ADHD was first recognized as a behavior problem, but now we know it’s a developmental disorder. Don’t worry though. Having a developmental disorder doesn’t make you stupid or damaged. It simply means that brain development is a bit different. We’ll tackle details here.
Typical Brain Development
Our brains have billions of nerve cells called neurons that start developing a few weeks after conception. Within 6 months after conception, there are even more neurons than are found in an adult brain. As we develop, neurons grow and make connections with one another. The number of brain cells decrease as unneeded neurons are pruned away.
A network of fibers develops to connect the brain cells in order to interact with other parts of the brain and to perform complex functions. Neurotransmitters help send messages between nerve cells.
We’ll tackle neurotransmitters more in future posts. They’re important!
How long does it take for the brain to fully develop?
We might look pretty mature by our teen years, but our brain is still growing!
The first 3-4 years of life is a time of rapid brain development, but it continues for more than 20 years.
The prefrontal cortex is especially interesting. It helps us plan, organize, make decisions, and maintain self control. These are considered executive functions and are often problematic for those with ADHD.
The prefrontal cortex typically doesn’t finish full development until mid-20s. That means our brains are still developing key areas into our early adult years!
How does ADHD develop?
There are many things that affect our brain development that can lead to symptoms of ADHD.
At this point we don’t diagnose the cause of the ADHD since treatment is geared toward addressing the symptoms, but it can be helpful to know that there are many reasons a person develops ADHD.
Like many things, brain development is affected by our genetics. Genetics affects how we look, how tall we should grow, our intelligence, and risks of certain health problems – such as cancer or heart disease. Of course our genetics are only the blueprint. Our environment, nutrition, experiences, and much more also affect how we grow and develop.
If one parent has ADHD, a child is more likely to have ADHD. If both parents have ADHD, their child is much more likely to have ADHD.
While a baby is still in its mother’s womb, it is considered a fetus. This is considered the prenatal time of development.
Many things can affect development during the prenatal time. Drugs and alcohol, illness, and other stressors affecting the mother can affect the baby.
Prematurity (being born before the due date) and being small at birth can increase the risk of developmental disorders, including ADHD.
Illness, injury, toxins and more… oh, my!
The first few years of a child’s life can be complicated by illness, injury, nutritional deficiencies, and toxins. These can all affect brain development.
Even after the critical developmental years, injuries and toxins to the brain can change our brain function. Think of a teen or adult who has had a concussion. Their brain function can be severely altered. They might suffer from mental fogginess, fatigue, irritability, and more after the injury. In fact, sometimes people will be treated with medications commonly used for ADHD temporarily after a concussion.
What it’s NOT:
ADHD is not due to bad parenting, poor discipline, or bad schools.
Yes, those things can worsen a child’s behavior, but they don’t cause ADHD.
What about sugar?
ADHD also isn’t from too much sugar.
Studies have even shown that even when a parent perceives worsening of behavior after sugar, independent observers see no real change. For more on that and how diets affect ADHD, see Special Diets for ADHD.
I was excited to attend the 2018 International Conference on ADHD with a group of ADHDKC board members. I’ll try to recap some of the best information learned.
We were all able to make connections with people from all over the world who research and treat symptoms associated with ADHD and with those who are in various learning stages about their own ADHD. It was not uncommon throughout the conference to hear that people found their tribe…
Too much information
There were many simultaneous talks during the 4 day conference. I went to many great talks but missed others. I tried to tweet #ADHDcon2018 during the conference, but couldn’t pay attention and tweet at the same time, so missed a lot of points to share.
I was very fortunate to meet Marylin, a woman from France who is passionate about learning and sharing information about ADHD. She shared with me that ADHD is not commonly recognized in France and she is working to change that. Learn more about her organization at TDAH.
Marilyn recorded several of the sessions and uploaded them to her Facebook page. I’ll share these along with other information below.
