Last updated:

February 19, 2024


 min read

Triggers for ADHD Symptoms

Unlock the secrets to managing ADHD symptoms by understanding common triggers like stress, lack of sleep, and sensory overload, and discover personalized strategies for a balanced and empowered life with Rocket Health's expert guidance.

Reviewed by
Sneha Toppo
Written by
Kanika Kant

ADHD is a  condition with symptoms that may be amplified due to environmental or internal factors. This article delves into both aspects to increase awareness into common triggers as well as ways to manage said triggers so as to better manage ADHD symptoms. 


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects both children and adults, impacting various aspects of daily life. It commonly manifests in childhood and can persist into adolescence and adulthood.

The American Psychiatric Association defines ADHD as a disorder consisting of symptoms of “ inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting) and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought)”.  The symptoms of ADHD can disrupt various aspects of life, including work, school, household responsibilities, and relationships. Effectively managing this condition poses a challenge for individuals of all ages, encompassing both children and adults (Harpin, 2005).

Importance of understanding triggers

Understanding ADHD triggers is pivotal for developing coping strategies, enhancing quality of life, fostering personal empowerment, facilitating effective communication, and tailoring daily routines that can minimise the impact of symptoms.

Some common ADHD triggers include the following:

  • Stress
  • Lack of Sleep
  • Sensory Overload
  • Disorganisation
  • Diet
  • Lack of physical activity

Stress and Anxiety 

Stress and anxiety have the potential to both trigger and amplify ADHD symptoms. Concurrently, individuals living with ADHD may experience a constant state of stress as a result of the challenges associated with the condition (Spencer and Weiss, 2007).

Impact of stress and anxiety on ADHD symptoms

Studies indicate that stress impacts the prefrontal cortex, which coincidentally is the same brain region affected by ADHD (Arnsten, 2015). Similarly, people diagnosed with both ADHD and anxiety disorders often exhibit more pronounced anxiety symptoms compared to those without ADHD. However, even adults with ADHD who don't meet diagnostic criteria for anxiety may experience occasional and situational anxiety in their daily lives (Katzman, et al., 2017).

Thus, the heightened levels of stress can intensify inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity in individuals with ADHD. Anxiety, whether related to the challenges of managing ADHD or external stressors, can further contribute to difficulties in concentration and organisation (Saccaro, Schilliger, Perroud and Piguet 2021). 

Stress-reduction techniques

Prior to engaging in techniques to manage stress and anxiety, it is important to be aware of the causes of the same, that may differ from person to person. Having identified the source, some common techniques of managing stress include mindfulness (i.e techniques that help you focus on the present, example meditation), journaling, physical activity and deep breathing exercises. 

Lack of Sleep

The relationship between lack of sleep and ADHD is intricate, with sleep playing a crucial role in influencing the manifestation and management of ADHD symptoms.

Connection between sleep and ADHD symptoms

Sleep deprivation can exacerbate inattention and difficulty concentrating, which are core symptoms of ADHD. Studies have found that insufficient sleep may contribute to heightened distractibility and reduced cognitive performance in individuals with ADHD (Dahl, 1996). Similarly, lack of sleep has been associated with increased impulsivity and hyperactivity in individuals with ADHD. Sleep-deprived individuals may find it more challenging to regulate impulsive behaviours and may exhibit an escalation in hyperactive tendencies (Yoon, Jain, and Shapiro, 2012). Another study confirmed that participants with ADHD who were deprived of sleep exhibited comparatively more omission errors and delayed reaction time (Dan et al., 2021).

Establishing a consistent sleep routine

Given the implications of sleep deprivation on concentration, impulsivity and response time, it is essential for persons with ADHD to maintain a consistent sleep routine. This can include strategies such as setting a fixed bedtime, eliminating naps, identifying obstacles and reducing stimulants prior to sleep. 

Sensory Overload

Individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may encounter sensory overload, a phenomenon arising when one or more of their senses become overstimulated. It occurs when an individual with ADHD is hyper-sensitive to the sensory information processed by their brain, resulting in heightened and prolonged experiences of certain sensations. This heightened sensitivity can lead to overstimulation, triggering a "fight or flight" response that may impact the individual's daily functioning (Lane and Reynolds, 2019).

4 Reasons Your Eyes Are Sensitive to Sunlight - TheraSpecs

Common sensory triggers

Overload can originate from any of the five senses.

  • Sight: Bright, harsh, or flashing lights, crowded spaces 
  • Smell: Intense scents or odours
  • Sound: Exposure to loud noises, such as music or fireworks, or being amidst multiple conversations simultaneously
  • Taste: Specific flavours, temperatures, or textures
  • Touch: Tactile sensations such as being touched by another person (especially unexpectedly)

Minimising exposure to sensory triggers

Firstly, it is important to be aware of your environment and identify elements that induce feelings of overwhelm or anxiety. This may include particular places, sounds or smells. Recognize these triggers and make a note of them, enabling you to develop specific strategies to proactively avoid or manage their impact. If avoiding sensory stimulation is not always possible, some strategies to manage symptoms could include using sensory aids like noise-cancelling headphones or sunglasses or taking time out, for example going to a quiet space like a bathroom. 


