There is so much we don’t know about COVID-19. However, for persons with ADHD, there is some good news. The chances of getting COVID-19 are reduced if you are taking ADHD stimulant medication.
Israel discovered this when they did a study in March and April of 2020 that included over 14,000 participants. The results were published in the Journal of Attention Disorders in July. The study found that having ADHD increases someone’s chance of testing positive for COVID-19 by 52%! However, those treating their ADHD with stimulant medication had no additional risk for COVID-19 exposure compared to non-ADHD persons. (If you are interested in the specific findings of the study, you can find it here: https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054720943271)
Why would taking a stimulant medication reduce the risk of being exposed to COVID-19?
Most likely because stimulant medication is effective at reducing common ADHD symptoms such as risky behavior, forgetfulness, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Other populations, such as people of color and the elderly have been identified as being at increased risk of COVID-19 exposure. Now it seems having ADHD might also be one of those higher risk groups.
The good news? Knowing about the increased risk of testing positive for COVID-19 if you have ADHD allows us to address key ADHD symptoms and practice proactive strategies to reduce these risks!
ADHD Symptoms and Their Increased Risk
Impulsivity. Spontaneity and impulsivity are common symptoms of ADHD and increase the risks for exposure to COVID-19 for someone with ADHD. In fact, impulsivity increases the risk of exposure for everyone.
Because strong emotions, like fear, uncertainty or anxiety, can be misdirected into urgency. Rather than feeling those uncomfortable emotions, people are compelled to “do” something…impulsively. The toilet paper buying frenzy is a good example of this compulsive, impulsive “doing”. Knowing that uncomfortable emotions can lead to impulsive behavior can help us stop and pause before “doing” and reduce the risk of impulsivity.
Impulsivity is also directly related to how much news we watch about the progress of the virus. The more news we watch about COVID-19…the more emotions, anxiety, uncertainty…the more impulsivity. Now is a good time to limit the amount of news you consume.
Instead, focus on what you can influence and control right now and be willing to let go of the rest. You might have guessed this is known as mindfulness. Being mindful in a time like this is hard, especially when our brains don’t work that way. ADHD brains like to jump around with all the “what-ifs”. Instead, when you realize your brain is doing this, bring yourself back to the present. Pay attention to your breathing. Where your feet are in that moment. Or what sound you hear. All of these will bring you back to now and reduce the overwhelm.
Here’s a super awesome COVID-19 Serenity Prayer to help you be more mindful:
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (my bank account balance, what jobs are essential, whether we will run out of toilet paper); the courage to change the things I can (handwashing, social distancing, wearing a mask around others, coughing into the corner of my elbow); and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Risk-taking. Many ADHD brains thrive in risk-taking mode. This is true for emergency room doctors, police or firefighters. For some with ADHD, it might just be that social distancing, wearing masks and increasing handwashing ironically may not feel risky enough.
Eliminating risk-taking altogether is not the answer. Instead, find other ways to include “healthy” risk-taking into your life. Now’s the time to consider inherently risky activities that don’t impact your exposure to COVID-19. Activities, behaviors or actions that keep you and everyone else as healthy as possible.
Since we all have different “risk” levels, healthy risks are those things that challenge you. Ask yourself if the behavior takes you out of your comfort zone or gets your adrenaline flowing. If so, it is likely in your risk category.
Now’s the time to soak in online gaming (a common adrenaline boost for many). To take advantage of outdoor activities such as hiking, bicycling, kayaking, rock climbing, etc. And remember, “healthy” risk doesn’t only have to involve activities. Consider the riskiness of speaking your mind, rather than simply agreeing with others. Challenge yourself in these new risky healthy ways.
Here are a few more healthy risk ideas to consider to get your adrenaline flowing:
- Introduce yourself to a stranger (masks on and social distancing appropriate of course).
- Take a cold shower.
- Email 50 people telling them you are committing to achieving a specific goal by a deadline.
- Contact someone you haven’t in a long time.
- Apologize to someone.
- Share a deep secret with someone you care about.
Misremembering/forgetfulness. Now that face masks have become very affordable, purchase plenty and leave them in all the places you will need them. Keeping them available and in sight means less chance of forgetting to wear one. Leave a package of masks in your car. Hang one off your rearview mirror. Put one in your backpack, purse or handbag. Hang them on door handles. Tuck one in the pocket of your pants or shirt. They are the accessory of the year!
As the coronavirus pandemic continues many of us are getting used to wearing face masks. Same old same old can equal boredom to the ADHD brain which will only make remembering to wear them more difficult.
An Australian expert, Bruce Thompson from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne has a novel take on remembering to not only wear, but to clean and change our masks. He suggests thinking of masks like underwear.
You don’t take them off in public. You don’t fiddle with them in public, and you don’t share them with somebody else. Thompson also suggests that you should have as many masks as you have underwear. So, between six to 12 masks. (If you don’t have at least six pairs of underwear that’s a whole other issue.) Masks should be rotated and washed regularly. You wouldn’t wear the same pair of dirty underwear all week, so you shouldn’t wear the same unwashed mask all week. If you would wear the same pair of dirty underwear all week…I’m not sure what to say about that.
Rather than trying to “remember” to increase washing your hands, increase this behavior by associating it with something you already do. Ideas for increasing your handwashing habit might include:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before getting a drink of water or after getting a drink of water.
- After using the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After touching an animal and feeding an animal
- After touching garbage or recycling
- When you brush your teeth…use that running water to wash your hands
- Wash your hands every time you are waiting for the coffee or tea to brew
- Wash your hands before and after taking medication
Taking Stimulant Medication. This article was the result of a study that showed those treating their ADHD with stimulant medication had no additional risk for COVID-19 exposure compared to non-ADHD persons. If you are using stimulant medication to help manage your ADHD symptoms, now is the time to continue. If not, this might be a time to consider whether stimulant medication is an option to consider. Starting stimulant medication now to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 doesn’t mean you are destined to take it forever. Consider what will be most helpful now and reevaluate with your prescriber about changes later. Remembering to take ADHD medication is one of its biggest challenges, so set alarms to remember to take your medications! And while you’re at it…wash your hands!!!
ADHD Life Coaching. Managing your symptoms and thriving with ADHD includes applying multiple strategies and learning new behaviors. An ADHD Life Coach can help you create and stick to new strategies and systems to help reduce your chances of getting COVID-19. If you are interested in finding out more about working with a Certified ADHD Life Coach go to: https://iACTcenter.com/hire-a-coach/.
Persons with ADHD are at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. Feel free to share this article with others and your healthcare providers so they can pass on this important information. There are strategies you can be doing now to level the playing field and reduce your risk for COVID-19 exposure with ADHD.
Want more tips on dealing with ADHD medications or COVID-19? Check out:
How to Get Through the ADHD Medication Maze
Maintaining Your ADHD Mental Health During a Pandemic