Translation from Facebook:
If you thought ADHD was reserved for children…. If you thought that: in the same way as intellectual early, (fortunately less and less used) ADHD disappears over time…. If you thought ADHD was a bad education…. too permissive…. If you thought ADHD was a simple motor hyperactivity…. So…. it’s time to learn, to inform you to understand this neurobiological disorder that affects millions of people around the world: Children, adolescents, adults, men and women together. The symptoms differ, however, the disorder remains the same. ADHD is an invisible, ill-known, misunderstood handicap, particularly in France, where diagnosis and care have accumulated considerably harmful delays. 10, 15 (rather 20 years to be honest) compared to other countries of the world. ADHD is not happy with associated disorders (called morbid), dyslexia, dyscaculie, ect… anxiety disorder, disorder disorder with provocation. Non-diagnosed ADHD may also lead to adolescent-Risk Pipelines: Sexuality, driving, risk-taking, addictions, (drugs, tobacco, alcohol) unwanted pregnancies, and D after the latest research: a considerably reduced longevity. Are you ready to open your eyes and ears and change your states d spirits…
Dr. Russel Barkley
Dr. Russel Barkley is a world renowned expert on ADHD and was one of the keynote speakers. He spoke at the Midwest ADHD Conference sponsored by ADHDKC.org last spring, so you might recognize him and his message: untreated (and undertreated) ADHD has risks!
If you want to skip to Dr. Barkley, go to 8 min. To do this, hover over the bottom and click on the Facebook icon. It will bring you to the Facebook video, and you can scroll forward.
Unique Challenges Facing Mothers & Daughters with ADHD
Our own Jeremy Didier and her daughter were among a panel of mother/daughter pairs who talked about living with ADHD.
I was not in this session, but found a snippet on Twitter:
For those who don’t know her, she has made a name for herself making videos about ADHD. I’ve been a fan of her videos for several years, so seeing her live was awesome!
One of her first slides summarized the other three keynote speakers talks.
Marylin also caught this in full on Facebook live. Start at about 14 min in to skip all the conference acknowledgements if you’re not interested in those.
I was really excited to see that Coach Diane, from Odyssey Learning, was speaking at this conference. Since I won’t be able to make her local talk next month, it was fantastic to hear how she uses creative ways to help kids and teens learn executive function skills.
If you can make it to her local talk, please RSVP on SignUpGenius. Her ADHDKC talk will be geared for tweens and teens, but her slides are more for professionals working with people with ADHD.
She talked about how we’re wired to learn when we’re interested. Everyone, but especially those with ADHD, struggle to pay attention when they aren’t interested.
Fear, stress, boredom and anxiety of course make learning even harder, and these are common traits found in people with ADHD. When kids with ADHD are bored, they can suffer from agitation. This gets mislabeled as a behavior problem, but it’s a neurological problem!
Making new concepts and information interesting is one successful way to help people learn. She uses cooking, games, magic, and more to help kids learn.
Backwards planning is one strategy that helps kids complete tasks. Knowing where you want to end up, then coming up with all the steps that are required to get there, is backwards planning. She will use cooking to model backwards planning, then help kids learn to generalize the skill to real life examples.
Studies consistently show that people who know how to learn and have grit are more successful than people who are smart but don’t have resilience. That means we all need to learn how to learn and how to be resilient!
Let’s start with the basics and then review a few learning techniques that can help.
If you take a few minutes each day to fill out a planner and review what needs to be done, you will save yourself a ton of time overall. And have fewer periods of last minute anxieties!
There are many organization systems out there. Online planners and paper planners each have their pros and cons. The most important thing is that you pick one that works for you. Just search for reviews of planners, and you’ll find many suggestions.
There’s also the Google calendar or iCal – both offer the ability to keep track of things wherever you are! There are also many online apps for organization, most of which offer free versions as well as premium plans.
The most important thing about calendars and planners: put everything in them and use them regularly.
Of course you should put all your assignments in your planner. Also add in your extracurriculars. If you’re making plans with friends, add that in too. Don’t forget to add in time for exercise and sleep. Everything that’s important should be in there!
Don’t put it off!
It’s tempting to put off studying until the last minute, but don’t fall for the temptation.
Some people even say they do best at the last minute because of the adrenaline rush they get from the anxiety of the last minute. But chances are if you really look at it, you do a much better job and feel much better if you pace yourself and do a little each day.
If you finish parts of tasks on time at a healthy pace, you’ll have less time spent worrying about it. This leaves more time to enjoy life. You’ll probably sleep better and be healthier!
