Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
June 15, 2024

Do I Have ADHD or Am I Just Lazy? Breaking Down Misconceptions

When you think of the word “lazy,” what comes to mind? For most people, this word has negative – and immoral – implications. It’s often associated with someone being slovenly, sedentary, repulsive, and a burden on society. It goes without saying: nobody wants to be seen as lazy. 

If you have ADHD, you may have grown up thinking you were lazy because of your neurodivergence. Whether you were told outright that you were lazy or internalized these messages, most of my clients come to me with a lot of shame around laziness and how it impacts their daily functioning. 

As a coach and therapist for people with ADHD, this topic comes up a lot. So how can you tell if it’s ADHD vs laziness, and more importantly, what can you do about feeling plagued by laziness? Let’s break it down. 

How do I know if it's ADHD or laziness?

ADHD vs Laziness

ADHD impacts a wide range of executive functioning abilities. These include motivation, focus, memory, multitasking, overwhelm, distractibility, and attention. When impaired, these traits are often associated with laziness. However, ADHD isn’t laziness. It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder that has far-reaching impacts on daily functioning, mood, work, relationships, and more. 

So what is laziness? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it’s an unwillingness to work or expend effort. Most definitions of laziness imply that someone who’s lazy is actively choosing to resist expending effort despite the ability to do so.

A definition like this leaves me with more questions than answers. First of all, it’s very subjective. Who decides whether someone does or doesn’t possess the ability to accomplish something? If someone simply doesn’t want to prioritize working or expending energy in that moment, does that automatically mean they’re lazy? Secondly, what’s causing the unwillingness to expend effort in the first place? What other factors might be at play when the costs of energy expenditure are too high? 

Perceived laziness is nearly always a symptom of something else. Indeed, many symptoms of ADHD are wrongly dismissed as laziness. Laziness can also result from other mental health problems, such as:

  • Burnout
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Boredom
  • Being overly busy or stretched thin in certain areas of your life (including mental health)

People who get deemed “lazy” by others may simply prioritize rest, calm, and slowness in their lives. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to be less active if it’s what you actually want and need. The problem arises when people struggle with feeling lazy because the world tells them they should always be doing more. 

adhd vs laziness

How Do I Know if It’s ADHD or Laziness?

When people ask “Do I have ADHD or am I just lazy?” what they’re usually asking is, “What’s wrong with me?” 

Short answer: Nothing is wrong with you. You have a lifetime of conditioning that says you’re lazy or somehow defective when you’re simply neurodivergent in a world built for neurotypical people.

Here are common symptoms of ADHD that are often confused with laziness:

  • Anxiety or depression. Studies show that around 50% of people with ADHD also have clinical depression or anxiety. These comorbid mental health disorders impair motivation, attention, and focus, which are all associated with laziness. 
  • Overwhelm. ADHD brains tend to take in more input from surrounding environments and not filter out as much stuff, which tends to lead to overstimulation and overwhelm. When you feel overwhelmed, you’re more likely to shut down and not want to do anything else, which can be seen as lazy.
  • Difficulty with boring tasks. Ever feel like you’re fighting a neverending uphill battle to do simple but routine tasks? If your laundry and dishes tend to pile up, you likely struggle with finding the motivation to do boring or everyday tasks. People with ADHD don’t have as much access to dopamine in their brains, which causes them to struggle to do things that don’t feel inherently rewarding. 
  • Disorganization. ADHD clutter is real. People with ADHD have to work a lot harder to keep their spaces clean and organized. Disorganization can look like laziness, but it’s a matter of executive dysfunction.
  • Distractibility. Sometimes accomplishing anything with ADHD can feel like a Herculean task because of all the distractions along the way. You might sit down to work and two hours later find yourself down a rabbit hole of Youtube videos, TikTok recipes, and Instagram ads. Sometimes the inability to do something isn’t laziness, it’s that your time gets sucked up more easily by things like phone notifications, random thoughts that arise in your head when you’re trying to focus, and other distractions.
  • Procrastination. People with ADHD struggle to get started with things that require a lot of focus or take a lot of steps. Enter procrastination, the bane of nearly every ADHDer’s existence. Procrastinating tends to cause a lot of anxiety, which can make the avoidance behavior even worse. Avoiding things you know you should be doing can feel like you’re being lazy, when in reality you’re dealing with a ton of resistance just below the surface.
  • Perfectionism. If you’re a perfectionist, you likely struggle with both procrastination and feelings of laziness. Perfectionists have unrealistically high standards for themselves and tend to burn out more quickly, which makes accomplishing anything – especially to your own standards – that much harder. If you always expect yourself to be doing more than you can realistically accomplish, you’ll always feel lazy. 
  • Low self-esteem. People with ADHD often received messages about being not enough or lazy their whole lives. This creates a lot of internalized shame and feelings of unworthiness, which can snowball into being really hard on yourself all the time. This can make even resting feel like an act of supreme laziness. 
Adhd laziness

What to Do About ADHD Laziness

If you struggle with ADHD and laziness, or you feel like ADHD is contributing to laziness, here are three things you can do.

  1. Challenge your beliefs

Question the belief that you’re lazy. Do you really have any evidence for this? Does it stem from external messaging from people who don’t understand you? Are you really lazy, or are you tired, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, or burned out? Next time you feel yourself entering a shame spiral about laziness, stop and ask yourself what’s really going on. 

  1. Seek an ADHD diagnosis

While official testing and diagnoses aren’t for everyone, getting an ADHD diagnosis may help legitimize some of your experiences. It can help you understand your struggles on a deeper level, including laziness and productivity. A diagnosis also gives you access to medication that may help with focus and task completion. 

  1. Get support

Find a therapist or coach who specializes in the specific challenges that accompany neurodivergence. A mental health professional can help you understand and overcome ADHD symptoms and their widespread impacts on your life.

If you want support, I help people like you have a more fulfilling life with ADHD. 

I’m here to help you:

  • Understand why you feel lazy
  • Figure out how to overcome the factors in your life that keep you stuck in cycles of “laziness”
  • Address beliefs about yourself and the world that increase shame and paralysis
  • Dial down anxiety and depression that may be exacerbating your ADHD symptoms
  • Build up your reserves of self-worth and self-compassion so you don’t have to rely on external sources like accomplishment and accolades in order to feel like you’re enough
  • Find peace in showing up exactly as you are, even when it’s less than perfect

Learn more about my therapy services (including EMDR and talk therapy) if you’re located in Idaho or Iowa. For all other locations, check out my coaching services. My coaching program offers all the same expertise, tools, and guidance as therapy in a more direct and goal-oriented approach that you can benefit from anywhere. 

Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation and see if we’re a good fit. Let’s start building a better future together. 

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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