SPIN Cycle

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. 

Waterfalls and ADHD

Dr. Hallowell compares ADHD to a waterfall in his blog on the SPIN Cycle. 

Dr. Hallowell compares ADHD to waterfalls - both are powerful but must be managed.

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.

Dr. Halloway coined the SPIN Cycle. It's natural to have periods of excel followed by times that seem stagnant or even time where things worsen. Learn more.

Shame

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.

Maya Angelou

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. 

Focus on the positives and stop the negativity. Learn to control what you think. To learn more about this, read How to Get a Growth Mindset

Focus on things you can control to help solve problems. Find more positive tips in the post.

Isolation

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. 

Learn a few tips from Mary Poppins…

Watch Out for Rejection Sensitivity

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. 

For example

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.

Stress response

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. 

Symptoms of rejection sensitivity. Learn to recognize them so you can work on it.

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. 

Blaming

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. 

Jealousy

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. 

Failed relationships

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?

Recognize it 

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.

Focusing on the positives can help.

Take the time each day to think about and write down what you’re grateful for from that day.

Also write down the things you did that day that made you proud or accomplished. Don’t focus on the tasks that you haven’t finished – think about all the parts you have done.

Celebrate all you do, even the little things! It can help build self esteem.

Humor can be a good healer

Learn to use humor when situations get tough. It’s okay to laugh at situations to help avoid negative thinking.

Don’t forget to learn from the situation, but keeping the mood light helps to not have negative self talk.

Medications

Rejection sensitivity is sometimes treated with medications such as guanfacine and clonidine (both are blood pressure medicines now approved to treat ADHD), and MAO inhibitors.

These treatments should be discussed with and managed by a physician knowlegable in this treatment.

5 Self Confidence Boosters Part 1: Stop Negativity

Do you feel like you’re the bad kid? Are you always getting in trouble for speaking out of turn or forgetting to turn in homework? Do you feel stupid because you make careless mistakes on tests? How can you boost your self-confidence? Negativity can get us down and hold us back, so stopping it is the first of the many ways we can boost our self-confidence and self-esteem.

Top 5 Self Confidence Boosters:

1. Stop Negativity
2. Be Positive
3. Finish Tasks
4. Self Care (The Big 3: Eat well, exercise, and sleep)
5. Help Others

Today is Part 1 of a 5 part series of how to build confidence. I hope you check back next week for more!

I’m starting with what many will find to be the hardest of the 5 ways to boost confidence. I like to get the hard stuff out of the way first. But I also think that negativity is one of the biggest problems for people with ADHD – and people in general.

Stop the Negativity.

Everyone says it, so it must be true?

When we hear over and over again that we’re not good because we forgot to do something or that we’re not doing a good job at whatever we’re supposed to be doing (like sitting quiet and still) we start to feel bad.

We assume everyone’s right that we’re not good enough or we’re stupid.

That’s human nature – we take on the beliefs of what we hear over and over again. People with ADHD are especially sensitive when it comes to things like this. Maybe it’s because it’s just the way they are. Or maybe it’s because after time and time of being told something, they just break down and start to believe it. It’s what everyone else thinks, so it must be right, right?

Wrong.

ADHD comes with many challenges, but most people with it are not bad or stupid. Some ADHDers try really, really hard… but it’s just too hard to stay focused, organized, still, and everything else that we’re supposed to do.

Stop the negative self talk.

When you start to believe in the negatives, you need to really consider if it’s true or not. Stop the negative self talk.

Pretend you’re talking to a friend instead of talking to yourself. We tend to be nicer and more forgiving towards others. We’re our own harshest critics. What would you tell a friend if you were trying to reassure him or her?

If you think ~
  • I’ll never finish this assignment on time.
  • I can’t write well.
  • Math isn’t my thing. I am never going to understand it.
  • Those kids will never like me. They won’t understand me.
Stop.

Stop thinking those thoughts that you’ve probably had over and over in your mind. They aren’t facts. Think of the facts and what you can to about them.

Be careful. Feelings are much louder than facts. You really have to focus on what is factual and not just how you interpret things. This can sound really difficult, but try the exercise described in Don’t Think of Pink Elephants.

Practice.

It takes time, but it’s so worth the effort!

Try using this powerful trick.

Stop bringing yourself down.

There are things that many of us tend to do that make us feel sad.

Being alone…

If we stay alone in our room, we tend to feel worse about things. I read this great analogy with a creaky house that helps to explain the issue. Read the whole thing from the hyperlink if you have time.

An excerpt from THE OLD CREAKY HOUSE: ONE WAY TO FIGHT DEPRESSION:

Depression is like a creaky house.  It will creak and creak, no matter what you do.  You’ll notice the noise more sitting quietly in your room.  You’ll notice it less if you throw a party.  Depression is similar – the feelings of sadness/guilt/apathy are likely going to keep on creaking (you can’t just “stop being depressed.”)  However, you’ll notice them less if you keep yourself busy.  And, sitting quietly in your room can make you feel even more sad/guilty – in this way, depression can be a vicious cycle.  It can control your life, it can be a bully.

Instead of going to your room and closing the door, sit in the family room. Stay at the dinner table a little longer before jumping up to be alone. Make real conversations with people instead of texting. Connect with your friends and family.

Complaining.

When we complain about all the bad things (homework, that annoying kid in math class, how much work there is to do) we feel worse. Our brain is focusing on the negative, which just brings us down.

It also makes others not want to be around us. That adds to our low self-esteem.

Thinking and Rethinking what you did wrong.

We’ve all messed up. We do embarrassing things. Sometimes we fully intend to finish something, but then we’re distracted away and forget to return.

Use whatever the problems you’ve had as learning experiences. Stop blaming yourself. Don’t keep thinking on what you did wrong. Change the thinking into what you could have done instead to have things turn out better. Try that improvement next time.

Turning to negative habits.

Sometimes we feel so low that we want to try unhealthy ways to feel better. Some people try alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. Others try cutting or other harmful behaviors.

Unfortunately people with ADHD are more likely to have problem behaviors with drugs, alcohol, and other dangerous behaviors. The impulsivity, low self-esteem and risk taking behaviors that are common among people with ADHD put them at risk.

If you find yourself struggling with these issues, please talk to a trusted adult. Once these habits start, they’re really hard to break. Don’t try to handle it alone! Help is out there.

If you ever feel like you’d be better off dead or want to harm yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for 24/7, free and confidential help. 1-800-273-8255

Tune in next week…

Next week will not be so much of a down topic! It’s all about being positive.

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Negative self talk can make everything seem worse. Learn to stop the negativity!
Negative self talk can make everything seem worse. Learn to stop the negativity!

Also recommended…

Anger and ADHD: How to Build up Your Brakes: Jessica at How To ADHD has some great tips on learning to control your anger and emotions. From her summary: Impulsivity is one of the main characteristics of ADHD, and building up our brakes is one of the most important things we can do. Here’s the science behind it and 5 things that help.