A.D.D. Has a Stressed-Out Cousin, and We’re Giving it to Ourselves

He calls it “the cousin to ADD.” Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, a psychologist and ADHD expert, says our fast-pace, super-stressed lifestyles have created a new problem we’re ALL prone to: Attention Deficit Traits.


You might have ADT if you can’t focus on a single piece of work without having to respond to every email that pings your inbox. Or if you always feel like you are struggling to keep your head above water with all of the work on your desk. That feels like almost everyone you know, right? But unlike ADD and ADHD, Attention Deficit Traits aren’t inborn. They’re a response to a stressed-out life.


Living in this state of constant struggle is terrible for us, and it’s terrible for our job performance. “Frazzled,” is what my mom used to call this way of life. She was always 5 minutes late getting out the door to go anywhere, so she’s probably an expert on the topic. (Sorry, Mom!) Dr. Hallowell, in this article for the Harvard Business Review, writes that “The symptoms of ADT come upon a person gradually. The sufferer doesn’t experience a single crisis, but rather a series of minor emergencies while he or she tries harder and harder to keep up” (HBR, 2005).


People with ADT are struggling with a perspective problem. They’re so busy putting out all the little fires that they are missing the great big scope of what is most important. If a 3rd grade class gets construction paper clippings all over the floor, does that really matter, if they’re all getting As on their science homework? No. But if all the students are failing, no one is going to praise the teacher for having the tidiest class in the school. When we go into crisis mode and start exhibiting ADT, we often spend our time finishing the tasks that aren’t critical, at the expense of the ones that are.


A perspective shift is critical to start tackling an ADT problem you might be facing. Think about why your job exists. Or why your family needs you around. What are the top 5 most important tasks that have to get done in your realm? Calling the cable guy is important, sure, but probably not more important than getting everyone out the door fully clothed in the morning. (Sorry again, Mom!)


Dr. Hallowell also has several suggestions for fighting ADT in your daily life. He recommends protecting your brain from overload by giving it adequate sleep and exercise, don’t let paperwork build up, and get most of your work done at whatever time of day is your most productive.


Even those of us who don’t have ADD struggle with keeping up in this fast-paced world we live in. There’s so much pressure on us, that we’re giving ourselves a stress reaction! ADT can be fought, but it requires that you stop swimming upstream, get some perspective on what’s REALLY critical, and treat yourself kindly.