5 ways to cope with adult ADHD at work

Adult ADHD is often misdiagnosed, but if successfully diagnosed, there are plenty of coping strategies.
Adult ADHD is often misdiagnosed, but if successfully diagnosed, there are plenty of coping strategies.

While we tend to associate ADHD with young children, the condition is also quite prevalent in adults.

According to research published in the South African Medical Journal, up to 65% of children with ADHD will carry on displaying symptoms into adulthood. 

And although the condition can be successfully managed through a variety of methods, such as medication, lifestyle factors and therapy, it can still be difficult to cope with ADHD in a work environment.  

Poor organisational and productivity skills are often associated with adult ADHD and can have a negative impact on one's career. Because adult ADHD is often misdiagnosed and the symptoms may differ from childhood ADHD, it will show up in a way that others might view as laziness or an inability to do one’s work properly.

Besides seeing a psychiatrist with experience in the field and taking the correct medication, here are a number of coping strategies that may help at work:

1. Minimise your main distractions

Open-plan offices can be a challenge to productivity for everyone, not only those with adult ADHD.

Unfortunately, large, noisy environments are the reality for many employees. Minimise distractions by asking if you could be moved to a quieter section of the floor, de-clutter your desk regularly and turn off all email and social media alerts while you focus on the task in front of you.

Allocate yourself a certain amount of time for a task – and when the time is up, take a couple of minutes to check emails or social media. Invest in a good pair of headphones to drown out the noise around you.

2. Learn how to plan and organise

Nowadays, email software and mobile phones have all the functions necessary to help you organise your day. Make lists; set up a daily planner; send yourself reminders; make notes on your phone; and set an alarm if you need to remember commitments.

3. Make lifestyle changes

Healthy eating habits and exercise are a vital part of ADHD management. A low-GI diet as well as omega-3 supplements are recommended. Half the battle is won once you're informed about your condition.

“There’s no reason why a person with ADHD shouldn’t lead a normal life,” sufferer Kim Coppen said in a previous Health24 article. “But you must understand the condition. Then you’ll also understand the patterns, recognise the symptoms and manage them on the spot.”

You can incorporate healthy lifestyle choices at work with a little bit of planning. Pack healthy meals and snacks to stay energised and enhance your concentration – avoid highly processed meals and snacks full of saturated fat and sugar.

You can also make the most of lunch breaks by going for a walk around the block and getting away from your desk.

4. Be mindful of your interpersonal skills

Learning skills such as conflict management, anger management and organisation may be helpful in an office environment where you need to cope with a variety of conflicts and difficult scenarios.

Therapy may help you deal better with stress and anxiety. Your self-image may also need rehabilitation as many people with ADHD blame themselves instead of their condition for failures.

It is also helpful to learn coping techniques when dealing with a difficult situation at work – learn how to breathe and meditate before confronting someone, and allow yourself to leave your desk and first go somewhere where you can clear your head.

If you are diagnosed with ADHD, it may also help to disclose your condition to colleagues. Explain the situation and educate them so that they can be better equipped to understand you.

5. Do what you can, one day at a time

Those with ADHD tend to aim for perfection and may want to do everything all at once. But psychologist Peter Collins says it’s fine to aim for second best and to scale down perfectionism.

Make big tasks less daunting by breaking them into smaller pieces and by focusing on one segment at a time. Ticking smaller tasks off a list can also be mentally rewarding and help you to focus on what’s in front of you, instead of constantly worrying about the bigger picture.

Image credit: iStock

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