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What to Do When ADHD Drives You Up the Wall at Work

Reading time | 4 mins

You know the drill. A big assignment is due at school or work and you just can’t focus. Your ADHD symptoms are taking over.

I frequently find myself uttering, “Come on, ADHD. I don’t have time for this!” under my breath.

Sometimes no matter how hard I try I can’t concentrate on a single task. My brain wants to work on something else as soon as I make progress.

Distraction can be OK at times. Not when I have to buckle down and hit a due date.

It’s completely normal to feel frustrated. So to overcome these feelings, here’s how I cope when the inattention part of ADHD makes me upset.

It’s OK to feel frustrated

Feeling upset about being distracted often means that you really care about your work. Take a moment to embrace that. After all, that’s a good thing in itself.

I do, however, understand that sometimes that isn’t enough for some.

We sometimes feel like outcasts when coworkers or classmates seem to have zero trouble with focus. Remember that there’s a big family of people with ADHD. We’ve all been there. We’re in this together.

Sometimes you just need to take a moment and recognize that feeling frustrated is OK.

Take a deep breath

I mean a few really deep breaths.

Our heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure increase when we get stressed. Consciously slowing down your breathing may help to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

But what if you feel like a couple of deep breaths aren’t sufficient? I like to get in a comfortable position and use these simple breathing techniques:

  • Inhale for the count of four, hold your breath for the count of four, and exhale for the count of four. Repeat as needed.
  • Place your hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath to expand your abdomen. Exhale quickly to feel your hand lower with your belly. Repeat three to five times.
  • Close your right nostril and inhale deeply through the left. Close your left nostril and exhale deeply through the right. Repeat three to five times.

There are lots of other breathing techniques and resources out there. Try a few to see which works best for you.

Mindfulness can seem like an impossible task for people with ADHD. But I hope trying breathing techniques like these will make it much easier than you think.

Go for a walk

ADHD can make you feel agitated and it often makes me feel like I want a change of scenery. So, I find that switching up the pace helps me to recalibrate my brain. It centers me.

I sometimes go for a walk when I get antsy — the movement helps me to refocus, and as an added benefit, I get to admire the building where I work. Sometimes I might even take a short, brisk walk through my city (it helps that I’m in sunny California!).

If you do decide to go for a walk, try not to take your cellphone. If I take mine I sometimes end up checking social media or getting sucked into an email. Either way, you won’t get the same benefits. Try to really focus on enjoying your walk.

Talk to someone

Having a conversation boosts my mood. Taking a step away from my desk to talk can be a healthy distraction from frustration.

So why not try taking a break to meet up with a coworker or friend. Grab a coffee or a snack!

You can even try venting to a close friend about feeling unfocused. They’ll often empathize and share similar experiences, even if they don’t have ADHD. It helps you to know you aren’t alone and they just might be able to give you some helpful advice.

You’ll also likely be able to get more done after letting off a bit of stress. Some research also suggests that workplace socializing is linked to increasing overall productivity — so try it!

Listen to ambient sounds

Now that you’ve done some breathing exercises and vented your frustrations, it’s time to get back to work. Throw on your headphones and play some ambient sounds.

Choose anything that calms you and helps you to focus. I enjoy binaural music. Other people I know have had success with house music, white noise, isochronic tones, or rain sounds. Use whatever helps you to work!

Ask for help

Don’t understand something? Ask your supervisor to explain the assignment again.

I sometimes space out as I’m receiving instructions on a project, which can lead to moments of frustration further down the road.

I find that simply rehearing something can be a reminder, and helps provide the clarity I need to refocus on the task at hand.

Write things down

My job is fast-paced. I often receive assignments verbally… then I forget the smaller details.

That’s why I ask for assignments written in a bullet-form summary. It helps me to learn and process tasks.

If you’re better at processing verbal information, repeat your assignment back to your boss or supervisor.

Taking an extra 30 seconds now might prevent hours of frustration further down the line. I guarantee your boss will appreciate that you’re getting clarity at the beginning, rather than potentially making mistakes later on.

Inattention is perhaps one of the most universal experiences of ADHD. When it kicks in, don’t be afraid to embrace your frustration! And remember we’re all searching for the right tricks to get us through.

For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 


NPS-US-NP-00497 OCTOBER 2019