It’s thought that approximately 3-4% of adults in the UK have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but with around 70% of people being undiagnosed, that number could be much higher. Adult ADHD can be difficult to manage due to the number of external factors that can trigger ADHD symptoms, be it at home, at work, or in a social setting.
In this article, we’re going to look at adult ADHD triggers in more detail, as well as some techniques you could use to try and better manage your condition.
ADHD Triggers: What They Are, and Why They’re Significant for People With ADHD
Firstly, it’s important to understand what is meant by the term “ADHD triggers”. The phrase “ADHD triggers” refers to external factors or events that can worsen the symptoms of ADHD, not to things that can cause ADHD. There is no clear cause of ADHD, with most professionals agreeing that ADHD is a mixture of:
- Genetics – Those with immediate family members with ADHD have a higher chance of being diagnosed with it, but no single genetic fault has been identified.
- Brain structure differences – Brain scans have shown people with ADHD may have smaller and/or enlarged areas of the brain and neurotransmitter imbalances.
- Generally at-risk groups – Premature babies born before 37 weeks, low-weight babies, people with epilepsy, and those who have sustained brain damage either in the womb or through a head injury later on are considered at-risk.
Because ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by symptoms such as difficulty focusing, impulsiveness, and emotional regulation, triggers can come in various forms, including environmental factors, lifestyle habits, and specific tasks. For example, bright lights, loud noises, or a cluttered environment can trigger symptoms of ADHD, as can stress and anxiety, lack of sleep, and a poor diet. Additionally, tasks that require sustained attention, such as reading, writing, or doing homework can also be triggers for people with ADHD.
It is important to understand and identify ADHD triggers in order to effectively manage your symptoms. By reducing exposure to triggers, you can mitigate the impact that ADHD has on your daily life and improve your ability to focus and concentrate. Understanding triggers can also help when it comes to developing strategies for managing symptoms, such as practising stress-management techniques, establishing a consistent sleep schedule, and creating a calm and conducive work environment that is free of distractions.
It is worth noting that what triggers ADHD symptoms in one person may not be the same for someone else. Every person’s experience with ADHD is unique, and it’s important to develop a comprehensive and personalised treatment plan specific to your triggers.
Types of ADHD Triggers
Due to ADHD being such a personal experience, everyone’s triggers are different. That being said, there are a few triggers that are universally agreed upon as having a negative impact on ADHD.
Sleep is crucial for the brain to consolidate new information and form memories. Without adequate sleep, the brain struggles to focus and concentrate, which can trigger similar symptoms associated with ADHD. Research has shown that adults with ADHD experience sleep disturbances more frequently than those without ADHD, with approximately 67% of adults with ADHD meeting the criteria for insomnia, compared to 29% of adults without ADHD.
Media and Technology
Media and technology, such as smartphones, social media, and games consoles, can be a major source of distraction for people with ADHD and make it difficult for them to focus and concentrate on a task at hand. The stimulation from technology can trigger hyperactivity and impulsiveness in some adults with ADHD, as well amplify sleep problems (blue light) and contribute to poor time management if use isn’t restricted.
Tasks Requiring Concentration
Tasks that require sustained attention, such as reading, writing, or working, can be triggers for ADHD symptoms. For individuals with ADHD, particularly inattentive ADHD, these types of tasks can be especially challenging due to difficulty paying attention and problems with working memory, leading to restlessness, frustration, and impulsiveness.
How to Manage Your ADHD Triggers
Managing ADHD triggers is a crucial step in effectively controlling the symptoms of ADHD. By reducing exposure to triggers, people with ADHD can improve their ability to focus, control impulsiveness and manage their emotions. Here are some strategies for managing ADHD triggers that you might find useful:
Eating a Healthy, Balanced Diet
Diet in general can affect mood and behaviour – such as caffeine increasing your alertness. Whilst research into diet and its impact on ADHD is limited, there is some evidence to suggest that eating a diet rich in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats, can help regulate the body’s energy levels and improve some symptoms of ADHD as a result.
On the other hand, consuming processed foods and high-sugar diets rich in artificial colouring, additives and preservatives has been linked to the triggering of ADHD symptoms, although this is mostly in children who may typically be exposed to higher levels of sweets and candies.
Limiting Screen Time
Exposure to screens, such as televisions, computers, and smartphones, can trigger symptoms of ADHD by increasing stimulation and distracting the brain. Knowing a phone with endless distractions on it is nearby can make it hard to focus on tasks at hand, including work. With this in mind, try to leave media and tech devices in another room when you’re trying to get something specific done so you can concentrate better.
In addition, set timers to limit the amount of time you’re using tech, such as allowing an hour for gaming a day or a 15-minute phone break every hour or so. By limiting screen time, people with ADHD can reduce the amount of stimulation they receive and reduce inattention symptoms.
Sleep disorders may also be aided by limiting screen time, especially before bed.
Physical activity has been shown to improve focus, attention and executive function in people with ADHD. Exercise also releases endorphins which can help to reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood, which is particularly useful for those with comorbid mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can be an effective way of managing ADHD triggers associated with emotional dysregulation and inattention.
Practising Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve symptoms of ADHD by reducing stress and anxiety and improving focus and attention. If emotional dysregulation is something you struggle with, mindfulness could help you to cope with your feelings better and understand what could be triggering emotional responses, as well as helping to better your impulse control.
Using Task Planning Strategies
Because ADHD affects executive functioning skills, planning can be difficult for people with ADHD. If this applies to you, you could benefit from breaking tasks down into smaller, manageable parts and using task planning strategies to improve your focus and help you complete one task at a time. By breaking tasks down into smaller parts and focusing on one thing at a time, you can reduce the amount of stimulation you’re exposed to and improve your ability to focus as a result.
You can also introduce apps such as RescueTime (helps you see how you’re spending your time), Focus@Will (uses engineered audio to increase focus), and Freedom (blocks the internet on your device at set intervals to reduce distractions).
Adult ADHD Support at The ADHD Centre
It is important to note that everyone’s experience with ADHD is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. A lot of these trigger-avoidance techniques often work best alongside other treatments, such as ADHD medications. To figure out what’s best for you, you should work with a mental health professional to develop a comprehensive and personalised ADHD treatment plan.
At The ADHD Centre, we have a team of leading specialists who are trained in helping people with an ADHD diagnosis to better understand their condition, identify strategies for managing their symptoms and triggers, and helping to treat adult onset ADHD. If you’re struggling with ADHD triggers, please call us on 0800 061 4276 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.