Too much to do; not enough time

Dear Lucy: Does not being overwhelmed with all that is going on in adult life mimic ADHD? When you try to do more than you are able to do and are getting very little done because you are continually going from one thing to another and getting nowhere, couldn’t that cause distraction that might seem like ADHD? Also, does this stress of being overwhelmed make for more illness? —Multitasking

Dear Multitasking: Lucy feels your pain. So much so that she somehow managed to drag herself away from dashing from item to item on her ever-growing to-do list to find the time to forward your question to MIT Medical Psychologist Xiaolu Hsi.
Hsi, as it turns out, also feels your pain—or, at least, confirms that what you are feeling is real. “The nature of life in modern society dictates that we all have far too much to do than is possible in the hours of the day we are given,” Hsi replies. She agrees that “having way too many pots boiling” will invariably lead to difficulties in focusing. 
On the other hand, she says, ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADD, the non-hyperactive, predominantly inattentive version of the disorder)—is not something an adult can develop as the result of a change in job situation, the burden of caring for young or elderly family members, or other stressors. “As a developmental disorder, ADD or ADHD is something one would have lived with, and had symptoms of, since early childhood,” Hsi says. Without a previous diagnosis of ADHD, the disorder is unlikely to be the root cause of problems with focus and disorganization in adulthood.
“It is very important both to look at the number of tasks we take on and also look for ways to be more efficient at completing the tasks we already have,” Hsi advises. And no matter how busy we are, Hsi emphasizes the need to get enough sleep. “Sleep deprivation makes it even less likely that we’ll get things done,” she says, because we are less alert, less focused, and less able to stay on track.” 
Of course, as Lucy can tell you from personal experience, becoming more efficient and organized, improving one’s ability to focus, or getting more sleep is easier said than done. But, fortunately, you don’t need to do it alone. 
Lucy is excited to tell you about MIT’s new benefit, MyLife Services, which gives MIT faculty, staff, postdocs—and their family members—free and confidential access to a network of experts who can help with life concerns just like these. The program, which is offered through KGA, Inc., a respected external provider of employee assistance programs and sponsored by the MIT’s Work-Life Center also offers legal assistance, financial counseling, and more—like nutrition consultations and help finding daycare or eldercare. You can learn more or get started by visiting the MyLife website, calling 844-405-5433, or sending an email to
Lucy encourages you to check out this free and confidential resource, and wishes you calmer seas ahead. —Lucy


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