While everyone may occasionally experience messiness or forgetful moments like misplacing keys, individuals with ADHD often contend with a different degree of disorganisation. This state is enduring and widespread, persisting despite earnest attempts to stay organised. 

Impact of disorganisation on ADHD symptoms

In a comprehensive study involving the brain scans of over 2,200 individuals with ADHD and 1,900 without, researchers discovered notable structural distinctions in the frontal cortex of those with ADHD (Hoogman et al., 2019). Among the skills potentially impacted by this variance is organization, especially working memory.  Due to these cognitive challenges, many individuals with ADHD adopt compensatory strategies, often relying on visual cues. They position necessary items in visible locations to prevent forgetfulness. Consequently, they may tend to keep belongings in visible piles on tables and chairs rather than stowing them in drawers or closets. The outcome is often a cluttered living or working space (Woody et al., 2021).

Organisational strategies

Implementing organisational strategies is crucial for effectively handling ADHD symptoms. Rather than striving for an unrealistic level of complete organisation or perfectionism, a more attainable and beneficial goal is to minimise the negative consequences of disorganisation. Nevertheless, some strategies to cope with disorganisation include creating a planner for yourself, using visual cues such as post-it notes to serve as reminders and clutter prevention routines. 


Diet cannot induce ADHD, nor can it serve as a cure. Nevertheless, alterations in your diet may influence behaviour.

The role of nutrition in managing ADHD symptoms

A balanced and nutrient-rich diet is crucial for supporting cognitive function, improving attention and focus, and minimising factors that may exacerbate ADHD-related challenges. Incorporating key nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, can contribute to a holistic approach in addressing ADHD symptoms and promoting overall well-being.

Impact of sugar, additives, and processed foods

Excessive consumption of sugar and certain additives may lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels and contribute to increased hyperactivity and impulsivity in some people with ADHD (Kim and Chang, 2011). However, research on the correlation between sugar and ADHD symptoms is inconclusive as other studies have found no significant effect (Wolraich, Wilson, and White, 1995).

Lack of Physical Activity

Engaging in regular physical activity has been recognized as a beneficial component, irrespective of whether an individual has ADHD.

Positive effects of regular physical activity on ADHD symptoms

Typically, ADHD is associated with lower levels of dopamine and exercise moderates ADHD by elevating the levels of both dopamine and norepinephrine that are pivotal in governing the attention system (Marques et al., 2021). In addition, persons with ADHD are also known to have impaired executive functioning (Roselló et al., 2020) which in turn can be improved by exercising. Regular physical activity is also associated with improved attention span and reduced hyperactivity (Silva et al., 2015) 

Incorporating exercise into daily routines

Although any form of physical activity can help manage some ADHD symptoms, high intensity/ high energy workouts such as crossfit, cardio, swimming or team sports can especially be beneficial. It is however most important to be consistent with your workout and to choose something that you enjoy. 


Understanding and identifying your ADHD triggers is an empowering journey toward managing and navigating the challenges associated with the condition. By recognizing the specific stimuli or situations that intensify symptoms, you gain valuable insights into your unique sensitivities. Armed with this knowledge, you can proactively implement targeted strategies, fostering an environment that supports your well-being and minimises the impact of ADHD in your daily life. Remember, this process is individualised, and seeking professional guidance can further enhance your ability to cope effectively.

To learn a more personalised approach for managing your ADHD symptoms, you may book an appointment with our trusted psychologists or with our psychiatrist to learn about possible medication. Discover how to manage ADHD symptoms with personalized strategies and expert guidance from Rocket Health. Take charge of your well-being today!


Arnsten, A. F. (2015). Stress weakens prefrontal networks: molecular insults to higher cognition. Nature neuroscience, 18(10), 1376-1385.

Dahl, R. E. (1996). The impact of inadequate sleep on children's daytime cognitive function. In Seminars in pediatric neurology (Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 44-50). WB Saunders.

Dan, O., Cohen, A., Asraf, K., Saveliev, I., & Haimov, I. (2021). The impact of sleep deprivation on continuous performance task among young men with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 25(9), 1284-1294.

Harpin, V. A. (2005). The effect of ADHD on the life of an individual, their family, and community from preschool to adult life. Archives of disease in childhood, 90(suppl 1), i2-i7.

Hoogman, M., Muetzel, R., Guimaraes, J. P., Shumskaya, E., Mennes, M., Zwiers, M. P., ... & Franke, B. (2019). Brain imaging of the cortex in ADHD: a coordinated analysis of large-scale clinical and population-based samples. American Journal of Psychiatry, 176(7), 531-542.

Katzman, M. A., Bilkey, T. S., Chokka, P. R., Fallu, A., & Klassen, L. J. (2017). Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach. BMC psychiatry, 17, 1-15.