Yes, ADHD is Different For Women. Here's How — And 5 Tips to Thrive

Now that you know what your brain is working with, you can start shifting your life to work around it.




Most people without ADHD only have a vague idea of what it is. And even then, the stereotype is a hyperactive young boy. Obviously, women and girls can’t have ADHD. Girls sit still! Girls are organized! Girls aren’t hyperactive!


If you’re a woman with ADHD, you know that’s not true.


I’ll say this (type this?) loudly for the neurotypicals in the back: ADHD is not just a boys’ disease. ADHD does not discriminate by gender, age, or race.


ADHD manifests a little differently in women, and presents unique challenges.


ADHD in Men vs. Women:

  • Women are less likely than men to be diagnosed in childhood (women often don’t find out they have ADHD until college or after their kid gets diagnosed)

  • Common ADHD comorbidities in women include compulsive overeating, alcohol or drug abuse, depression, and anxiety

  • Women with ADHD have more psychological distress and poorer self-image than men

  • Men and women have similar rates of depression and anxiety (it’s not all different! It’s still ADHD!)

  • Inattentive type ADHD is more common in women; hyperactive/impulsive type more common in men


Common Features of ADHD in Women:

  • Easily overwhelmed and upset

  • Low self-esteem

  • Never-ending clutter on your desk, in your car, your bedroom, etc.

  • Excessive talking and/or interrupting

  • Disorganization

  • Struggles with paying bills & other “adulting” tasks


The Good News


You’re not alone. Many women experience profound relief when they learn they have ADHD. “Whoa,” you may think, “I’m not crazy/stupid/lazy/weird/insert-negative-adjective-here, I’m just not neurotypical!”


If you're a woman diagnosed with ADHD—or you suspect you have it—you are in good company. Many smart, accomplished, successful women have ADHD. It makes life a little harder, but it doesn’t mean your life or your career are hopeless.


Now that you know what your brain is working with, you can start shifting your life to work around it.


The Bad News


Just kidding! There is no bad news. You already know how ADHD affects your life, you don’t need me to womansplain it.


Tips


Here are some methods for managing your ADHD that you can start right now.


1. Bullet Journaling


I have been a Bullet Journal (BuJo) evangelist for five years, and I will never go back to my old ways (e.g. forgetting appointments, losing to-do lists). Planners and calendars can be overwhelming for ADHDers. The beauty of a Bullet Journal (BuJo) lies in its customization.


Check out the BuJo website for detailed instructions on this method. Basically, you design your own planner, one page at a time. Keep lists (of to-dos, movies to watch, books to read, etc.); make daily/weekly/monthly calendars; whatever works for your brain. Make it simple, make it complicated. It’s your BuJo.


Each Sunday, I make a weekly spread in my BuJo with all my appointments, writing deadlines, and to-dos for the week. I carve out a few minutes every day (okay, fine, most days) to review my BuJo. This helps keep me on track. The best part of the BuJo is it does the remembering for you. No more nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something important—just check your BuJo!


Bonus tip: If you think of something urgent while you’re away from your BuJo, send yourself a quick email. This has saved me many times. Say I’m running errands and a client calls with a new deadline. I email myself the subject “Women & ADHD article due Monday.” Then I get back to errands, and this task waits for me until it’s time to check my email.


2. Exercise


Moving your body has tons of mental health benefits. It’s proven to help relieve symptoms of many mental health conditions, including ADHD, depression, and anxiety.


A 2012 study found that exercise can alleviate ADHD symptoms such as anxiety, poor impulse control, and working memory. Exercise releases brain chemicals called endorphins, which have the power to reduce pain and boost mood. Exercise is also a healthy, productive way to expend that excess energy so many of us ADHDers have.


The best way to make your new routine last is by finding exercise you love. Try several routines until you find what works for you: hiking, walking, swimming, going to the gym, martial arts. The best exercise is the one you will do regularly. Start slow, and remember that something is always better than nothing.


3. Ask For Support


Being honest about your needs and limitations will help reduce feelings of rejection and overwhelm.


Do you envy your bestie’s flawless home office organization? Ask her to show you her ways! Want to stop interrupting but just can’t? Ask your partner to gently call you out when you do it. Remember that your loved ones, well, love you. Let them help you however they can.


If you suspect you have ADHD but haven’t been diagnosed yet, consider looking into that! If you have insurance, ask your primary care doctor for a referral, or call your provider for psychiatrist referrals. Some providers even provide ADHD-focused classes or group therapy. Getting the diagnosis will help you access appropriate treatment and accommodations.


4. Don't "Should" Yourself


Being neuroatypical means your brain works a little differently. Instead of fighting these differences and trying to be like everyone else, embrace your uniqueness, and when you can, mold your life around your individual needs.


Do you struggle to concentrate at a noisy office? See if you can work from home. You might even be entitled to work accommodations from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


Is keeping your desk clean hopeless? Instead of beating yourself up about it, why not accept that you thrive in a cluttered environment? It might make your neatnik friend cringe, but it ain’t their desk.


Focus on necessary cleaning like personal hygiene, waste disposal, and not leaving food out. Scattered papers and clothes are okay if they feel okay to you.


There are some things you have to do (pay rent, go to the dentist), and some things you think you should do (have a spotless car, cook all your meals from scratch).


It’s okay if spotless housekeeping or cooking aren’t your strong suits. There’s nothing wrong with a non-Pinterest-worthy house, eating frozen meals, or being a night owl. Accept yourself and your ways, work on what needs work, and try not to focus on others’ expectations and opinions.


TL;DR: Forgive yourself for being neuroatypical.


5. Sleep


Okay, I know what you’re thinking: good sleep is but a pipe dream. I used to feel that way! I didn’t take sleep seriously until I hit 30 and my body begged me to quit running on fumes and sleep more than four hours a night. Getting good, regular sleep is one of the best ways to improve your mental and physical health.


People with ADHD tend to get less sleep, struggle to fall asleep (and stay asleep), and are at a higher risk of having a sleep disorder. Racing thoughts, anxiety, and sudden nighttime bursts of energy are all common in those of us with ADHD. Lack of sleep can exacerbate behaviors like impulsivity and mood dysregulation.


Commit to your health by committing to your sleep. That means doing tough things: no phones/screens in bed, going to bed and getting up around the same time, and sleeping for 7-9 hours a night.


Try reading a book instead of scrolling social media. Take a bubble bath. Use your phone’s bedtime and wind-down feature to remind you when to call it a night. Once you start getting good sleep, you’ll realize why so many other people seem to take it so seriously (hint: because it makes your life waaay better).


You've Got This!


Instead of thinking of ADHD as a disorder, I like to think of it as a brain difference. Once you figure out how to manage this difference, you can lead a happy, healthy, active life.


ADHD makes certain parts of life complicated, but it’s not impossible. Though women with ADHD are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed with ADHD later in life, things are improving. It’s the best time in history to be a woman with ADHD, since we know so much more than we did just a decade or two ago.


ADHD in women is real, and the struggles are real. But the solutions are also real! You can find workarounds for your struggles with a little hard work, commitment, and patience. Start small, experiment, keep what works, and throw out the rest.


I’d wish you luck, but you don’t need luck. You’re strong, capable, and ready for some relief. May this humble article nudge you into a calmer, happier, healthier life.



Looking for support? Inflow, an ADHD management app, is here to help. Our science-backed program helps people with ADHD learn to thrive. Learn more about how Inflow can help you reach your potential by download our app on the App Store or on Google Play!



Ash Fisher is a Portland-based writer, performer and corgi mom. Check out her writing at ashfisherhaha.com.