ADHD vs nervous system dysregulation

November 14, 2023

Have you noticed an increase in talk about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) lately? You’re not imagining it. There’s no doubt that the condition has been placed under the spotlight in recent months. With increased media coverage and celebrity activism taking hold on social media, general awareness around ADHD has never been higher.

When something’s not going so well for us we naturally seek out answers and solutions, and it’s never been easier to do so from the safety of our smartphones. With the rise of search engines, social media and the 24 hour news cycle, searching our symptoms and finding the potential causes for our problematic thoughts, feelings or behaviours takes mere seconds. Discovering through our search that we are displaying some of the common symptoms of ADHD might be a welcome relief for many who have long struggled, with no apparent explanation as to why.

However, just as an anxiety attack may mimic the symptoms of heart disease, ADHD shares a suite of symptoms that might indicate an alternative mental health concern – nervous system dysregulation. Despite the common symptoms, the treatment plan differs greatly between ADHD and nervous system dysregulation – so it’s important to get the diagnosis right before seeking pharmacological interventions.

Could it be Nervous System Dysregulation?

Nervous system dysregulation can develop as a physiological response to psychological trauma, addictions or from chronic stress. Our bodies can become stuck in its stress response (our fight or flight mode or stuck in freeze) causing a host of physiological symptoms including restlessness, insomnia, being easily distracted, forgetful and generally feeling ‘scattered’.

If you type these symptoms into Dr Google, ADHD will likely be your first result.

Why we might be making ourselves sick

There’s never been an era where digital connectivity has ruled our lives so much. And, whilst the benefits of technology are immense, there are less-than-desirable outcomes for our mental health as we become unable to switch ourselves off and recuperate psychologically. The advent of technology now means many of us exist within a 24 hour work and play cycle – with group chats, social media, online shopping and news at our fingertips constantly. For those who work from home, it might be difficult to delineate between our work hours and our home hours.

It is becoming more and more difficult to switch off mentally, and the result of this can be a gradual slide into chronic stress or addiction, and subsequently into nervous system dysregulation as we experience memory or concentration issues, poor sleep, exhaustion and irritability. Further problems can arise when nervous system dysregulation is undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or worse, self-diagnosed as ADHD, with the actual root cause of symptoms going unaddressed.

How to treat nervous system dysregulation

Dr Ashwini Padhi, Psychiatrist at South Pacific Private says that it is worth exploring behavioral interventions and changes before searching for medications. “Often people experiencing nervous system dysregulation feel better at the start of taking medication for ADHD, but the effect might not last” says Dr Padhi, “and this can lead to us increasing our dosage more and more to achieve that same initial feeling.”

Whilst ADHD is typically treated with medication, nervous system dysregulation is treated by first seeking help from a mental health care professional. Dr Padhi says that undertaking therapy with a trusted professional, be it individual or group based, can help uncover the root cause of the stressor that has put the body into nervous system regulation. “We can then begin to put interventions in place to help re-regulate the brain and body” says Dr Padhi. This can include exploring self-care actions such as:

  • Practicing meditation and mindfulness
  • Breathing exercises
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Getting enough good sleep
  • Spending time in nature
  • Making time for play
  • Limiting screen time and social media
  • Setting limits around when you are ‘at work’

Finally, beware the influencer

More and more people are creating content on social media platforms around their experience of conditions such as ADHD, and whilst awareness is important, there is also a high risk of misinformation being carried to unsuspecting audiences. “If you are concerned that you might be displaying symptoms of ADHD or nervous system dysregulation, it is of utmost importance to speak with a health professional about your specific symptoms and your individual history to get a clear diagnosis” says Dr Padhi.

If you or someone you care about is struggling, South Pacific Private can help. Take a free, self assessment or get in touch with our Intake Team by calling 1800 063 332, to see if our program is right for you.

Online Self Assessments

Learn more about key indicators of addiction, trauma and mental health conditions by taking an assessment for yourself, or on behalf of a loved-one.

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