Dr. Ed Hallowell is a well known expert on ADHD. He often talks of the SPIN Cycle and how people must learn to harness energy from their ADHD to learn to thrive. It’s natural in all aspects of life though to have periods where we excel followed by times that seem stagnant or even time where things worsen.
Positive aspects of ADHD
When ADHD is well managed, we can learn to improve upon our skills. We can work on our organizational skills. Our time management can improve. Sitting down and staying on task is possible. We feel more successes than failures.
I’ve written before about all the reasons we should appreciate ADHD, including creativity and extra energy. The problem is getting to the point where we can recognize the benefits of the ADHD mind – the negatives easily get in the way.
He goes on to say, “This waterfall is an insurmountable obstacle if your goal is to paddle. But, if you will change your plan, I can show you how you can turn this waterfall into something wonderful. This waterfall can generate enough energy to light up millions of homes. People will pay you for all that electricity. You just need to throw away your paddle and build a hydroelectric plant.”
What’s the SPIN Cycle?
During the spin cycle we get stuck in a period where we seem to stop progressing in our self improvement. Sometimes we even seem to slip back into old habits. The negativity weighs us down and can make us want to stop trying.
It’s not uncommon for people with ADHD to feel ashamed due to their inabilities to sit still, stay quiet, turn in assignments on time, and the myriad consequences of the executive functioning struggles they have. This can lead to Rejection Sensitivity, anxiety, and depression.
Until we learn to love ourselves and look at ourselves in a positive light, it is impossible to function well. Negative self talk keeps us from being productive. It inhibits our sleep. We start to give up.
We all tend to be our harshest critic. Learn to look at yourself as you would look at a close friend. You’re probably able to accept that a friend forgot to reply to a text or showed up late. Don’t beat yourself up over the same issues. While it’s not good to do those things, you can use failures to learn instead of to fall into the trap of negative self talk.
Focus on the positives in your life, not the negatives. Look at everything you have accomplished. Write accomplishments down as they happen so you can easily review the list to give yourself a boost when you’re feeling down! Don’t wait to solve the world hunger problem to consider something an accomplishment. It can be the little mundane things that we need to do every day but struggle to do.
Is it hard to remember to feed your pet without your mother reminding you? Today you remembered. Write that down!
A great way to block the shame is to focus on gratitude.
Each day take a moment to think about why you’re thankful. This can be things you’ve accomplished as well as people and things in your life you appreciate. It’s also a great time to set goals for the next day. Don’t forget to include doing things for others. There’s no better way to feel better about yourself than to help others!
Pessimism and Negativity
It’s easy to fall into pessimism and negativity, as discussed above. Sometimes we feel like nothing will work out, so why bother even trying.
We can’t control what other people say or do. The weather is beyond our control. A classmate might say something really hurtful. Natural disasters happen. All of these things can bring us down. Or we can change the way we think about them.
We can learn from things that go on around us. If we don’t like the way we feel when people say certain things, we can learn to not say those types of things and hurt others. We can practice responses to say or how to leave the situation when people say things that cause us to hurt or feel angry.
You might know someone who simply gives up. They stop trying to do homework because they get so frustrated that they make silly mistakes or they don’t understand the assignment. Maybe they can do the work but they always forget to turn it in. Why even bother doing it in the first place if you don’t get full credit, right?
That’s negative thinking. The glass is half empty. With this type of thinking, it’s less likely that you’ll get anything done.
Dr. Hallowell writes, ” Isolation is often the by-product of shame, pessimism, and negativity. It intensifies the shame and negativity, and can lead to depression, toxic anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and generally poor performance in all aspects of life.”
It can feel easier to simply avoid being around people if you worry about what people will think of you. While it might seem to decrease your stress if you avoid a stressful situation, it can lead to new worries that you have no friends. It also leads to a weak support system, so when you need a friend to lean upon, they aren’t around.
It might take working with a friend to draw you out and into situations. Some people need to work with a therapist to learn how to socially interact.
Jessica from How to ADHD has some great social skills tips in this video:
No Creative, Productive Outlet
When we’re stuck in a negative mindset, we lose our creativity. Productivity goes out the window. That leads us to more frustration and dispair.
We need to get out of the rut and do something productive to regain some self esteem and feel good.
Try to make tasks fun. Think of Mary Poppins… she helped Jane and Michael clean the nursery by making it into a game. Granted, she used a little magic, but you can sing a tune or find another way to make chores fun.
I sometimes listen to an audiobook while I clean. It makes the task more fun while I listen to a book I enjoy. You could get more creative and pretend you’re in a movie and act out what the character would be doing. If nothing else, focus on a positive aspect of whatever chore you must do as you do it.
How to stop the SPIN Cycle
When you get stuck in the SPIN Cycle, you can find a way out by simply playing. Have fun. Clear your mind of the negative thoughts. Be around positive people. Do something nice for someone else. Think positive thoughts.
What can you do to be the most productive? Our top 10 secrets of productivity are found here! Make the most out of your time with these tips.
