Diagnosis in adulthood can be a relief or a stressor. Either way, exhibiting self-compassion, surrounding ourselves with a support system and pursuing professional help can tame anxiety and bring way to thriving.
December 2022, Agave Health Team
For many adults, an ADHD diagnosis brings great relief, but for others, it may trigger very different emotions. There can be anger pointed at parents or teachers who have failed to notice childhood symptoms of ADHD.
There can also be denial, disbelief, or worry that ADHD medication will alter the positive aspects of one’s personality, such as creativity, high energy, and hyperfocus. They may start wondering what to do next, which could cause extra stress and pressure.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, angry, stressed, or experience any other unexpected emotion after receiving a diagnosis of ADHD. Over time, the feelings will settle and give way to a more positive outlook.
Realize You Are Not Alone
First and foremost, realize you are not alone, even if you are the only adult in your social circle with an ADHD diagnosis.
Let go of the fallacy that ADHD is a “kid’s disorder.” According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, 4.4% of adults in the US have ADHD, and experts estimate that nearly five million adults remain undiagnosed. With that information in mind, those who have received a diagnosis are in a more advantageous situation, as they already took the first step to managing ADHD and making a positive difference in their mental well-being.
Reaching out to other individuals with ADHD - be it through group coaching, support groups, or simply reading books and articles about ADHD - can relieve the initial feeling of stress and guide them toward the next steps of treatment.
Establish a Social Support System
Even if visiting ADHD support groups isn’t an option, reaching out to loved ones is always possible. In fact, explaining ADHD to family and friends is an essential aspect of treatment. In Driven to Distraction, Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and New York Times best-selling author, stresses the significance of social ties for individuals with ADHD: “ADD has a deep social impact: it affects your home, school, and work environments, as well as your internal life. You need to be able to explain what is going on inside you to those who share the world you move in.”
It is also recommended to expand and diversify one’s social support systems. Instead of relying solely on spouses or parents, consider involving siblings, trusted coworkers, or friends.
Honest communication works in two ways. On the one hand, it makes it easier for people with ADHD to deal with their reality ; on the other hand, it informs loved ones of little-known symptoms of ADHD, be it messiness or emotional outbursts.
Cast Aside the Shame
One of the most liberating aspects of an ADHD diagnosis is the realization that behavior labeled as laziness, rudeness, or impulsivity is not a character flaw but a manifestation of ADHD.
Even though a diagnosis of ADHD does not excuse one’s past actions or mistakes, it can help an individual with ADHD move from feelings of anxiety and guilt to being empowered to improve their symptoms.
Deal with Restlessness and Negative Feelings
Relaxation techniques can genuinely help with anxiety, worry, or any other strong emotions triggered by an ADHD diagnosis. They work by clearing one’s mind and focusing on the present moment. Specifically, mindfulness meditation and deep breathing were found to be effective for maintaining focus and managing negative thoughts and emotions in people with ADHD.
Psychologists and ADHD coaches are trained in relaxation techniques and can teach them to clients. Also, many such exercises can be found online.
Pursue Professional Help
If a formal diagnosis of ADHD triggers anxiety or worries or causes a person to feel overwhelmed, the negative emotions themselves are a sign that they could benefit from professional support. Even if one doesn’t experience severe symptoms or distress, working through the mental toll of an ADHD diagnosis with an experienced psychologist or ADHD coach can help them make sense of the diagnosis and improve their quality of life.