Your brain needs sleep to process and store information. All nighters will keep you from performing at your best.
Study in the evening, get a good night’s sleep, then review your notes a bit in the morning. This is a recipe for success!
There are studies showing that people who exercise right before a test do better than those who cram a little longer.
Exercise is not only great for your body… it’s also good for your mind!
If you get stuck in negativity, you’ll waste a ton of time and energy just being mad or scared.
It’s easy to fall into the trap. If you start to feel overwhelmed and frustrated that you won’t have enough time to finish a report, you will waste even more time not doing the report. It’s too easy to waste time worrying.
How do you change your mindset from, “I’ll never finish this,” to “I might have waited a long time to start this, but I’ve always been able to push through and finish it in the past”? See the “Related Posts” section at the bottom of this blog.
Write it down
Take notes as you study. The process of writing helps people remember.
Don’t simply re-write exactly what you hear in lecture or read in your textbook. Summarize the thought in your own words. This helps much more!
Writing has been shown to be more effective than typing to help with learning, so unless you can’t write, put the keyboard aside and use a simple pen and paper! (Maybe a pen on the appropriate screen would be okay… I don’t know if that’s been studied.)
Memorizing dates, words in a foreign language, and more can be difficult, but associating them with something else can make a big difference.
I still remember many of the mnemonics I used years ago….
Who else learned “Every Good Boy Does Fine” to learn to read music?
You can use images, songs, word associations and rhymes to help remember difficult information. This great video explains how to use several of the techniques.
Sing a tune – one type of mnemonic
Songs and rhymes help us learn. You know how you can remember all the words to your favorite song, right? Words in a song are grouped together more easily in our mind and are easier to remember than non-associated words.
Pick a familiar tune and put the information you need to learn in it. If you’re not that creative or short on time, search your topic with “music” or “song” and check out the results.
We all have stressful things happen, but what can we do about it? Learning to de-stress is possible with these simple tips.
We all have stressful things happen, but what can we do about it? Learning to de-stress is possible.
You’ve heard that exercise is good for your health, but you may not realize how great it is for your mind too. Or maybe you do realize it, but you feel so overwhelmed that you don’t think you have time for it.
Make the time. This one’s important enough that it should remain a priority when you’re busy.
Plus exercise has been shown to help clear your mind so you can focus and be more efficient at everything else you do. It helps you sleep better at night, which in turn helps you focus better and feel less stressed.
2. Cut back to limit stress
If you’re overwhelmed, prioritize what is important.
If you have a ton of difficult classes, maybe consider limiting that next semester. Instead of taking all AP or IB classes, pick the one or two that you feel are best for you and then the regular level of class for the other subjects. Take a fun elective that won’t involve as much homework. That can help broaden your skills and still looks good on a college application if you grow from the experience. Remember that colleges want well rounded students, not those who only eat, sleep, and study.
If you have an after school job, volunteer regularly, and are in a sport, maybe that’s just too much to do after your school day. Think about what is important and limit the extras. That doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, but maybe ask to limit hours after school. If you volunteer, limit when you go. Depending on what type of volunteering you’re doing, see if you can arrange things to work with your course load. If you are doing a bunch of little volunteer experiences that aren’t really interesting to you, maybe find something you’re passionate about and spend time with that one thing.
Remember that if you take on too much, you can’t do everything well, so you will not be your best. Mental health is more important than doing it all. Cut back and focus on what’s really important to you getting where you want to be!
As you’re cutting back, be aware of what’s important.
You can’t simply stop doing coursework if you’re a student.
It’s not wise to cut back on the essentials of sleeping and exercise. These should always be entered into your planner so they get done.
You still need time to relax and be around your friends and family. Put that time in your schedule and make it happen.
I strongly feel that giving to others helps us on many levels, so doing volunteer service is great – but it should mean something to you. Don’t just do something because you feel like you need to do it. Find things you enjoy and help others using that passion.
It’s all about balance.
3. Eat healthy to decrease stress
We’ve all heard that we should eat healthy. It’s not new news at all that we should try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins, and complex carbohydrates.
