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ADHD

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Do I Have ADHD or Am I Just Lazy?

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Jun 20, 2023

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

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Do your days often end with an unfinished “to-do” list or various forgotten tasks? Do loved ones become annoyed or frustrated at your inability to arrive on time, follow a schedule, or remember to keep your commitments? Do you find yourself wondering, “Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy?”

While everyone occasionally forgets things or catches themselves running late, doing these things despite trying your hardest may indicate you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Those with ADHD are often labeled as “lazy,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, the ADHD brain works harder than a neurotypical brain to stay focused, remember important things, and curb impulsivity. 

The guide below helps you answer the question: Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy? We explain what ADHD is, how it’s different from other conditions, and things you can do to manage it more effectively. 

Do you suspect your laziness is related to ADHD? On Klarity, we connect you with a licensed mental health professional who can evaluate your symptoms, provide an appropriate diagnosis, and start you on a journey to managing your symptoms. To get started, take our free self-evaluation to learn more about whether your laziness is just laziness or if it could be a symptom of ADHD.

“Ordinary” Laziness vs ADHD: What’s the Difference?

The biggest difference between true laziness and ADHD is that those who are lazy don’t typically make an effort to complete tasks—and don’t usually feel anxiety or guilt when they fail to do so. Those with ADHD often feel anxious or nervous about completing tasks and put significant effort into focusing long enough to get things done. 

In other words, laziness is a lack of effort or concern about a task, whereas ADHD individuals put significant effort into a task and become upset or frustrated when it’s incomplete or done incorrectly anyway.  

How Do I Know If I Have ADHD?

Many adults who exhibited symptoms of ADHD as children, such as absent-mindedness, frequent daydreaming, general restlessness, and difficulty paying attention in class or concentrating on schoolwork, can often go overlooked. As adults, these symptoms may be even less noticeable to the outside observer but make it hard to manage your daily life. 

What Does It Feel Like To Be an Adult with ADHD?

Adults with ADHD often swing among several states of being, including feeling: 

  • Energized or even euphoric
  • Overwhelmed or filled with dread
  • Stuck, unable to move forward

Although adults with this mental health disorder may exhibit less hyperactivity compared to their younger counterparts, the intensity of symptoms remains significant. Constantly transitioning from one project to another, experiencing hyperfocus on a single task, feeling restless without a clear cause, and having racing thoughts can all impact their daily quality of life. The inherent dopamine-seeking nature of the ADHD brain keeps individuals in a perpetual state of movement, both internally and externally, leaving little room for rest and limited attention to details such as schedules and routine tasks.

How a Person with ADHD Thinks

Biological differences in brain structure, function, and chemistry make it more difficult for a person with ADHD to stay organized, develop schedules, concentrate, and manage impulsive behaviors. 

Conversely, the ADHD brain is tremendously creative, often connecting seemingly-unrelated events and ideas to innovate, problem-solve, and strategize much more easily than a neurotypical person. 

Signs You Don’t Have ADHD

If you are generally able to complete tasks or finish projects, remember important dates and appointments, and usually have a good sense of time and time management, chances are you don’t have ADHD. 

Additionally, there is no age limit for ADHD. Many people associate ADHD with children and adolescents, mistakenly believing it’s something you can “grow out of” over time. This isn’t true—many adults newly diagnosed with ADHD simply weren’t diagnosed in childhood. If you have ADHD, you’ll likely be able to examine childhood behaviors and recognize that you had this mental health disorder all along. If you can’t do this, you likely don’t have it.

Can You Have ADHD and Be Low Energy?

While ADHD is usually associated with hyperactivity and restlessness, the combination of racing thoughts and frenetic physical energy often interrupt sleep patterns. This makes it difficult for those with ADHD to get the rest they need, causing fatigue and low energy. 

The absent-mindedness associated with ADHD can also force individuals to habitually backtrack to look for misplaced items and complete unfinished tasks. This cycle, if left unmanaged, can become exhausting.

How to Overcome ADHD Procrastination

ADHD procrastination is the chronic inability to start or complete tasks because you: 

  • Don’t find them interesting enough to hold your focus
  • Get frustrated by a part of the task and set it aside
  • Forget about the task because you lack object permanence
  • Lose momentum when a task is almost finished

Each type of ADHD procrastination is linked to insufficient dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. If a task doesn’t produce these neurotransmitters, it’s less desirable to the ADHD brain and more difficult to accomplish. The key to overcoming ADHD procrastination is to modify tasks to make them more palatable or stimulating. 

