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When ADHD Symptoms Kill Perfectly Good Coping Strategies

Those of us with ADHD like to talk about coping strategies. Coping strategies are our opportunity to actively do something about how ADHD symptoms affect our lives, and that’s what makes them important.

Every ADHDer has their preferred coping strategies. Whether those strategies involve planners, sticky notes, alarms, time management techniques, environmental changes, or routines, you’ve probably heard of many of them – and you might use some yourself. There are all sorts of perfectly good coping strategies out there.

And yet, all ADHD coping strategies share one potentially major flaw: the person using them is an ADHDer!

DisorganizedThat means even if you develop coping strategies to deal with your ADHD symptoms, sometimes your ADHD symptoms will interfere with your ability to actually use those coping strategies.

This can happen in various ways. One is forgetfulness. What if you simply forget to use your coping techniques? A planner won’t do you much good if you don’t remember to write stuff down in it. Forgetfulness can especially be a problem when you’re first trying out a new coping strategy and haven’t integrated it into your habits yet.

Motivation deficits can also stop ADHDers from implementing coping strategies well. In theory, you might be able to think up an elaborate organization system that can solve all your problems, but what happens when it’s crunch time and you can’t summon the self-control and motivation to actually put that system into practice? ADHD does affect motivation, so the best ADHD coping strategies tend to be ones that are either easy to implement or offer some kind of motivating reward.

Another ADHD symptom is, of course, inattention, and you can bet that inattention has the ability to wreck a perfectly good coping strategy. Setting sticky-note reminders for yourself can work wonders, but it can also work absolutely nothing if you don’t notice the sticky note, or if you get distracted in between seeing the sticky note and going to do the thing you were supposed to be reminded of.

None of this is to say that coping strategies don’t work. Coping strategies are an important part of managing ADHD. They’re about engaging in active problem-solving to reduce the impact our symptoms have on our lives, and about finding habits that fit with our brains.

But coping strategies are also imperfect. Even with good coping strategies, your symptoms will cause problems, and sometimes said symptoms will throw a wrench into your coping strategies themselves.

I say this not to be a downer but because it’s important to acknowledge: if you find that certain coping strategies only work sometimes, or that it takes you a while to get the hang of those coping strategies, or that some coping strategy you read about turns out to be worthless for you, that’s OK. All of that is a normal part of having ADHD, and a healthy part of the trial-and-error necessary to find the imperfect coping strategies that still make a difference in your life.

Image: Flickr/Noliv O

When ADHD Symptoms Kill Perfectly Good Coping Strategies

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). When ADHD Symptoms Kill Perfectly Good Coping Strategies. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Oct 2019
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