1. Choose the best time
There’s a time and a place for everything. We all know that. But choosing when you will do certain things is as important as choosing what you will do.
This is especially important for those with ADHD who have a limited time on medication.
If you plan to do your homework in the evening when your meds are out of your system, guess what? It will take longer. There will be more frustration. You’re more likely to make silly mistakes. Your handwriting may be less readable. You’re more likely to be tired and unable to recall things as easily.
It just isn’t the right time.
If you have a little extra time during class or between classes to get a few things done, use that time. Don’t waste it.
2. Choose a good location
Many people presume the best place to study is a quiet, secluded place, but that isn’t always the case. If you’re more likely to daydream when you’re secluded, choose an area with others around.
If you’re the type of person that gets distracted by every little sound or movement, you might do better secluded. Or if there are others around, use earplugs to help drown out the sound.
Don’t use your bed for studying. You’re more likely to fall asleep before finishing. And more likely to end up with neck and back problems.
If you like a tidy area and you have a cluttered desk, the clutter might be distracting. Take a few minutes to clear your space before you get to work.
3. Grab a study buddy
If you have a study buddy or are in a public location, these can help you stay on task. Keep each other accountable.
Of course the buddy can get you off track if they start joking around, so make a pact to keep each other on task. If you see your buddy checking their phone, tell them to put it down. If they see you staring off into space, they can bring you back to the books.
3. Sound control
Noises can be distracting.
Whether it’s a bird chirping outside that makes you look or if it’s a conversation at the next table in the library, there are distractions.
Use instrumental music to drown out these distractions. I don’t advise your favorite songs that will make you want to sing along… nothing that distracts you from whatever you’re doing.
Use earplugs if sounds in general drive you to distraction.
4. Find an aspect to like
We all have to do things we don’t like to do, but there can be at least one thing about it that you enjoy.
It might be hard to find, but look for it.
If you have to write a report on a book you hate, think of one aspect of the process that you like. Even if it’s the finished paper, there’s something good to focus on.
5. Break up big tasks
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with big projects, so break them up into tasks that are more manageable.
The secret to this is that you need to schedule time to do each task. Don’t just do one task and forget the rest of the project – people with ADHD are famous for starting many things but finishing nothing!
This technique doesn’t work for everyone. If it’s hard for you to get motivated to start, it might be better to do everything in one big block. Once you get started, if you’re in the zone, stay in the zone. As long as you still have time to do the other things that need to get done that day. If you need to move on, move on.
6. Fuel your body
Don’t forget to eat! Those with ADHD often don’t feel hungry due to medications, but it’s still important to eat at least small portions of nutritious foods.
There is a growing body of research that suggests a link between ADHD and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Magnesium, B-Vitamins (this links to B12, but there are links to other B vitamin pages at the bottom), Iron, Zinc and Copper are all implicated in how our brains work. Not enough of them can lead to symptoms found in ADHD. Read about where you can get these vitamins and minerals naturally. Try to eat a variety of foods with these vitamins and minerals.
When your stimulant leaves your system and you start to feel hungry, don’t grab chips or cookies. Eat real food. More and more evidence is showing that what we eat affects not just our physical health, but also our mood, attention, and overall mental health.
7. If anxiety’s got you stuck…
For many of us, if we’re worried about an overwhelming project, it’s even harder to get started.
Just jump in.
You have to start somewhere. If you have to write a paper but are worrying about the final paper’s readability, content, and punctuation, you won’t be able to just start writing. Start by jotting down ideas. They don’t even have to be complete sentences. You can always go back and add to your comments to put them into coherent thoughts and make them grammatically correct.
For example, for this blog I first looked at my list of topics that I want to cover over time. After choosing productivity, I started by listing the headings/topics that I thought would help with productivity. I then added the explanations under each heading ~ many additions and changes were made along the way. I decided to make photos to go along with each section to make it easy for people who don’t like to read as a last minute thought. Along the way I changed things that needed to be improved. I finally proofread for what seems like the millionth time before posting.
If you’re stuck getting started because you’re worried about the final product, take time to break big tasks into smaller ones. It’s daunting to do big projects, regardless of the project. Even things you want to do can be overwhelming. Find small things that you can do to work toward a final goal. Plus, it’s fun to check off things as they’re done!
So often we get stuck because we want the finished product to be perfect.
You know what? It can’t be perfect if it’s not done.
You just need to start. You can always fine-tune as you go, but the trick is to just start.
10. Schedule everything
Taking a few minutes each day to plan ahead can save hours overall in mindless wandering.
Each morning review everything on your calendar for the day.
As you get new assignments or projects, add them into your planner. If it’s a big project that will need to be done over several days, schedule an appropriate amount of time between now and its due date. Waiting until the last minute increases anxiety, which can lead to problems focusing and getting started.
Don’t forget to schedule the little things and the things you want to do. Add in your activities and exercise time so you know what time’s not available for other things. Set your bedtime as a priority so you get the sleep you need.
