How ADHD Shows Up in Low Stress Times

“I’ve been very irritable and “antsy” at work this week. And, I’ve been so annoyed with one

Watch for irritability! It could be a sign of withdrawal from brain stimulation!

Watch for irritability! It could be a sign of withdrawal from brain stimulation!

employee.” Those are the words of a coaching client with ADHD, who like many people with ADHD, thrives in high pressure situations and is motivated to act by urgency. This client had had several weeks of working on an even keel, successfully managing her feelings and detaching from challenging employees. She and I were both curious about what had dropped her from calm and productive to agitated and irritable.

As we explored the reality of the situation to tease out what had caused the shift in attitude she said, “We’ve had a lull at work. We just closed out the month. That’s a high stress time. Typically we get new orders right away and are off and running again. But, the new orders haven’t come in.” The word “lull” got my attention and a light bulb went off in my head. Lull is the opposite of urgency.

The frontal lobes of the brains of people with ADHD, which are characteristically under-stimulated, come alive when there is urgency in their work and their lives. Remove the urgency and their brains return to being under-stimulated and therefore don’t operate optimally. My client went from a highly stimulating, high pressure week to no pressure at all. Her battery had been removed! And, her brain objected!

I liken what happened to my client as a form of withdrawal from her drug of choice: stimulation. Stimulation makes the brains of people with ADHD work well. Lack of the stimulation provided by pressure and urgency can be experienced as deprivation of nourishment for the brain. Take away what brings pleasure and stimulation and they experience withdrawal symptoms. My client’s ability to maintain a good attitude and calmness in the work environment was replaced by irritability and reactivity, typical withdrawal symptoms.

If you have ADHD, watch your performance and attitude in urgent, pressured situations and compare it to your behavior in calm waters. When are you at your best? What can you do to work with your brain to show up as your best self in all situations ?