How to ADHD: What It Really Feels Like

To the adult living with ADHD, the world may feel like too much at times. A chronic lack of focus, a feeling of always playing catch up, time blindness, and impulsivity are just a few of the ways that ADHD can interfere with one’s goals, their work-life balance, or even their relationships. Even more, people with ADHD may feel completely misunderstood by those around them, leading to low self-esteem and doubts about their capabilities.1 To understand how a person with ADHD feels, it’s important to explore what’s actually happening in the brain of a person with this condition. We’ll hear how ADHD feels from the people who actually have it as well as how ADHD thought patterns can wreak havoc in one’s life. Lastly, we’ll explore how even the most notorious ADHD symptoms can be turned into strengths. 

What Adult ADHD Really Feels Like   

As therapist and author of Survival Tips for Women with ADHD, Terry Matlen, who also has ADHD, explains, “[ADHD] feels like you're being attacked in all areas of your daily life — like sounds, and lights, and sensory things can be overwhelming.”2 Others describe feeling “disconnected and dissimilar3 or like there’s a “constant buzzing4 in their head. People with ADHD also have difficulty regulating their emotions, which may include anger, irritability, shifts in mood, and sensitivity. Some even describe feeling emotionally “numb.”5

According to Thomas Brown, PhD, challenges with intense emotions boil down to brain chemistry.6 People with ADHD may experience working memory impairments, which allow a momentary emotion to become too strong, thus flooding the brain with one intense feeling.

ADHD can also manifest in a variety of physical sensations. Along with being hypersensitive to external stimuli like sights and sounds, people with ADHD are twice as likely to have migraines than those without ADHD.7 Other common physical comorbidities among the ADHD population are immunological dysregulation, including asthma, and altered gut health.8 Adults with ADHD are also likely to have an anxiety disorder,9 which may bring a host of other physical ailments like stomach pain, nausea, insomnia, fatigue, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, sweating, and muscle pain.10 

How a Person With ADHD Thinks 

People with ADHD tend to live in the moment, which means they have difficulty learning from the past or prepping for the future. Impulsivity, a hallmark symptom of ADHD, leads to action without foresight, which can be risky. 

Another problematic symptom of ADHD is lack of focus, but not enough is said about hyperfocus, those times when people with ADHD can zero in on a task for hours on end because it holds their interest. When not in hyperfocus, ADHDers constantly seem to be juggling a variety of things in their mind, like a restaurant server listening to five customer orders at once, not knowing which one to write down first. This lack of discernment in being able to choose one leads to difficulty in getting things done. 

ADHD brains may also be more inclined to accentuate the negative, according to psychiatrist and nuclear brain imaging specialist Daniel Amen, MD. He explains that many of these negative thoughts come from other people’s mistaken judgements and from low self regard.11 He writes, “Many children with attention deficit disorder carry these negative thought patterns into adulthood, which can lead to problems with mood, behavior, or anxiety.” 

ADHD Symptoms Turned Into Strengths 

Despite the challenges that people with ADHD face, experts believe there is a way to use ADHD to your advantage and turn even the most notorious symptoms into strengths with the proper support. Here are some ways to look at some of the common traits of ADHD from a different perspective:  

  • Hyperfocus allows ADHDers to complete creative projects with passion and intense enjoyment. It can also be harnessed to learn a new skill or revisit an old project you once cared about and give it a second shot.

  • Impulsivity and hyperactivity can often be translated into fun spontaneity as long as the person with ADHD is taking safety precautions. Others might see them as the life of the party.

  • Boundless energy makes some ADHDers incredible in sports, business, or creative competitions.

  • A wandering, fast-moving mind often leads people with ADHD to think outside the box and multitask, creating innovative solutions to problems, and catapulting them into leadership roles.

By finding ways to limit external stimuli, like controlling screen time and filtering out noise, eating healthy foods that won’t exacerbate symptoms, getting adequate sleep, and practicing mindfulness, people with ADHD can work with their mind instead of against it to help harness the gifts of ADHD. Healthy lifestyle changes can work in tandem with a product like Brillia for Adults, which is a homeopathic, non-prescription solution that helps to enhance focus, restlessness, and impulsivity. Find out more about how Brilla works.

Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles and a mother of one. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a certificate in Narrative Therapy. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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