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Can stress trigger ADHD episodes?


Stress often triggers ADHD episodes. Especially for adults stress often triggers ADHD episodes, and, conversely, ADHD causes a perpetual state of stress. Unmanaged stress aggravates common symptoms of ADHD.

A person who struggles with ADHD cannot successfully focus and filter out excess stimuli, which increases stress levels. Anxiety, which can stem from approaching deadlines, procrastination, and the inability to focus on the work at hand, can further raise stress levels.

How can stress contribute to ADHD symptoms in children?

According to studies certain parts of the developing brain are very sensitive to stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. In normal doses, these chemicals help us act quickly, but at high doses, the results aren't at all helpful.

A tiny almond-shape area of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for storing memories, as well as for teaching us to react quickly to threats. A child whose amygdala has been overwhelmed by constant stress might perceive threats differently than a child raised in a calmer environment. A teacher asking a question could make a chronically stressed child combative, fidgety, or forgetful.

Another area of the brain that has numerous receptors for cortisol is the hippocampus, a seahorse-shape structure responsible for memory and inhibition.

Children exposed to toxic stress might have memory problems, make careless mistakes, lose inhibitions, or take unnecessary risks. Sounds like ADHD. But it may not be ADHD - and it won't be helped by typical ADHD therapy.

Two recent studies, one in JAMA Pediatrics and one in Nature Neuroscience, show that children growing up with the relentless stress of childhood poverty have alterations in these two crucial brain regions, as well as brain areas responsible for language, reading, and executive functions. All of this can result in behaviors that are easily misinterpreted as learning issues and ADHD.

Another recent study showed that children who had four or more adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, domestic violence, parental divorce, or parental incarceration, were almost three times more likely to use ADHD medications compared to children with three or fewer adverse experiences. But is it really ADHD, or a coping response to those experiences?

What kind of issues in the family might contribute to family stress and there by emotional and behavioral disorder including ADHD?

Family stress caused by marital problems, financial issues, illness or injury of a parent, and so forth -- can be toxic to children and is at the root of many childhood emotional and behavioral problems including ADHD.

Family therapists have been working with this idea for half of century. But now, many people who are not family therapists but who are concerned with the well-being of children are taking this view seriously.

Does medication help children when stress is the cause of ADHD symptoms?

Early childhood trauma, child being severely neglected early in life, poverty, and stress put children on a trajectory for symptoms that mimic and, in essence, meet the criteria for ADHD, but it's more their biography then their biology.

In these cases, the child needs help, but labeling the child as ADHD and medicating him without also considering the sources of his stress would be like treating a laceration without addressing the trauma that caused it.

How can family therapist help in easing the factors causing family stress which are responsible for ADHD?

Instead of viewing a child's ADHD symptoms as strictly a biological disorder -- whether genetic, epigenetic or biochemical -- family therapists find that they can help children best by looking at the child's nurturing environment.

Family therapists believe that a family is a complex system and, as in all complex systems, a change in one part of the system affects the other parts.

How can parents protect children from family stress?

Parents can do a lot to protect their child from family stress just by adopting a healthier communication style. This means not arguing in front of the kids, telling them one or two positive things about your own day, praising the other parent in front of the children, and not airing out serious financial or other problems in the children's presence.

Along with a healthy communication style, parents should be cognizant of keeping a healthy family structure. This means that parents nurture their marriage so that they remain emotionally close. They spend quality time together without their children and don't allow their kids to sleep in their bed.

If parents drift apart and one parent becomes overly close to a child, this puts excessive pressure on the child and can lead to his developing serious problems --even autism or ADHD.

How to overcome ADHD symptoms triggered by stress?

Try to incorporate daily techniques to relieve stress. Take regular breaks when performing tasks and engage in exercise or relaxing activities, such as yoga.

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