A few ways to do this include: 

  • Body-doubling: completing a task in tandem with a friend or loved one doing another task. You don’t have to interact; just being in the same room is often enough to make you feel comfortable getting things done. 
  • Strategic distraction: ASMR scenery videos, music with no words, chewing gum, and/or eating a snack occupies the restless part of your brain so you can focus more easily.
  • Dance breaks: when concentration wanes, stand up, wiggle, shake, or dance for a few minutes. This helps reset your nervous system so you can focus for longer.  

What Can ADHD Be Mistaken For?

Identifying ADHD can be challenging because it shares so many characteristics with other mental health issues, such as: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

ADHD can also be comorbid with each of these other mood disorders, confusing the matter further. If you think you have one or more of these conditions, a medical evaluation can help determine which one you have so you can access the right treatment.

Do I Have ADHD or Am I Just Depressed?

ADHD and depressive disorder present with many of the same symptoms—plus, those with ADHD are more prone to developing depression from the overwhelming stressors they experience daily. Both conditions cause an inability to concentrate, low energy, disturbed sleep, and acute apathy. 

Someone with depression will experience these symptoms constantly, while someone with ADHD experiences them contextually. They also experience sleep disturbances differently. Depression may make it easy to fall asleep, but cause frequent waking throughout the night. ADHD makes it difficult to fall asleep due to racing thoughts or hyper-fixation on a specific task.

Do I Have ADHD or Anxiety?

Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with ADHD. A person with ADHD may have an anxiety disorder as a comorbid condition or simply feel anxiety more often or intensely than a neurotypical person would. Both conditions can also cause panic attacks, disordered sleep, and gastrointestinal problems. 

The easiest way to determine whether your symptoms are from ADHD or anxiety is to pay attention to when they happen. Symptoms of anxiety are situational and usually only occur around certain people or in a certain context. ADHD symptoms can arise in any context or situation. 

Do I Have ADHD or Am I Just Easily Distracted?

While 21st-century life is full of constant distractions—from mobile devices to brightly colored advertisements and crowded spaces full of noise—there is a difference between a shortened modern attention span and ADHD. For instance, when a neurotypical person needs to focus on something, they’re usually able to shut out distractions and “power through.” 

However, if you have ADHD, it may not be possible to filter out distractions simply by choosing to. Even if you want to complete an assignment or task, your mind may still wander to the last interesting conversation you had, the high-pitched whine of nearby fluorescent lighting, or someone humming two desks over.   

Do I Have OCD or ADHD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that causes unwanted intrusive thoughts—called obsessions—combined with repetitive behaviors referred to as compulsions. The repetitive behaviors help regulate and dispel the often overwhelming obsessive thoughts. 

Though ADHD and OCD share symptoms like difficulty concentrating, disturbed sleep, and gastrointestinal issues, they’re actually quite different. Challenging ADHD symptoms occur when interacting with or responding to external stimuli. Those with OCD internalize their stressors, which then manifest as intrusive thoughts that need to be regulated with repetitive movements or activities. OCD treatment aims to help alleviate the obsessive thoughts so compulsive actions have a less disruptive effect on a person’s daily life.

Licensed providers on Klarity provide personalized treatment. Find a provider that matches your needs and preferences.

What Happens if ADHD is Left Untreated in Adults?

Adults with untreated ADHD endure a great deal of stress and frustration when it comes to things like: 

  • Adhering to a schedule
  • Being organized at school or work
  • Keeping track of important items (car keys, wallet, etc.)
  • Having energy for low-stimulus tasks (e.g., housekeeping, folding laundry, cooking food)
  • Regulating emotions and mood

Unmanaged ADHD can also lead to coinciding problems like depression, anxiety, panic disorders, or substance abuse. These conditions result from the body and brain’s unsuccessful attempts to regulate your nervous system unaided. 

Treatments like ADHD medication and counseling mitigate some of the most unpleasant symptoms and help you learn healthy coping skills and techniques for accommodating your needs so you can function more easily. 

Get an Answer to “Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy,” by Scheduling Schedule an ADHD Assessment on Klarity Today

Are you tired of wondering, “Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy?” Klarity offers a solution. We connect you with a healthcare provider that can professionally diagnose ADHD — in all 48 hours. Take our free self-evaluation to get started.

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