Yet many of us fail to eat well for a variety of reasons. I know all the excuses, but we all need to problem solve to find solutions, not just grab another unhealthy snack and keep repeating the same mistake.
If you make a few adjustments each day, you’ll start noticing a difference in how you feel. Start by choosing water over soda or juice. Try eating a fruit or vegetable with each meal and snack. Pass on the crackers, cookies, and other junk foods. Try a new healthy food if you’re picky.
If you aren’t hungry mid-day due to medicine, be sure to eat a healthy breakfast. This does not mean cereal. Healthy breakfasts that will last through the day include protein and fiber.
If money is an issue, talk to people who can help. Start with your school counselor.
I can’t stress enough how important sleep is.
We seem to underestimate the value and see it as time wasted.
Time management problems all day do not give you the excuse to stay up finishing homework.
You should never stay up to do something you wouldn’t get up early to do. For instance, you would probably not set your alarm to wake up and watch a YouTube video, right? That means you shouldn’t stay up “just a few minutes” later to watch it. Go to sleep. It will be there later.
Use all the night features your computer and phone offer.
Make sure your phone will never wake you if a friend tries to call or text in the middle of the night. Just because they’re suffering from insomnia doesn’t mean you need to be awake. Set the night mode. Tell your friends you won’t respond at night so they don’t keep trying. Blame it on your parents or your doctor. They won’t care. (And if your parents are following the standard recommendations, they will take your phone away an hour or two before bedtime…)
The blue light from your screen keeps the melatonin in your brain from rising. You need melatonin to feel tired. That means if you’re using any screen with normal lighting, you won’t feel tired and you’re likely to lay awake even if you go to bed.
5. Screen time limits
This seems to repeat what I just said, but there’s more. So much more that it’s covered in Screen Time Limits.
I covered this in detail, but want to remind you to check out some screen management apps that might help you take control of your phone and computer time.
Moment (currently iOs only, but Android version coming)
Forest is an interesting app that not only helps you stay on task, but you can earn points that helps to plant a real tree – helping our world
I’ll bet you underestimate how much time you spend online. Try the apps mentioned above. Use the knowlege gained about your use to adjust it to an amount that allows you to be productive and have time for the necessities of life.
It’s too risky to have full access to phones and all of their distractions 24/7. You’re fighting against an industry that invests in finding ways to get you hooked and wanting to spend more time on their content. We get dopamine hits each time we play online. Dopamine makes us feel good, so we want more.
6. Take 5
Take 5-10 minutes each day just for you. It’s not much time, and if you make the time, you’ll find that it pays back!
Set a dedicated time to reflect: What did you accomplish – celebrate the big and the little goals met. Are there things that can be high priority tomorrow. What are you thankful for?
You can go one step further and also make time throughout every day to be mindful. I’m still in the learning stages of this, and experts always talk about practicing mindfulness. We can all practice it daily. Find something that you do every day and link it to stopping to be purposefully mindful. Start a morning routine.
For more mindfulness tips and several free apps to help guide your mindfulness, see my Pinterest Mindfulness board. If you use mindfulness regularly, you will notice less stress.
Teens have long days. The most common medicines they use to manage ADHD symptoms last 8-12 hours. It isn’t surprising that stimulants don’t last long enough, but that doesn’t make it okay. What can you do to get everything done if you medicine doesn’t last long enough?
It goes without saying that we all need sleep to focus. People with ADHD often struggle with sleep, but they need sleep.
Try to get your hardest subject’s homework done in your spare time during school hours or right after school.
We often put off the hard stuff due to procrastination, but that comes back to haunt us later! Get it out of the way and check it off the list!
Set reminders to get back on track. If you get distracted easily, figure out what helps remind you to refocus.
Use post it notes where they will remind you when you need the reminder.
For example, if you frequently stare out of a window, put a sign there to remind yourself to get back to work.
Turn off notifications.
No one needs an alert to know that they have a new social media message or email.
Yes, notifications and alerts can help you remember to do what you need to do, but only if timed properly. If you set an alert at the time you need to take medicine, that’s great! But random notifications that pop up when you’re in the zone doing something is distracting.
Schedule time to check whatever will need to be checked, but don’t check them while doing other tasks.