Yet is such a little word, but it has huge potential. Learn how it can change your mindset and help you to be more reslilent.
We’ve all been frustrated when things get tough, but why do some people seem to trek on and succeed while others give up? They’re resilient. Many of them have learned the power of “yet.” Yet is a simple, but very powerful word. It gives people hope and a knowlege that they can. Even if they can’t do it now, they can one day. Understanding that you can will help you stay resilient.
Resilience and grit to succeed
Resilience and grit are traits some seem to come by naturally. These traits help people succeed when things don’t go their way.
In fact, resilience and grit are linked to success more than intelligence.
Think about that for a minute. Sticking to things is more important than intelligence when it comes to success.
I’m sure you know some really smart people who haven’t made it very far in life because they just don’t keep trying.
And you probably know some average intelligence people who have really gone far in life. They succeed beyond expectation. These people have grit. They keep going when things get tough and don’t quit.
The truth is, we can all learn to be more resilient. It can be hard, but possible.
We hear people say, “I can’t do this,” all the time. Maybe it sounds more like, “I’m not good at driving,” or “I don’t understand this math.” Whatever the actual words, the outcome is the same.
These people are stuck in a fixed mindset. They won’t ever be able to do whatever it is if they have that mindset.
Learn the power of “yet”
If you simply learn to say “yet” after you have the negative thinking above, it can help.
I can’t do this… yet.
I’m not good at driving… yet.
I don’t understand this math… yet.
A simple word changes it all, doesn’t it?
Learn to use “yet” in your daily life.
When you feel frustrated, try it.
If you feel overwhelmed, give it a shot.
When you’re challenged with new or difficult material, just say it.
Repeat it as necessary. Use it to give yourself momentum and an extra push.
Teens often do not get enough sleep. Most teens need 8.5-10 hours of sleep each night. Not 6 hours. Not even 8 hours. Most don’t get even close to meeting their needs and that’s a bigger deal than many realize. You don’t just “get used to” too little sleep. Sleep is very undervalued, but we need to prioritize it. Sleep deprived teens suffer from many physical and emotional problems. Add ADHD or anxiety into the mix, and it’s even worse!
This is part 1 of a 3 part sleep series. It will focus on what makes it hard to get enough sleep. Next up will be why it’s so important to get sleep, then the big topic of how to get more.
So… why don’t teens get enough sleep?
One of the most common reasons is that their biological clock (AKA circadian rhythm) makes it hard to fall asleep before 11 pm and school starts too early to allow them to sleep until 8 am, which would allow for a reasonable 9 hours. Nine hours are on the low end of sleep need for many adolescents. If teens are still growing, they will need even more!
Research shows that tween and teen sleep patterns are hormonally influenced. Your parents probably get frustrated with your late nights, thinking you’re in control of your bedtime, but you’re not. This isn’t an act of rebellion.
Research shows that the hormonal response to the 24-hour daily light/dark exposure that influences circadian rhythm is altered in the adolescent years. Adolescents physiologically stay awake later at night and therefore need to remain asleep later in the day.
It’s not your fault!
But sadly, it is your problem because you suffer the consequences.
Melatonin is a hormone that is released from our pineal gland. We need it to feel tired. During the day the pineal is inactive. When the sun goes down and it gets dark, the pineal gland starts to produce melatonin. It’s released into the blood and helps us feel tired and sleep. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated through the night until the light of a new day helps to lower the levels again.
The light from smart phones, tablets, and computers interferes with our natural melatonin rising. This keeps us from feeling tired and falling to sleep.
It’s best to limit screen use for at least an hour before bedtime. I know that for many teens this is difficult because they have to finish their homework at that time. Today’s teens need their computer or tablet to do homework.
If you have any time during the day to work on homework, do it. This is even more important for kids who take stimulant medicines for their ADHD. This medicine is out of your system close to bedtime, so it will be harder to sustain attention, making homework more frustrating and less efficient. Homework will take longer to do after medicine wears off, which decreases the time for sleep and fun activities.
If you can’t turn off the screen, at least use a program that limits the blue light that prevents the rise of melatonin. I personally use f.lux. It’s free and works on PC, Mac, ipad, android, and Linux. I find that it really helps. Try it!
Playing that one last game or checking Instagram one last time gives our brain a dopamine hit. Dopamine is a neurochemical known as the “reward molecule” that’s released after certain behaviors, such as eating, exercising or reaching a goal. While physical activity is most commonly linked to dopamine’s release, social media and online gaming are now shown to give a dopamine rush. This is why these behaviors are so addictive. It’s hard to stop the habit. One of the easiest ways is to just not use it except specific times of the day.
Take charge of your phone use ~
If you don’t want your parents restricting phone use, set your own reasonable limits.
Maybe check for messages before you leave for school after you’ve gotten ready. This can let you know of any needs or changes for the day.
Check messages again after school for the same reasons. Allow a 30 minute period to play a game or look at social media after homework is done. Then put it away and do something else.
