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How ADHD Looks in Women: Unique Challenges for Women

Updated: Jun 19

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often portrayed as a childhood condition characterized by bouncing off the walls and blurting out answers. This stereotype, however, doesn't reflect the full picture, especially for women with ADHD.


According to a study conducted by Joseph Biederman, M.D, et. al., “compared with referred boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), girls are less likely to manifest comorbid disruptive behavior disorders and learning disabilities—characteristics that could adversely affect identification of ADHD in girls.” This means that their symptoms can present differently, leading to underdiagnosis and missed opportunities for support.


Find out what you need to know about how ADHD manifests in women and what can be done for treatment and support.


Inattentive ADHD in Women


Care for yourself by building healthy habits, like following a regular sleep schedule

According to a study titled “ADHD symptoms in females of childhood, adolescent, reproductive and menopause period”, inattentive ADHD is the most common presentation of ADHD in women. Unlike the classic stereotype, it doesn't involve bouncing off the walls or blurting things out. Instead, it manifests in a way that can be easily missed or mistaken for other issues. Here's a deeper look at the key signs of inattentive ADHD in women:


  • Difficulty Sustaining Attention

They may struggle to focus on tasks, especially those they find dull or repetitive. Their minds might wander frequently, leading to careless mistakes, incomplete work, and difficulty following instructions. Lectures, meetings, and detailed explanations can feel like slogging through mud.


  • Organization Challenges

Keeping track of appointments, deadlines, bills, and everyday routines can be a constant battle. They might misplace important documents, keys, or even their phone repeatedly. Time management becomes a major challenge, leading to last-minute scrambling and missed deadlines.


  • Hyperfocus

While struggling to focus on some tasks, women with inattentive ADHD can become hyperfocused on others they find stimulating. This can lead to spending hours engrossed in a hobby or activity, neglecting other responsibilities.


  • Internalizing Struggles

Unlike the outward hyperactivity sometimes seen in men with ADHD, women often experience their difficulties internally. They might feel like they're constantly "spacing out" or mentally foggy. This can lead to feelings of shame, self-doubt, and constant internal criticism.


Emotional Impact of ADHD in Women


 ADHD takes a toll on a woman’s emotional well-being

The challenges of inattentive ADHD can have a significant impact on a woman's emotional well-being. Here's a closer look at some of the most common emotional struggles:


  • Low Self-Esteem

Constant struggles with focus, organization, and follow-through can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Women with ADHD may feel like they're constantly letting themselves and others down, which can be a major blow to their confidence.


  • Anxiety and Depression

The emotional toll of undiagnosed or untreated ADHD often manifests as anxiety and depression. They may feel overwhelmed by daily tasks, struggle to meet deadlines, and have difficulty regulating their emotions. This constant state of stress and feeling behind can contribute significantly to anxiety and depression.


  • Rejection Sensitivity

Women with ADHD can be hyper-sensitive to perceived rejection, even minor slights or criticism. This can lead to social anxiety and difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. They might misinterpret social cues, feel easily discouraged, and withdraw from social situations to avoid feeling rejected.


Coping Mechanisms and the "Masking" Effect


Many women with ADHD develop unconscious coping mechanisms to navigate a world that doesn't always understand their challenges. These strategies can be helpful in the short term, but they come at a cost. Here's a breakdown of common coping mechanisms and the masking effect:


  • People-Pleasing

They might go to great lengths to please others, taking on extra responsibilities or putting others' needs before their own. This can lead to burnout and resentment, but it allows them to feel valued and avoid criticism.


  • Hypervigilance

Constantly monitoring their environment and internal state to stay on top of things can be exhausting. They might be overly aware of deadlines, appointments, and social cues, leading to anxiety and difficulty relaxing.


  • Procrastination

Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a task can lead to procrastination. They might wait until the last minute to begin, relying on a surge of adrenaline to complete it. While this can sometimes work, it creates unnecessary stress and missed opportunities for quality work.


  • Perfectionism

In an attempt to compensate for their perceived shortcomings, women with ADHD may set impossibly high standards for themselves. This can lead to frustration, burnout, and a constant feeling of falling short.


These coping mechanisms create a facade of normalcy, often referred to as "masking." While it can be helpful in certain situations, masking takes a significant emotional toll and isn't sustainable in the long run. It can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, and a feeling of constantly playing a role.


Treatment for Women with ADHD


While ADHD is a lifelong condition, it is highly treatable. With the right approach, women with ADHD can develop the tools they need to manage their symptoms and thrive in all areas of life. Here's an overview of effective treatment options for women with ADHD:


  • Medication

Stimulant medications, like Ritalin and Adderall, are often the first-line treatment for ADHD. They work by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which can improve focus, attention, and impulse control. Non-stimulant medications, like atomoxetine, can also be effective for some women with ADHD.


  • Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly helpful form of therapy for women with ADHD. CBT can help identify and challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety and depression. It also equips individuals with skills for managing stress, improving organization, and building self-esteem.


  • Lifestyle Changes

Developing healthy habits like regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can significantly improve focus and emotional well-being for women with ADHD. Exercise helps regulate neurotransmitters and reduces stress, while a healthy diet provides the brain with the fuel it needs to function optimally.


  • Support Groups

Connecting with other women who understand ADHD can be incredibly helpful. Online communities and support groups can provide valuable resources, shared experiences, and a sense of belonging.


  • Coaching

ADHD coaches can provide practical tools and strategies for managing daily tasks, improving organization, and developing time management skills.


ADHD in women is real, and it's treatable.  If you're struggling with focus, organization, or emotional regulation, don't dismiss your experiences.  At Radcliffe Psychotherapy Clinic, we understand the unique challenges faced by women with ADHD. Our team of experienced therapists can offer you an ADHD assessment and provide a supportive and judgment-free environment to help you develop the tools you need to manage your symptoms and reach your full potential. Call us today at (289) 801-4133 to schedule a consultation.


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