Those notifications are simply too distracting. Turn them off!
Would you benefit from studying in a public place, where having people around will keep you from daydreaming?
No one wants to be seen drifting off…
Or maybe you can simply invite an accountability partner to work with you. Ask a friend to study with you. Be each other’s accountability partner. Keep each other on track. Don’t talk and distract one another.
If your friend isn’t good at this, then have a heart to heart or find another study partner.
Exercise has been proven time and again to help us focus. Plus it’s just good for our bodies.
If you need a brain break, even a few minutes of walking around can help reset your brain.
We all have a hard time focusing when our bodies are hungry.
Grab a healthy snack to get recharged.
Healthy is not a sugar snack. Sugar might pop us up temporarily, but then we’ll crash later.
Think of snacks as mini meals. Eat something with protein and either a fruit or vegetable.
Good snacks are apples with peanut butter, carrots or cucumber with hummus, grapes and cheese, strawberries and yogurt.
Change your medicine
If your medicine doesn’t last long enough and all of the above still doesn’t help you focus for the duration of your day, talk to your doctor.
Sometimes increasing the dose of your long acting stimulant can increase the time that it remains above your treatment threshold. This may or may not be tolerated, since a higher dose may increase the side effects.
Some people will add a short acting stimulant in the afternoon. For instance, if you take a long acting methylphenidate in the morning, you could add a short acting methylphenidate in the afternoon. If you take a long acting amphetamine in the morning, you could add a short acting amphetamine in the afternoon.
Other people benefit from adding a different type of medication, such as guanfacine or clonidine to their daily routine. These medicines can last longer and have a different side effect profile from the stimulants, so if the addition of a short acting stimulant isn’t tolerated or desired, it can be another option.
Another long acting medication is atomoxetine. It also works differently than the stimulants do, so is an option for some people.
We all waste time on our screens. Companies pay to find ways to encourage people to use their sites. They use psychology to make you want to spend more time online. People with ADHD are at risk due to their executive management issues with time management, impulsivity, and more. Screen addiction isn’t an accepted diagnosis yet in the US, but excessive screen use certainly is a problem for many people. Learning to set personal screen time limits is one way we can make a positive impact on our own lives.
How much time do you spend?
See where you spend your time.
Do you check messages and notifications before you even get out of bed? Does that help or hinder you getting started in your day?
My guess is you could use that time for a much better purpose.
Mindfulness is a great way to start your day. Just getting out of bed and getting ready for your day will keep your parent off your back – which in itself is a better start to the day!
If you spend 3 hours a day doing mindless stuff online checking social sites, playing games, and watching videos, that’s 3 hours a day you could be productive. Limit it to a reasonable amount of time and then stop.
Take back your time!
Tracking and limiting time on your phone
Find an app that can help you track your time online. Many will work across several social site platforms as well as general browsers.
Some will allow you to set a daily reminder for a custom interval that pops up an alert when you’ve spent your chosen limit in the app for that day. It won’t lock you out, but sometimes we all need a gentle reminder to get back to real life.
Go to your app store and search “time on phone tracker” or “phone addiction” or check out these popular apps:
Moment (currently iOs only, but Android version coming)
Forest is an interesting app that not only helps you stay on task, but you can earn points that helps to plant a real tree – helping our world
I know some of you will think this is too much like when parents set limits, but for many with ADHD, it is too risky to have full access to phones and all of their distractions.
Websites, gaming sites, advertisers, and more pay people to look into the psychology of what makes people want to play and participate.
We get a dopamine hit each time we play. We need to fight the urges that they’re trying to create.
In short, we need to stay in control of ourselves. You don’t want anyone or anything controlling your brain, right?
Bonus: If you show your parents that you are responsible in this (and all things) they tend to give you more freedom. It’s all part of growing up and showing maturity!
Schedule time to check your messages.
It’s important to know what’s going on, but you don’t need to check every few minutes. People can wait.
Trust me, it was much better years ago when people didn’t have instant access to everyone and everything. People had less stress. Return to that mindset. There’s a time and a place for everything. Focus on what you’re doing at the moment, whether that’s talking with a real live person, paying attention to your teacher, working or studying. Especially if you’re driving. Messages can wait!
