So, I think I have ADHD.

by Julia Ragen, Psy.D.

Have you noticed that since coming to UCSC you’re having problems you’ve never had before, or maybe ones that were manageable in high school, but now are affecting your grades?

Problems keeping focused in class?

Can’t concentrate while studying?

Can’t seem to settle down to do your homework?

Procrastinating like never before, and pulling all-nighters before deadlines or exams?

If you’re like many UCSC students, you may have come to the logical conclusion that you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD (or ADD).

The good news is that you probably don’t.

ADHD is believed to affect only 3-7% of the population. In other words, more than 9 of out 10 people don’t have it — but a MUCH larger percentage of people still struggle with very real challenges with attention, focus, and getting work done.

If it’s not ADHD, what IS the problem?

Well, there are many things that can disrupt our attention or focus – Anxiety  and Depression are big ones.  Also, being in a new environment and going through major transitions (ahem, like moving away from home for the first time) can be really disruptive to our lives, and take some settling into.  Being around people all the time,  maybe people who are MUCH more interesting and fun than reading 60 pages of Sumerian history is certainly going to affect our concentration and most likely play a part in some of that procrastination.  If  my friends are going out TODAY and the paper isn’t due until Tuesday….well, no brainer,  right?  It’s only Sunday!

Let’s also keep in mind that it is just difficult to focus on anything while connected to the internet/your smartphone. New email? Text? Did someone ‘like’ something, somewhere?  You must know!  (Fun fact: Every time you get an email, a ‘like’ or some other info from the internet, it stimulates the rewards system in your brain).

What can I do?

  • Get and USE a planner.  Electronic or paper, whichever you prefer.  Write in deadlines and exam dates, and then create a regular weekly schedule for yourself, including class times, meal times, study times, exercise AND socializing.  Get into a routine.

  • Find your best environment to study; some people prefer silence, some do better with a little background noise. (TIP- having TV in the room is not background noise, it’s distracting).

  • Make sure you are taking time to take care of yourself with a healthy diet, regular exercise, social support, and a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep is AWFUL for concentration/attention. In fact, some research suggests that symptoms of sleep deprivation may be indistinguishable from symptoms of ADHD.

  • If you’re feeling depressed or anxious (aka “thinking too much”), call us here at CAPS, we will help to figure out what’s going on and make a plan to get you back to feeling your regular self again.

The strategies listed above are useful for helping anyone with attention and organization problems, regardless of whether or not they have an ADHD diagnosis. But if you are one of the 3-7% of students who do have ADHD, getting assessed and diagnosed can be an important part of coming up with a plan for success, in school and in other parts of your life. CAPS offers free, 30-minute screenings and consultation for students who have concerns about ADHD, and we’ll be happy to help you figure out some next steps to get your symptoms under control. Call us at 459-2628 to set up an appointment with a counselor.

Julia Ragen, Psy.D., recently completed her postdoctoral fellowship at CAPS and is currently preparing for licensure as a clinical psychologist. She led “Finding Focus”, a skills group for students with attention and concentration problems during Spring Quarter 2013.