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Sarah Fader
Sarah Fader

How an ADHD Brain is Like a Car

Shifting gears in a car is similar to how an ADHD brain works.

When you have ADHD (like me) it's hard to get your brain to do everyday tasks. Taking out the garbage can taking you six hours due to procrastination and limited executive functioning abilities. I like to compare my brain to a car. The default gear of my mind is "neutral." The challenge for me is shifting my brain into "drive." When you drive a car, the switch from neutral to drive is simple and straightforward. With ADHD, that shift is much more difficult. Here are some things that help my brain switch gears:

Do Something Fun First

You've probably heard of rewarding yourself after you do something boring with something fun. With ADHD, people have found that doing something fun first will help you accomplish something banal. I've tried this technique myself and I find it to be extremely effective. When I listen to Blink182 or another band I like and then do my budget, I'm a lot happier. The next time you have to do your taxes, go have a dance party first!

Get Active

I was told by my psychiatric nurse practitioner that I'm a high energy person. This is one of the reasons I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder; my ADHD symptoms looked like hypomania. Before I do any work, I make sure I get outside and walk. When I say "walk," I mean an extended period of time on my feet. I walk a minimum of a mile before I sit down at a desk and do anything productive. I need to get that energy out before I complete tasks.

Walk Away You're Frustrated/Angry

I find that I get easily frustrated when something doesn't go my way. When I'm trying to do work and I feel angry or frustrated, I need to take a break. That usually means standing up, walking away from the computer and doing something else. Maybe that's calling a friend or drawing something. It could be that I belt out a song. Whatever I need to do to release that anger, that's what I do. On a side note: If you are struggling with anger and need help, please see a mental health professional or utilize online anger management. Anger can be a barrier to functioning if it's a serious persistent issue.

Take Breaks to Prevent Burn Out

As someone with ADHD, I can only work for short increments of time. That means I will do productive things for approximately 20 minutes, due to my attention span. After 20 minutes (and I set a timer) I take a 10-minute break. Even if I have good momentum going, I enforce this routine of taking a break. The reason is that if I continue to push myself and work more, I will eventually run out of steam and I won't want to work anymore. Breaks are a crucial part of the working process for someone with ADHD in particular.

These are a few tips and tricks I've learned to switch my ADHD brain from neutral to drive. It's also important to remember that as a person living with ADHD, your brain works differently. You have a superpower called hyperfocus where you can zero in on something that interests you and get it done rather quickly. The challenge for us is doing things that we don't actually want to do. Try using these techniques the next time you're having a challenging time getting your work completed.

About the Author
Sarah Fader

Sarah Fader is a mental illness advocate and mother of two living with panic disorder in New York City.

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