It’s important to do things other than online games and social media. Find things to do that you enjoy. This article’s about sleep, but there are many negatives to spending too much time on screens. If you can’t limit yourself, talk to your parents or your doctor.
Indirect effects of phone use ~
It’s not just the direct issue of using our phone when it’s bedtime that interferes with sleep. There are indirect things as well.
It takes longer to finish homework when there are distractions from the phone. Putting your phone in another room when doing homework will help you finish more quickly, allowing you to get to other things more quickly.
Think of the extra time you can have to hang out with friends, getting exercise and getting to bed on time if you limit your screen time!
School districts that have started later start times have shown improved test scores, fewer absences and tardies, less depression, improved athletic performance, and better graduation rates.
Unfortunately, those schools are still in the minority.
Activities are too late.
It’s not uncommon to have regularly scheduled activities too late in the evening. Many activities in my area are scheduled to run until 9:30 or 10 on school nights for middle and high school aged kids.
When kids finally get home, they’re hungry, need a shower, and are ramped up so not ready for sleep. It can be well past 11 pm when they finally hit the pillow, so they need be able to sleep until at least 8 am to sleep 9 hours, but school’s already started by that time. It’s impossible for them to get sufficient sleep. After school naps might help, but not if there’s not enough time to fit it in between homework and the activity.
There’s no easy solution for this other than reviewing what’s really important and cutting back on whatever can be cut back. This might mean one less activity. Or maybe not taking every AP class or working fewer hours. All of these are important, but sleep is more important to your health and well being.
It will also take the adults in the community to recognize the benefits of sleep. Studies support later school start times, but there are many reasons schools haven’t adopted these. If you’re a real go-getter, get active in later start times movements.
Activities start too early.
I know many kids who must be at school before school actually starts. Whether it’s band practice, church study groups, sports, or taking a missed test before school, they all interfere with sleeping in, which is what teens need.
Again, this will take the adults in the community to recognize the importance of adolescents getting enough sleep. And for most teens, this means sleeping in because that’s when they’re physiologically able to sleep.
Medical causes of sleep deprivation.
If you suspect any of the following conditions are affecting your sleep, you should work with your doctor. Even if you aren’t sure why you’re always tired, talk to your doctor.
Anxiety – recurrent thoughts keep popping up
Restless leg syndrome – if your legs just need to move when you lay down
Sleep apnea – pausing of breath, often associated with snoring
Medications that affect sleep cycles – stimulants are commonly used for ADHD and can affect sleep
Heartburn or acid reflux
Hormone imbalances, such as thyroid problems – you might sleep a lot but still feel tired and have other symptoms
Anemia, or low red blood cell counts
Depression – every teen should have a depression screen yearly, but if you think you might be depressed, talk to your doctor now!
Nutrition – if you’re not eating enough, or eating foods that are not nutritious, you could feel more tired. If you eat foods that cause spikes in your blood sugar, as those sugars drop you feel fatigued.
Infections – we all need more sleep when sick!
Celiac disease – talk to your doctor if you have chronic abdominal issues, such as diarrhea, vomiting, pain, or weight loss
Chronic pain conditions – if it hurts, you can’t get comfortable enough to sleep
Chronic sleep deprivation – I know this is counter-intuitive, but being tired can make it harder to sleep.
ADHD – that race car brain just won’t wind down!
What difference does it make?
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably not surprised that so many teens (and adults) don’t get enough sleep.
What difference does it make if we’re sleep deprived? It turns out, there are a lot of consequences. Some you may know, some you may be unaware are related to sleep deprivation. Tune in next week to learn why we care so much about sleep deprivation!
A growth mindset is correlated with success more than intelligence is predictive of success. So how do you get this growth mindset?
Did you know your brain can learn to change the way it works? It doesn’t just learn the new information you study at school. Our brains are able to change and adapt. You can learn to use your brain to your benefit through developing a growth mindset.
What’s a growth mindset?
The concept of fixed and growth mindsets was introduced by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in 2007. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, discussed this new way of thinking about how we think.
Of course, Yoda knew this long ago…
Per Dr. Dweck, people with a fixed mindset believe that people’s intelligence and abilities are static and outside their control. In contrast, those with a growth mindset know that intelligence is dynamic. We know that the brain is able to change based on experiences and efforts.
Some kids worry that they don’t have enough.
Not enough intelligence.
Or enough skill.
This is the fixed mindset.
Young Luke Skywalker was suffering from a fixed mindset. Yoda, the wise master, told him there is no try. He was pushing Luke to have a growth mindset.
Some kids grow up thinking that they can do anything if they just work hard at it.
They don’t worry if they’re smart enough or skilled enough.
These kids know that if they work hard, they have a chance. This is a growth mindset.
Who succeeds in life?
You know what? Studies show that intelligence doesn’t matter as much as grit.
People with a growth mindset have grit and resilience. They are more successful in life.
Even people who are very gifted intellectually can fail to succeed if they stop trying. They often start off in school finding that it’s easy, so they don’t need to learn study skills early on. When academics become challenging, they don’t know how to learn. They can easily get frustrated and give up if they’ve relied on being smart and lived with a fixed mindset.
