Tolerating stress is often quite difficult for someone with ADHD, and yet many people create stress for themselves by procrastinating. Why does that happen?

One of the things that has been shown to engage an ADHD brain is a sense of urgency. If a school or work project is not interesting but has to be done, it can be very hard for someone with ADHD to get started and to move the project to a successful conclusion over a period of time. Procrastination can actually be a strategy for engaging the brain, because waiting until the last minute creates a sense of urgency that results in sufficient stimulation to get the brain to actually engage with the task.

Peg Dawson and Richard Guare list stress tolerance as the last in their list of twelve executive functions. It was a late addition to their list and does not appear in earlier editions of their writings. Here’s how they define it: “the ability to thrive in stressful situations and to cope with uncertainty, change, and performance demands.”

A certain level of stress is inevitable in life, so being able to thrive when stress arises can be a valuable ability, but it is one that does not always come easily to someone with ADHD. For someone with ADHD who is dealing with stress, whether a self-created crisis or not, a healthy response can involve taking advantage of a pause (discussed in earlier blog posts) to breathe and to permit the brain to calm.

Often a stressful situation feels like a crisis, and that engages the amygdala which responds with the fight/flight/freeze response. When our brains are in crisis mode, the thinking brain is offline and inaccessible. Pausing, breathing deeply, and reminding ourselves that there is not as much danger as our brains perceive (assuming that to be the case) can help strengthen the executive function of stress tolerance.

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