by Izzy Brown, MA, LPC, R-DMT
The new year can be a great time to reflect on how you want to create change as you enter the next phase. Maybe you want to establish more of a morning/nighttime self-care routine. Maybe you want to challenge yourself to read one book a month. Whatever this change is, I can imagine this change stems from motivation, whether it be intrinsic or extrinsic. Now, what happens if you have the motivation to create change and you have the desires to tackle unhealthy habits, and you struggle with attention- deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If you are diagnosed with ADHD and/or notices ADHD symptoms interfering with your way of living, this blog post is for you.
What is ADHD? ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that stands for attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder. It is most commonly diagnosed in childhood, however adults can also be diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD is a mental disorder found in the DSM-5 that includes challenges such as difficulties concentrating, poor planning, low frustration tolerance, problems focusing on and/or finishing a task, excessive restlessness and activity, etc. ADHD has been linked to poor school/work performance, substance misuse, unstable relationships, poor self-esteem, etc.
When I meet with a client who has ADHD, I often hear this diagnosis has affected their organizational skills, time management, etc., and with little to no coping skills, this can feel significantly overwhelming. In this blog, I will share skills and techniques I often provide my clients in order to break free from what can feel limiting.
1. Take away time
Have you ever rushed a task, just to realize you made a mistake? For example, you rush through washing the dishes and you still find food particles on them later. How often do you slow down and pay attention to detail? I hear client’s say things like “I have SO much to do, it’s going to take me a long time to complete this task.” By trying to predict our future, we are discouraging ourselves from doing the task because we know if it’s going to take a longer time, why do it when we could be doing something else? Instead of limiting yourself to time, focus on the task itself. Washing dishes can take 5 minutes or it can take 20 minutes. I encourage you to stay present. Once we are actively doing the task, we realize time is flowing WITH us and not against us.
2. Pay attention to your internal clock
Notice if you are a morning person or a night person. Or maybe you’re in the in between. If you notice that you’re a morning person, that is a perfect opportunity to do tasks you may have been procrastinating on such as cleaning, emails, working out, etc. Of course, vice versa for those who are more productive at night. Create a lifestyle that fits your internal clock. If you are productive at night, find jobs that start later or cafes/bookstores that stay open late so that you can get the fullness of your productive time. Work with your internal clock, not against it.
Now this one is a tricky one because impulsiveness needs to be considered in the mix. How many times have you done a task just to then, midway, stop yourself and go on your phone or do something that was not at all on your productive list? You may have done this for so long, it has now become a natural impulse. By using a reward system, you are telling your brain, “Hey brain! This task is really important, and I have to finish it so that I can enjoy the rest of my time and not worry about an unfinished task!” Sometimes we have to talk to our brains separately if that means we need to make a point. Let’s say you are writing a three-page paper. Reward yourself with something after each page to create motivation to finish. Maybe after writing your first page, you go on social media for 20 minutes (yes, please use a timer). After the second page, grab a fun coffee drink or snack (and yes, if you are hungry, please respect your hunger cues). After the third page, you have finished your task and you can hangout with friends!
4. Accept yourself
It can be difficult to accept that your life may feel harder than others. I have heard many times, “why can’t I just get up and do my homework. It is so easy for other people.” By comparing ourselves to others, we are invalidating and shaming who we are. We are allowed to accept that we have limitations and accommodate ourselves. If you struggle with time management, be honest with those around you. The more honest we are with ourselves, the better help we will receive from those around us such as friends, family, therapists, etc. Honesty prevents miscommunication. Maybe we hurt a friend by showing up late to an important event. If we are actively trying to create change, those around us can accept who we are but it starts with us first.
These are just a few techniques to tackle the ADHD brain. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health. If someone breaks a bone, they need to take certain steps to heal and they need accommodations for a successful heal. This also speaks truth to mental health. You are worthy of healing and worthy of breaking your own limitations. If you are struggling with ADHD, I am a therapist in the Chicago area at Bella Valore, LLC Psychotherapy who has experience working with ADHD. You new chapter just might be waiting for your first move.
-Izzy Brown, MA, LPC, R-DMT
*note—if you are struggling, I encourage you to seek therapy and utilize these techniques to process what is working and what is not working. Just like with different mental diagnoses, ADHD can fall on a spectrum. Not all skills will work for everyone. A therapist will create skills designed for you in order to get the fullest release from your limitations as possible.