Ask your friends and parents to join you in this. You can set times to check in, then do other things at other times. If they know you limit your time checking messages, they won’t get as anxious when you don’t reply in 2.4 seconds… It’s that need for instant gratification and response that is a huge driver of anxiety in some people. Let it go…
Turn off notifications
If you get into the zone writing a paper and a notification box pops up, you’ve lost the zone.
You waste time responding to the message and your focus is gone.
You’ll have to get back into the paper writing mindset, which wastes your time and energy.
Use the online time management apps listed above to help with this.
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.
It’s not uncommon for us to automatically think the worst when something unexpected or negative happens. If you think life is one catastrophe after another — the end of the world — you can learn to change your perspective and move on. When you think every little setback is a huge hurdle, it’s called catastrophizing. It’s possible to stop catasstrophizing by taking a step back and finding solutions. It isn’t easy, but you can learn to change your perspective.
Making mountains out of molehills
This is a common phrase, which just highlights how often people feel like whatever problem they’re having is the biggest problem of all. The good news is we can learn to handle this strong anxiety.
For example, if you don’t feel ready for a test, it’s easy to think you’ll bomb it. If you do bad on the test, surely your grade will drop. Bad grades won’t get you into the college you want, and then you won’t get the job you want.
That line of thinking is what many people experience. Everything is a catastrophe.
What can you do to avoid catastrophizing?
Give it time.
First and foremost, give yourself some time. Whether you can only afford a few big breaths or you can sleep on it, a little time can help.
If you impulsively react to anything negative, you’re more likely to overreact, cause more problems, or just not be able to find a solution.
Give yourself time to calm down because trying to think straight when you’re upset is not helpful.
In the example above, if you keep thinking along those lines, you won’t be able to focus on your test, which will negatively impact the outcome. Clear the negative thoughts to be able to focus.
I know it’s not easy. Trust me. My mind wanders horribly when I try to be mindful. But I’m still practicing.
Studies show mindfulness helps with anxiety, focus, and physical health. It’s worth learning.
When you’re good at being in the moment, you can use mindfulness to help calm yourself before reacting.
Look for facts.
I always say that feelings are louder than facts. When we’re sad, angry, scared, or feeling any strong emotion, it’s hard to think about the facts.
You need to find the facts.
Write down what’s going on. Sometimes it takes seeing things written out to see the facts.
In the example above, do you really think you’ll fail to get a job because of one test you weren’t well prepared to take?
While it’s always a good idea to study, get a good night’s sleep, and be prepared for tests, the truth is many successful people have occasionally been unprepared.
They do their best and try harder next time. They use that as a learning opportunity and study differently the next time. Maybe they ask the teacher more questions or find a tutor. Or they simply make the time to study. They might try a new technique, such as taking notes while reading or standing to read.
Whatever it takes, they learn from their mistake. This is resilience.
Change your mindset.
There’s a whole post on changing mindset. Please read it.
Let’s face it: we all have good days and bad days. Things happen.
We don’t need to blame anyone or anything. Sometimes it’s no one’s fault. It just is.
A common example of a no fault solution is in sports. Someone has to win a game, which means someone loses. Losing isn’t the end of the world. Again, use it as a learning experience. Maybe there’s nothing you could have done to change the outcome, but you can change your mindset about the outcome. If you did your best and the other team was better, then that’s the way it is.
Think of other positives. Was it good just to spend time with friends? You got exercise and a break from studying. What good came from it?
Identify when you’re catastrophizing.
If you find yourself frequently frustrated at what is going on around you, look for triggers.
What sets you off?
If you can find certain things that always get your fire buring, watch out for those situations and tread extra cautiously.
Maybe things that work you up are frequently related to school. Smart students tend to worry excessively if they do poorly academically, even if it’s not worth many points.
Don’t fall for the slippery slope of one small setback leading to failure. Identify it as your hot topic area and work on changing your approach.
What is protective?
Do you realize that if you are tired or hungry you’re less able to handle stress? Does that mean that the oppoiste is true? Be sure to get enough sleep if you think it does. (Hint: This is true for most of us. Check out The Big 3.)