Many people with ADHD develop a fixed mindset because they so often struggle with everything. They focus on getting a good outcome, but they fail to see the benefit to the process of trying. The good news is that they can learn to succeed if they change their mindset!
How can you get a growth mindset?
Okay, so it’s obvious that a growth mindset is better than a fixed mindset, but how do you get one?
Look at your way of thinking
When you face a challenge in daily life and you want to quit (or just not start), ask yourself what’s going on.
Really stop and think.
Is there a voice telling you that you can’t do it?
Does it say you’re not good enough?
Is the little voice telling you that it’s someone else’s fault?
This little voice is your fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset is when we believe our intelligence, attributes and abilities are fixed and unable to change.
If you listen to this little voice, you will stop before even trying.
This voice holds you back. It keeps you from achieving your goals and dreams. You’ll never know your full potential if you listen to it and quit.
When we have a fixed mindset, we constantly feel the need to prove ourselves. It leaves us vulnerable and highly sensitive to being wrong or making a mistake. When we have this mindset, any failure or mistake destroys our self confidence. This leads to being anxious and keeps us from learning from constructive criticisms and mistakes.
Choose to ignore that little voice
Once you recognize that the little nagging voice is your fixed mindset, you can learn to ignore it.
A growth mindset allows us to understand that our talents and abilities can be improved and developed.
If your fixed mindset voice is telling you that you can’t do it, think of how you can.
Is a big task overwhelming? Break it into several smaller task and get started on the first one. Small tasks seem manageable. And after doing one, you can move on to the next. Before you know it, the whole thing is done!
Instead of saying…
“I’m not very good at this.” or “This is too hard.”
“This is really hard for me. I need to keep practicing.”
Celebrate the hard work
Remember all the times you weren’t sure if you could do something, but you did it?
Even if it wasn’t perfect, you did it!
If you don’t even try, you can’t succeed.
How can you start whatever needs to be done? What tools do you need? Are there resources you can use? Is the size of the task intimidating? Can you break it down into smaller parts?
Instead of thinking you’re not good enough, think about what you can do to be good enough.
Know that you are able to solve problems. You can grow from doing anything you set your mind to doing!
Keep track of progress
Keep a notebook or electronic file of all the things your fixed mindset said were not possible to do but you were able to get them done.
Include your successes as well as the times you tried but didn’t quite meet your goal. They can be celebrated for the process of doing, even if the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.
You can learn a lot even when you don’t quite meet your goal. Think about what happened when you didn’t quite get what you wanted – usually it’s not that bad.
Be sure to not get lost in the goal itself, but the process of how you got there. There’s a lot of good learning that comes from the process.
Maybe you didn’t get an A on that really hard project, but you learned something about the topic. Maybe you didn’t see it at the time, but you learned organizational skills or research tips from the process.
Sometimes the best teacher is a mistake – as long as you evaluate what happened and use it as a learning experience. You can take all the things you learned with you when you work on your next project.
It’s the effort you put in to a project that helps you learn. The outcome if things work well or not really is less important. Focus on how you problem solve and your determination to continue, even when things are hard. That’s what helps you to strengthen your growth mindset.
Exercise your brain
Your brain is like a muscle: the more you use it, the better it gets. Each time you’re faced with the negative little voice of a fixed mindset, you need to challenge it with positive thinking.
The more you practice this, the easier it gets. It might never be your first line of thinking, but you can always choose to think with a growth mindset.
Resilience is the ability to handle hardships in life. People who are resilient are more capable of handling adversity than people who are not resilient. Life can throw us challenges at any given time, but have you wondered why some people seem to handle them easily while others seem to fall apart?
Resilient people are able to use their skills and strengths to handle whatever challenges come their way.
Bad grades. Death of a pet. Relationship break up. Late assignments.
All of these can make some teens get too frustrated to continue and just give up. Others might make excuses and blame others for the problems.
But not those with resilience. They are able to tackle these problems and find a way to turn things around.
That doesn’t mean they don’t get affected by the problems. They still feel angry, sad, anxious, or frustrated just like everyone else. But they can pick up the pieces and move forward.
They often use these as growing experiences and come out stronger than they were before.
What happens without resilience?
If people are not resilient, they might become overwhelmed and use poor coping mechanisms to face problems. These can be simply ineffective or they can be outright dangerous.
Examples of unhealthy or self destructive behaviors
Self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs to “feel better” is one such dangerous coping mechanism.
Cutting and other self harm methods are also serious risks when a person is not able to find appropriate coping skills.
Some teens just stop studying and give up on trying to get good grades.
Others might try to “get even” after a break up by spreading rumors.
Many are unable to accept responsibility for actions, so might blame the teacher for not teaching well enough instead of finding ways to learn the material.
You get the picture and can imagine how destructive some of these choices can be, right?
Don’t they worry?
People who are resilient are normal people.
