Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder commonly associated with children and adolescents. However, it’s important to recognize that ADHD affects individuals across the lifespan, including professional women. The manifestations of ADHD can differ significantly between genders due to various societal, biological, and psychological factors. In this article, we delve into how ADHD presents uniquely in professional women and provide insights into managing its most common symptoms effectively.
ADHD: Beyond the Stereotypes
ADHD is often stereotyped as a condition primarily affecting hyperactive young boys. However, this one-dimensional view fails to capture the diversity of experiences women with ADHD often face. Professional women with ADHD can display a range of symptoms that may be subtler but equally impactful in their daily lives. Many women with ADHD are often misdiagnosed (and treated) as girls for mood disorders of anxiety and depression years before an underlying diagnosis of ADHD is discovered. This can cause significant disheartening self-perceptions and can make it very difficult to get adequate support for their specific executive function breakdowns. (Go here to download our free Executive Function Self-Assessment Tool).
For women with ADHD, manifestations often fall into two main categories: inattentiveness and impulsivity.
- Inattentiveness – For professional women with ADHD, inattentiveness can manifest as difficulty in focusing, organizing tasks, and maintaining attention during meetings or projects. As a woman with ADHD, you may often misplace things, forget details or instructions, or have a hard time staying focused and organized. Additionally, you might struggle to prioritize tasks, leading to missed deadlines and a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. This can result in decreased productivity and frustration in the workplace.
- Impulsivity – Impulsivity is another core symptom of ADHD, and can affect professional women in unique ways. While impulsive behavior in men tends to be seen as disruptive or risky, in women, it can manifest differently. Women with ADHD all too often excessively people-please, seek perfection in everything, say yes to other’s desires, experience intrusive thoughts, overcommit their time leading to feelings of overwhelm, and struggle with both setting boundaries and saying no. Although not ‘typically’ seen as impulsivity, these behaviors tend to stem from a desire to fit in, avoid criticism, a focus on others’ needs, and a deep desire for a sense of control over their environment.
Unique Challenges Faced by Professional Women with ADHD
Masking and Compensation
Professional women with ADHD often become experts at masking their symptoms. Although this term has largely been used to describe people with autistism, it is how many women with ADHD identify their behavior as well. For instance, a professional woman with ADHD might expend considerable mental energy, time and support to appear organized, which can lead to burnout over time. Also, in an attempt to ‘look good’ to everyone else, professional women with ADHD may be deeply unhappy or depressed with how difficult small tasks can be for them to complete. Therefore, masking not only conceals their struggles but also prevents them from seeking appropriate diagnoses and postpones one’s ability to get adequate support and accommodations that work.
While hyperfocus—a state of intense concentration—is commonly associated with ADHD, it can be particularly challenging for professional women. They might find themselves fixating on tasks they find interesting, resulting in neglect of other responsibilities. While hyperfocus can be productive, it can also disrupt work-life balance.
ADHD can impact emotional regulation, leading to mood swings and heightened sensitivity to criticism. Professional women with ADHD might find it challenging to manage their emotions during high-pressure situations, potentially affecting their relationships with colleagues and superiors.
8 Effective Strategies Professional Women Use To Manage ADHD Symptoms
1. Build Self-Awareness
The first step in managing ADHD is building and deepening your self-awareness. Professional women are often too busy with day-to-day activities, but learning more about ADHD will help you recognize your unique symptom manifestations. By understanding your executive function strengths and challenges, you can work on ways to mitigate the symptoms and build better strategies that promote good habits. To learn more about your executive function challenges, download my free Executive Function Guide and self-assessment here.
2. Time Management and Organization
Implementing effective time management techniques is crucial. Tools such as to-do lists, digital calendars, and project management apps can help professional women stay organized and prioritize tasks. Breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps can also prevent feelings of being overwhelmed. Take the Time and Space Style Inventory here to figure out ways to develop your own unique approach to time management and staying organized.
3. Prioritization and Boundaries
Learning to set clear priorities with your boundaries in mind is an essential self-regulation strategy. Since so many ADHDers are triggered by environmental conditions, knowing your needs and sensitivities is useful. Professional women with ADHD should practice saying no when necessary and avoid over-committing. Additionally, practice setting realistic expectations for yourself and others can alleviate stress and prevent burnout.
4. Mindfulness and Meditation
Practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques can improve focus, reduce impulsivity, and enhance emotional regulation. Regular mindfulness sessions can help professional women stay present and manage distractions effectively.
5. Seeking Support and Accommodations
It’s crucial to recognize that seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness. Professional women are encouraged to communicate openly with their spouses, family members, supervisors or HR departments about their ADHD. Requesting reasonable accommodations, such as flexible work hours or modified task structures, can create a more inclusive work environment.
6. Positive Lifestyle Habits
A balanced lifestyle can significantly impact ADHD symptoms. Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and sufficient sleep can improve overall cognitive function and emotional well-being. Fitness apps are applications you can download on your mobile device for assistance with your exercise regimen and related lifestyle behaviors. An app helps you set goals, track progress, try new workouts, and stay motivated. Apps such as Routinery, and countless fitness apps like Google Fit, Apple Fitness Plus, and My Fitness Pal, can make lifestyle change easier. They provide structured workouts, goals, and companionship to help you get over the threshold of just getting started. Here are two articles that review the top fitness apps from Forbes Magazine, and one from PC Magazine. (Buyer Beware! Often these types of articles feature apps that pay for placement.)
7. Try Therapy
Therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can provide valuable tools for managing ADHD symptoms. Services such as Better Help, Talk Space, and Grow Therapy can make therapy less scary, more affordable, and more convenient. Also, many insurance carriers offer mental health services for a short period for those who are struggling with life’s transitions and situations.
8. ADHD Coaching
Coaches who specialize in ADHD can offer personalized strategies and accountability for professional women seeking to thrive in their careers. I typcially work with professionals and high performers. Apply for a Discovery Call with me here. You can find many wonderful ADHD Coaches here.
ADHD manifests differently for professional women, often presenting challenges related to inattentiveness, impulsivity, and emotional regulation. It’s important to move beyond stereotypes and recognize the diverse ways in which women with ADHD need to navigate their lives. By developing self-awareness and employing effective strategies such as time management, prioritization, mindfulness, and seeking support, professional women can navigate their careers successfully while managing their ADHD symptoms. Ultimately, embracing their unique strengths and seeking the support they need will empower them to achieve their professional goals while maintaining their well-being.