Adult ADHD and Screen Time - Is There a Connection?

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Adult ADHD and Screen Time - Is There a Connection?

Is there a connection?

Almost everyone with an internet-enabled device worries about the effect of screen time on their attention span. Confronted with a constant stream of notifications, eye-catching adverts, clickbait-y headlines, and social media feeds, it’s no wonder up to 30% of Americans are almost constantly online. How are we supposed to focus on crucial tasks?

Although technology addiction affects everyone, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are especially prone to distraction. Many of those with the condition are hardwired to seek immediate gratification, gaining much pleasure from instant messages, online shopping, social media, and other digital cruxes. While neurotypical people also gain satisfaction from these activities, people with ADHD find it much more difficult to self-regulate and defer gratification – a real problem if they’re working toward an important deadline. 

With ADHD diagnoses on the rise, you may wonder whether technology is partly to blame. While experts agree that internet use doesn’t cause ADHD, it can exacerbate symptoms and negatively impact the mental health of people with the condition. So, what can people with ADHD do to survive and thrive in our digital age? Before you start taking steps to lower your screen time, it’s important to understand the complex nature of adult ADHD. 

What is adult ADHD?

Many people view ADHD as a childhood condition characterized by hyperactivity and inattention in school. While it’s true that ADHD symptoms may appear more pronounced in kids, the idea that people will grow out of the disorder is based on out-of-date science. Recent research suggests that around two-thirds of children with ADHD will continue to experience symptoms as adults. What’s more, fewer than 20% of adults with the condition are thought to have an official diagnosis, meaning many people are battling their symptoms in silence.

So, why is adult ADHD so difficult to diagnose? In short, the symptoms associated with ADHD look different in adults compared to kids. While younger people with the condition may show obvious signs of hyperactivity and distraction, such as an inability to sit still or listen to their teachers, adult symptoms are often subtler and more wide-ranging. ADHD affects everyone differently, with some people struggling more with inattention than, say, impulsivity. As a general rule, however, adults with ADHD tend to display at least a few of the following traits:

  • Lack of attention to detail and propensity to make careless mistakes
  • Frequent loss of possessions
  • Easy to distract
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Difficulty maintaining attention
  • Lack of organizational skills
  • Difficulty staying still
  • Frequent restlessness
  • Excessive talkativeness
  • Inability to wait
  • Propensity to interrupt while others are talking

How can people with adult ADHD lower their screen time and improve their mental health?

If you have ADHD (or are awaiting a diagnosis), you may be wondering how to manage your symptoms without having to disconnect from the digital world. After all, many of us log on regularly to fulfil work responsibilities or make social arrangements with friends and family. The good news is that ADHD isn’t totally incompatible with screen time – you just need to follow a few simple strategies to keep your symptoms in check. Helpful tips include:

1. Schedule your screen time

Set a timer when you use your phone, TV or computer for entertainment, ensuring it goes off after an hour (or however long you would like to spend online). Scheduling your screen time will give you a sense of control over your activities, allowing you to enjoy your time online while preventing you from scrolling aimlessly for hours on end. 

2. Pick up real-world hobbies

Wondering what to do with your non-screen time? Taking up a new hobby such as running, painting, or reading will demonstrate that there’s much more to life than the online world. Plus, joining a group or team could help improve your social life. It’s a win-win!

3. Use your screen time wisely

While the internet is full of pointless memes and time-wasting YouTube videos, it’s also great for completing tasks and learning new things. During your scheduled screen time, why not learn a new language or conduct some interesting research? Using your allotted time in this way will make you feel more accomplished and improve your relationship with digital devices. 

4. Use productivity apps

Productivity apps alter the experience of using a smartphone to limit your screen time and reduce the temptation to scroll. If you’re sick of impulsively opening Twitter or Facebook, this approach could help rewire your brain. 

The bottom line? Track your habits

Do you feel addicted to your smartphone? Perhaps you’re struggling with social media anxiety caused by a constant need to scroll? Tracking your habits will help you identify any problem areas and wean you off addictive apps. Just remember to seek professional help if you believe you have ADHD and are yet to receive a diagnosis. Knowing your brain will help you gain control of the situation. 

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