They still have typical worries and stress. Problems still get them down and make them sad or angry. They get frustrated just like everyone else.
It’s how they handle the stress and challenges that sets them apart.
People with resilience look at the situation and problem solve. Instead of avoiding the problem (which may make it grow) they look for solutions. They don’t look for excuses, they look for ways to self improve or fix whatever is wrong. They pick up the pieces and move on.
Being resilient doesn’t mean they don’t get upset, it simply means they keep going.
How can we become resilient?
(Edited after our meeting to include things you can do.)
Moving out and starting your college career is exciting, scary, fantastic and intimidating all rolled into one. This is true for all teens, but especially those with learning differences or mental health issues. Many who have never had those issues can suddenly develop them during college. Leaving the comforts and safety net of home to be on your own and starting college can be very challenging. But not insurmountable.
It’s not college that’s the problem. The risk is the age of developing independence. Believe it or not, these statistics are higher for young adults not enrolled in college.
Talk about these statistics with your parents, therapist, and/or physician. Plan what you’ll do if you or someone you know starts to struggle. Thankfully, colleges offer a lot of support for their students.
It’s a great idea to keep the suicide hotline in your phone to use in case of emergency. Whether you or a friend needs it, you don’t want to be out of a service area and unable to search for it. Put it in your contacts now.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Know your personal and family history – and share it.
Ask your parents about any family history of mental health, psychological problems, and learning differences. Many mental health issues tend to emerge in young adults, so if there is a family history, you will want to be aware of it.
Beware: your parents might not really know the history. Historically we have hidden these. People felt mental health problems weren’t real. Learning differences were simply not recognized. Or they were a sign of weakness. A source of embarrassment.
We now know that these are real issues. Sometimes life events lead to mental health problems. Often there is a genetic component to mental health and learning challenges. Sometimes there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to mental health issues, they just happen.
What we do know is that they’re real.
And they’re treatable.
They are not the fault of the person. Mental health issues are health issues and can and should be handled medically.
Learning differences do not make people stupid. They do make it harder to learn in a traditional classroom, but people with them can benefit from accommodations.
What if no one talks about it?
Sometimes we don’t know that a person struggled with a mental health issue, but we know they drank a lot of alcohol or became addicted to drugs.
Many very smart people do poorly in school. If people in your family seem to not achieve what they should based on their intelligence because they failed at school, think about learning challenges they might have faced.
Personal history matters too.
If you have a personal history of ADHD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, or anything else, make sure you inform the university’s health center.
Your parents might be hesitant to provide this information because they worry that it will look “bad” — but colleges use this to help, not hinder you. It’s important that they are aware so they can help make sure you’re safe while you’re away from home and your parents can’t see you regularly.
If you have a history of anxiety or depression, touch base with the student mental health center to learn how to schedule with them when needed.
It is just too overwhelming to figure it out when you’re struggling, so do it when you get to campus – or sooner!
If you are on medications for anxiety, depression, ADHD, or any other chronic issue, talk to your current prescriber to see how you can continue the medicine at school.
If you go to a school close to home, it might be possible to continue to schedule regular appointments with the same prescriber. Be sure to schedule in advance so you can coordinate appointments with your schedule.
If you go further away, you will have to really think about what will work best. If you are able to plan times to come home regularly, be sure to schedule appointments well in advance so you don’t miss the opportunity to go to your doctor.
If you aren’t coming home often or if your condition isn’t well managed and you need more frequent visits with your physician or therapist, finding a local provider is probably the best choice. This can often be done at the student health center, but may require a provider off campus.
You can also see if your therapist or physician can do telehealth visits. This can be difficult across state lines, but technology can help maintain the relationship you’ve built over the years!
Learning differences, such as dyslexia, difficulty with working memory, challenges with processing speed, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder, can all benefit from official academic accommodations in college.
To be in compliance with Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), colleges must provide students with reasonable accommodations. These accommodations are not meant to make college easier, they are meant to level the playing field so that a student’s disability doesn’t impact their ability to learn and be successful.
Common college accommodations are:
extended time on exams
being provided with written notes in class
separate testing locations
How many kids have learning differences?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 11% of undergraduate students self-reported having a learning disability. Enrollment statistics show that 20.4 million students attended an American college or university in the fall of 2017. This means more than 200,000 students entering college have some type of learning disability.
200 THOUSAND students have some type of learning difference.
You’re not alone!
Studies show that only 17% of college students with learning differences take advantage of learning assistance resources at their school. This of course leads to academic struggles and a much higher dropout rate than for students without learning differences.
What can you do if you have a learning difference?
When researching prospective schools, students with learning differences should pay attention to how they offer support.
What do they offer in assistive technology? Do they allow the use of a scribe or note taker? What seating options are available? Do they allow students to go to a separate classroom for taking examinations with less distraction? Could you be eligible to receive extra time for exams? Some schools even offer oral exams if the student responds better to this type of testing.
You won’t know what’s available if you don’t ask!
And you won’t get the help you need if you don’t apply for it.