If you find that talking to someone helps, find people who can calm you down before you act inappropriately.
Exercise often helps people clear their mind. If you have the time to take a walk or hit the gym, do it. If you don’t have a lot of time, get your wiggles out in another way, such as a brisk walk around the room.
Change the pattern.
Learn to change the pattern of catastrophic thinking.
In catastrophic thinking, a negative experience is followed by unpleasant feelings. These unpleasant feelings make it seem like nothing good can follow in the situation.
If you learn to spot the pattern you can interrupt the thought process and choose to se the situation differently.
Play the rewind game.
A fun game to play that can help you learn how to change your mindset and behavior to get a better outcome is Rewind. In the game you roll play with a friend or just in your mind.
This game works a lot like those books that you can choose the ending. If you want to go in the house, you choose page 4, if you want to walk down the street, you go to page 12. The choice you make alters the outcome.
In this same manner, you can choose different things that could have been said or done, and role play what the response from the other people involved would have been.
Rewind a situation and play it out differently.
When you find yourself complaining about the outcome of an event, think it through again, starting with what you could do to try to get to a better ending.
The trick is you have to be the first to change what you say or do. In the real world we can’t just expect someone else to change a behavior. We can only change what we do. Others usually follow suit, depending upon what the situation is.
You forgot to turn in a homework assignment. This leads you to worry that your grade in the class will fall. A lower grade makes you worry that you’ll be kicked off the school team due to GPA requirements. Of course then you’ll lose your scholarship and won’t get to go to college. If you don’t go to college then you’ll end up in a minimum wage job or homeless.
The first step is to recognize this as catastrophizing. You won’t end up homeless due to one missed assignment.
Next you will need to not make missing homework assignments a habit, so use the rewind game to figure out what you can do to change the outcome in the first place.
What could you do differently?
Do you need to write your assignments in a planner and check them off when you do them? How do you remember to bring the homework and everything you need to complete it home? Did you choose the right location to do the homework without distractions? How do you remember to put the homework back in your backpack when copleted? What distracts you in class from turning it in? Can you come up with a routine that would help?
Sometimes the rewind game will allow you to play out a scenario in which your words or actions can change, which changes someone else’s response. This is good when you have a disagreement with a friend. You can’t expect them to change their response unless you first change yours. What can you do or say differently next time?
Playing rewind trains your brain to think about what you do and how others react. Each situation is different, but the game can help you play it out to get a better outcome and then use the techniques in real life.
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.
People with ADHD tend to have something called rejection sensitivity or rejection sensitive dysphoria. Watch out for this!
What is rejection sensitivity?
It’s the tendency to perceive a situation negatively, when in reality it is not meant to be negative at all. It can lead to significant anxiety or low self esteem.
An example of this may be that you attempt to text a friend multiple times. There may be many reasons they don’t reply, but you automatically assume they’re mad at you or don’t value your friendship. Even after hearing that their phone died or they didn’t have it with them, you still may feel that their delayed response was somehow due to them not wanting to answer your text.
When you have ADHD, your nervous system overreacts to things from the outside world. Any sense of rejection can set off your stress response. This leads to an emotional reaction that is out of proportion to the situation. Sometimes whatever really occured was not a negative thing at all, but your reaction to it is negative.
Why does this happen?
It’s estimated that the typical 12 year old with ADHD has received 20,000 more negative messages than other kids their age.
They are constantly reminded that they’re not on task.
Chores are often forgotten.
Homework is lost.
They may interrupt others and speak without a filter.
Sitting quietly without constant movement is expected in certain situations, but very difficult for many kids with ADHD.
Each of these situations is due to all of the executive functioning shortcomings, not intentionally bad behavior. But the scoldings and reminders make kids feel like they were bad. All that criticism can take a real toll on their self-esteem.
Over time people who are chronically made to feel like they didn’t meet expectations grow more sensitive to all situations. They might attempt to be perfect in what they do to cover up real or perceived shortcomings. Since it’s impossible to always be perfect, they fail, which serves to further lower their self esteem.
What does low self esteem look like?
When people experience repeated failures to do things as expected, they may lose the drive to try. They often give up. This can look like laziness, which can lead to more shame.
