually involve a dozen or more separate activities that smoothly integrate as you move forward. A positive mindset can be difficult to develop at first while you overcome the shame or guilt you’ve endured due to unmitigated ADHD symptoms.
In order to develop a positive mindset, seek out ways to keep positivity at the center of your life. Different people try affirmations, quotes, meditation, and actions. Surround yourself with people who bring you up and let go of those who pull you down. As an externally co-regulated person, the people around you matter.
13. An adult ADHD diagnosis will help you embrace limitations.
Another way to nurture a positive mindset is to develop a realistic picture of your limitations and set boundaries. You cannot be great at everything. Learning to embrace your limitations will help you to manage your boundaries and commitments. I’m great at a lot of things, but lousy at others. For those things, I can freely seek support. Knowing my limitations is as important as knowing my strengths.
Develop a curiosity to explore the reasons behind why you procrastinate. Learn to become a strong advocate for yourself: “These are the things I can do and these are my limitations, and I will honor both.” Using this statement can help you set more realistic boundaries around your most valuable asset – your attention.
14. Experiment with habits.
With an Adult ADHD diagnosis, it’s important to work toward integrating lifestyle habits that will stick. Since your brain is part of your body try to experiment with new daily habits. Not only do daily habits help create routines, but they also help focus your attention and increase your odds to do them regularly. Another way to understand ‘regularly’ is to develop consistency in your habits. Whether it’s self-care, a bedtime routine, or exercise, daily habits provide structure and over time develop into routines that will help you.
Experiment with one or more of the following habits in these early days after your diagnosis.
Set an alarm, get up at the same time and go outside for at least five to twenty minutes each day. Neuroscience has proven that getting just 5 minutes of outdoor light in your eyes within the first 2 hours of your day will help to set your circadian rhythms to regulate your brain all day. The key to building a routine is to start small and build on success. Although you may want to do it all, the best thing to focus on is what you can do consistently and sustainably for 1 week.
Try to exercise regularly. Whatever you like is good enough. Gentle stretching, walks, yoga, running, weights, or HIIT classes all work to increase your oxygen intake, produce feel-good hormones, and regulate your body.
Use a calendar or planner
Find a calendar/planner that makes sense to you, and use it. Whether electronic or paper it should be small enough to carry with you always. Consider using another larger desk or wall calendar to get a big picture of the long-range timeline especially if you have more than one person to manage. A calendar/planner helps you move abstract thoughts, ideas and reminders, to concrete (planner/scheduled tasks). The more time and task management you can get out of your head, the more your brain space is freed up to think more interesting things.
Communicate with your support system
Many times an adult ADHD diagnosis can feel isolating. In these early days of a diagnosis, try to connect with supportive people. Some people search for groups of like-minded individuals.
Why do classes and meetings with others work? Because they build accountability outside of your brain. Your activation energy to meet with others is more available. Use other people as resources. People can be very helpful with scheduling (“I’ll meet you”), completing (body double), and mood management. The Focusmate app is another helpful tool to explore. And it’s free.
Work with your natural rhythms and idiosyncracies
With adult ADHD it’s critical to choose work and play that interests you. When you can, work in optimal times and conditions for you. Choose times of day when you are functioning best
Self-care includes all the ways you can take care of yourself. It’s important to stay curious. Many of us shut down opportunities before we’ve even tried new things. So, stay curious and explore a combination of exercise, nutrition, rest, meditation, and other suggestions above that feel right for you. Try a practice more than once before you decide it’s are not right for you.
15. Focus on what you can do.
When you have a new adult ADHD diagnosis, pay attention to the conditions under which you work best, and then work under those conditions. If you work best with things going on around you, try a café. If you like silence, try going deep into the library stacks. Some people prefer to always work in the same place; other people need variation. The bottom line is to find a place where you can control the distraction
16. Explore treatment and alternative options.
Your new adult ADHD diagnosis may lead you to explore treatment options. Maybe you’ve wondered what it might be like to try meds. Remember, treatment can include some or all of the following: small group training, parent management training, parent-child interaction therapy, school consultations, and medication management if needed.
Coaching helps you get what you want without doing it for you or telling you what to do. An ADHD coach helps you clarify what you want, determine the present reality of your strengths and challenges in the context of your life, and make concrete plans to reach your objectives.
Although people look to coaching to boost results, what they end up working on is resourcefulness, curiosity, and resilience. Coaching brings you back to yourself, builds awareness, accountability, and reconnects you with the strengths you’ve had all along.
A new adult ADHD diagnosis can be jarring and unsettling. But with time you can make peace with your unique sense of self and your creative, neurodiverse brain. Learning you have ADHD as an adult can be the best gift you give yourself. It may help you find peace, build self-awareness, and accept things with which you’ve had lifelong struggles.
If you’d like to explore how coaching can support you to put your plans into action and be accountable for what you have chosen to do, book a Discovery Call with me. Coaching also provides time to reflect on outcomes, increase your awareness of how you operate and deepen your learning about yourself as a learner. A coach helps you develop a life that fits.