These accommodations can be accessed through most college’s disability service offices for students with documented disabilities. Check out your prospective school’s website to see what they offer.
There’s often a temptation to view starting college as a fresh start, which it is. But that doesn’t erase the past.
Some students want to quit their current treatment plans before starting college. This can really backfire.
Any big change, such as starting a new school (or job), moving, or living with new people, is stressful. With the start of college you have many of these big changes happening all at once.
It’s a really bad time to stop medicines or therapy.
Please continue with your current treatments until you’ve settled into things at school.
Once you’ve gotten used to the new routine, if you still think you’re ready to stop your treatment plan, talk to your providers. You can work with your physician or therapist to come up with a plan to stop treatments if you all agree that it is safe to do so.
If your doctor or therapist doesn’t think it’s a good idea: listen to them. They have seen this before. Use their experience to help you. Please.
Know your resources
Colleges offer a lot to help support you, but they need to know your challenges and you need to know how to access services.
Most colleges offer mental health counseling at their health center. Don’t be afraid to use it. Learn what’s available and how to access it before you need it. Before you even move onto campus.
It’s too hard when you’re struggling to do the research.
As mentioned above, learning difference accommodations can be accessed through most college’s disability service offices for students with documented disabilities.
Did you know that helping others has been proven to make us feel better? This is the final post in a series of ways to gain confidence and feel better. It’s my personal favorite. When kids are little they often have a hard time believing that it’s better to give than it is to receive, but most of us learn that it’s true somewhere along the way.
Find ways that you can make a difference for someone else. It can be big or small. Everything counts.
The one caveat is you should do it to help others, not to help yourself. Part of the magic of how it works is that we’re putting someone else ahead of ourselves.
Find a cause you’re passionate about and work for that cause. There are many. If you aren’t sure how to commit your time, try a few short term commitments out to see how they work for you.
Another thing to remember is that everything should be done in moderation. If you overextend yourself with too much to do, you will become overwhelmed and be unable to do anything well. Make sure you reserve time to do the things you need to do: school work, eating healthy, exercise, and sleep.
Choose service opportunities that are important to you. Don’t do things just because someone asks you to do it. It’s okay to say “no” if it’s not the right thing for you to do. If you do things that are not right for you, you will more likely resent what you’re doing instead of enjoying the many benefits of it.
Stress management and resilience can be gained by helping those in need. When you see how others live, you have a better perspective on your own life. You can learn empathy, compassion and solidarity with others.
Once you learn first hand about others, you can help to dispel common myths and prejudices.
One of the big ways we grow through volunteering is through personal development. When you branch out and do something for others, you learn about yourself.
You may recognize how your actions impact others by seeing how they benefit from what you’re doing.
Sometimes you learn about resilience by seeing others in unfortunate circumstances being strong.
Leadership roles might need to be taken, which involves strong organization and communication skills.
You might need to use teamwork to finish a project. Many projects require problem solving skills – and people with ADHD tend to be great problem solvers!
Studies show that when we help others with their stressful situations, we help our own emotion regulation skills and emotional well being.
Whatever skills you learn in your volunteer work, you can bring with you. It might spark an interest for a career or just help you in your daily life.
Feeling of community.
When you volunteer with others, you may gain new friends and make connections with your community.
If you’re working in an area that interests you, you will find others with similar interests.
You will meet people you might otherwise not have the opportunity to get to know. Finding things in common or things to value about one another can help you learn about yourself and about relationships.
Being part of a group of volunteers can help you feel a part of the community. That connection can build self confidence and a feeling of belonging.
Helping others and doing good just feels good. It makes us happy to make others happy.
Volunteering means getting up and doing something. Too often we sit around and listen to music or play online. This isn’t good for our bodies.
Some volunteering is very active. If you’re cleaning an area, repairing or building a home or planting trees, you’re getting a lot of exercise.
Some volunteering is less physically active, but still active. Playing cards or bingo at a retirement center or stuffing envelopes is better than sitting in front of a computer.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Please share it if you have, and comment on what you liked and didn’t like in it. What was missing? What has helped you the most over the years boost your self confidence?
Eat right, exercise, and sleep to keep up a healthy body and mind! I call these “The Big 3” things we all need to do to be healthy in mind and body. When we do The Big 3 properly, our self confidence and self esteem are improved.
What are The Big 3?
Eating right, exercise, and sleep.
Eat a nutritionally well balanced diet.
Malnutrition and hunger are not good for our focus. As if people with ADHD need any more problems with focus!
Start with a good breakfast. I know many teens aren’t into breakfast or just don’t have time for it, but make the time. Find foods that you can eat while getting ready or on the way to school. Examples are smoothies with yogurt, leftovers from dinner, a sandwich and a quesadilla.
Eat some protein and a fruit or vegetable every time you eat. Snack on baby carrots, bell peppers, or cucumbers with hummus after school. Or apples with peanut butter. Grapes and cheese. Strawberries with yogurt. You get the picture? A plant and a protein!