Only when people who are affected in this way are guaranteed success will they even try. There aren’t many situations in life that we’re guaranteed anything, so this can be a big problem.
Many people are afraid to ask for help when needed, so they simply don’t do perceived difficult tasks. Some children fail to do homework because they’re ashamed to ask for help when they don’t understand it. Parents may mistake this for willfully not doing homework or being lazy, which isn’t the case. Often kids wish to do the work, but they’re overwhelmed and too embarassed to get help.
Some people try to overcompensate and show more confidence than they have. They might state that they are really good at something when they don’t really believe it. The overconfidence can backfire when it hurts someone else’s feelings or when they fail to live up to the set expectation. People can simply view their statements as bragging. No one wants to be around someone who thinks they’re better than others. The irony is that in this situation, the person really doesn’t think that. They have a low self esteem and are overcompensating or simply trying to hide their fears about themselves.
How does this affect relationships?
It’s not surprising that rejection sensitivity leads to a lot of problems within relationships.
Many people with very low self esteem attempt to blame others for all of their problems.
They are unable to accept responsibility for their shortcomings. This prevents them from learning from their mistakes.
It of course also affects how the other person feels – which isn’t good.
No one wants to stay around someone who makes them feel bad, so it can strain relationships.
Drive people away
With the texting example above, if you accuse your friend of not valuing your friendship, they will be annoyed. Maybe not at first. With the first occurance, they might simply blow it off and say you’re being silly. But if you consistently treat them like they need to be at your beck and call because you get angry or jealous when they’re not, they’re likely to get tired of it. They’d have every reason to ask for space and intentionally stop making plans to do things with you.
Dating relationships can be even more affected, since it’s a one on one situation. Many people with rejection senstivity easily get jealous. If their boyfriend/girlfriend talks to someone, they might misinterpret the situation and jump to the conclusion that they’re cheating with – or at least have a crush on – the other person. Relationships should be based on trust, but when there’s jealousy, all trust is lost.
When a person gets jealous easily, they often become very controlling. This can lead to emotional abuse of the partner. It brings forth negative emotions in both people in the relationship. It isn’t healthy to stay in relationships like this. Even if you really care for one another, it is important that everyone in a relationship is safe and respected.
It is not uncommon for people with ADHD to have more failed relationships (including marriages) than people without ADHD. This is not exclusively due to rejection sensitivity, but rejection sensitivity certainly plays a part. Recognizing this trait and working to improve self esteem and decrease the rejection sensitivity can help with maintaining strong relationships.
What can be done to treat rejection sensitivity?
The first step in treating this is recognizing what is going on when your extreme negative emotions are driving your thoughts and actions. If people tell you you’re being too sensitive, reflect on it with an open mind. Don’t just get angry, blame others, or avoid the issue.
Treat your ADHD
Treating the underlying ADHD can help some of the issues with rejection sensitivity, but not all of the symptoms.
Impulsive behaviors can exacerbate the emotional response to a perceived negative situation. Controlling the impulsivity appropriately can help with the response directly, as well as to help preserve your self esteem by allowing you to think before acting and speaking.
Improving your focus can help you be successful in completing tasks without rushing through them. Again, this helps to preserve your self esteem because you achieve success.
If you don’t think your ADHD symptoms are properly managed, talk to your parents and your doctor.
Talk to others
It’s important to not hide or cover up your negative thoughts and concerns. Doctors, therapists, and loved ones can help if they can be told what is going on in a way that helps them understand. Too many people are afraid to talk about why they stop trying, are negative or jealous, and about their overall low self esteem. Many might not even realize what is going on and why they feel like they do, but if the above list of symptoms reminds you of yourself, talk to someone you trust about it.
If the person you tell is not familiar with rejection sensitivity, they might not understand what you’re trying to tell them. Please don’t let that knock down your self esteem even more because they don’t understand. Show them this post and and other information about rejection sensitivity. Help them learn rather than accepting their ignorance and going further down in your own self esteem. Talk to your doctor, a school counselor, or a therapist. If they don’t know about the condition, show them the resources you have too.
Accept yourself for who you are
Learning to accept yourself for who you are – faults and all- can be difficult for anyone, but it’s possible.