Many people feel that exercise helps their focus. Studies show that they’re right!
After sitting all day at school, do something active before you sit down to do homework. Your body needs the exercise and it will help make study time more efficient.
If you’re not into competitive sports, try other types of exercise. Go for a bike ride. Run. Dance. Swim. Just move!
Whatever you do, make it fun. Put it on your calendar and in your planner so it happens daily.
Sleep is under-appreciated in our society. It is not a time that you’re doing nothing. Your body and mind work hard while you’re sleeping to keep themselves healthy.
Teens need at least 8.5 hours of sleep each day. Even if you’ve reached your full height, your brain is growing until your mid-twenties. That means it still needs extra sleep compared to adults.
If you’re still growing, you might need 10-11 hours of sleep.
That’s hard when you also have activities, work, and homework. And when your circadian rhythm keeps you up until at least 11 pm but school starts at 7:30am. Not to mention the baseline problems people with ADHD tend to have falling asleep due to minds racing with amazing thoughts.
Exercise itself is one of The Big 3, but it also helps us sleep. Try to get your exercise in early in the day. Exercise can help tire your body so it can sleep well.
Avoid too much exercise within 2 hours of bedtime. This is not possible with some activities, I know. But exercising too close to bedtime can make it harder to wind down.
Avoid caffeine and stimulants too close to bedtime.
Caffeine is one of the most commonly used substances to help us stay awake and focused, but it’s not always safe. It is habit forming. It’s also a stimulant, so can be especially problematic if you take a stimulant medicine. The additive effects of the two together can cause problems in some people.
Stimulants like adderall and ritalin are commonly used to treat ADHD, but should be used under the supervision of your physician.
If you use caffeine to help your focus or to stay awake, be sure to talk about the use with your doctor. This is especially true if you use a stimulant medicine, but even if you’re not. Relying on caffeine can be an indicator that you are self medicating something that could be better controlled with proper sleep or a prescription medication.
If you take a stimulant medicine, don’t take it too late in the day. Long acting medicines can last 8-16 hours. Short acting medicines last 3-4 hours. Know what you’re taking and when they tend to wear off. It’s unique to each person, but you can usually feel the effects wear off. If you take it too close to bedtime, it can cause sleep problems. For many teens, they can’t take a long acting medicine after 10 am or a short acting medicine after 6 pm, but how your medicine works in your body will be unique to you. Pay attention to when you feel the medicine wears off each day to learn how long it lasts for you.
Turn down lights.
Turn down lights 2 hours before bedtime. Your body needs darkness to make melatonin. Melatonin makes you feel tired and helps you fall asleep. Artificial lights keep the melatonin level from increasing, so you feel less tired.
Fluorescent lights, televisions, computers, cell phones, tablets and all other lighted things can affect your melatonin level.
Check out f.lux, a free program for PCs, Macs, iPhones, and androids that changes the screen lighting prior to bedtime to allow natural melatonin to rise if you must be on a screen close to bedtime. Must means you have to finish homework that you couldn’t do earlier. It does not mean checking social media or texting friends. It also doesn’t mean putting off homework until later because you just don’t want to do it after school. Work and scheduled activities are a good excuse. Procrastination isn’t.
If you want to take a supplement of melatonin, talk to your doctor.
Watch out for late night munchies.
Avoid eating (especially large meals) before bedtime. Again, I know this can be hard, especially if you have after school activities that keep you busy and make you hungry.
This is even more difficult if your daytime medicine makes you not hungry at lunchtime. Of course try to eat at least something with good calories mid day, but if you don’t eat a typical lunch, you’ll need to make up the lost calories after the medicine wears off. Be sure to not eat foods that bother your stomach while laying down too close to bedtime.
Do relaxing activities as part of your bedtime routine. These can include reading, taking a shower, coloring or listening to soothing music.
If thoughts keep you up, journal before climbing into bed. Journaling can help focus thoughts and allow your brain to stop thinking about them.
Relaxation exercises or deep breathing can help. Put a hand on your heart and on your abdomen. Try to keep your heart hand still while you take in a slow, deep breath. While you inhale count 4 counts and while you exhale count 8 counts. The deep breaths can make you feel tired, and the counting slowly helps keep your brain from racing thoughts.
Practice meditation every day. There are many mindfulness apps to try – and most are free. Once you’re used to using the technique (it’s great before doing homework) you can also use mindfulness at bedtime.
Set the stage.
Make your bed a place for sleep. Avoid doing homework on it. Let your body associate your bed with sleeping.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Use a fan to keep it cool and as a white noise.
Keep pets out of the bedroom. They tend to keep you up or wake you too early.
Ideally you’ll charge your phone in another room overnight to avoid late night distractions. If you must have your phone in your room, make sure no notifications will wake you. Resist checking it “one more time” as you go to bed because you know it will be several minutes of scrolling through things…
Stick to a schedule.
Keep your bedtime consistent.
Even if you can sleep in on weekends, try to go to bed within an hour of your usual bedtime. This schedule is important!