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Covid-19 Induced "ADHD": Finding Focus in a Global Pandemic

Massive disruptions and distractions can make you feel like you have ADHD.

These days of stay at home orders or self-isolation are days that will never come again. You may miss the opportunity to take deeper breaths, slow down, take a look at the sky at night, or write in a journal if your anxiety is interfering with your attention.

Massive disruptions interfere with attention.

It is likely that you may experience cognitive impairments when your world is turned upside down, your day to day life schedule may have turned unrecognizable overnight. Not only are the demands higher, the risk of health and economic upheaval are looming or already real.

It may be that our mood and motivation are diminished when we generalize a shortage mindset to other aspects of life. I found myself looking at the dwindling supply of wood coffee stirrers I use to stir milk in my coffee and wondered what I would do when they were all gone. Twenty minutes later I thought, “I bet a spoon would work.” Then I recognized that there was not likely to be a run on wood coffee stirrers.

I reflected that the shortage mindset had generalized far beyond realistic fears. One experiment you can try to moderate your anxiety is to find areas where you can have a surplus mindset.

Finding a Surplus Mentality

  1. That pile of magazines you always meant to sort through, now's the time. You can get rid of them or read them. This may give you a surplus of new ideas for actions you take now, new resources you can explore.
  2. Do you have an online article and video saver like the app Pocket? If you have stored a lot of material so you could “read it later”, it's time to sort through all those articles and videos you were saving for a slow day.
  3. Write out a list of your favorite activities as a child. This will help connect you with “your inner child.” I know it seems a bit like pop psychology but we often race through life without deep reflection on how the past is present. Freud thought that the past is always present so this might be a good time to re-connect. If you liked to ride bikes, and have a bike you haven’t used in a long time, take it out for a ride. If you liked arts and crafts, look through the art supplies you have and get started. Challenge yourself to create a craft with what you already have on hand.
  4. Do you have a pile of gifts you’ve gotten but never used? Sort through those gifts and find a way to use your time to enjoy them now or surprise your neighbors with a re-gift.
  5. Think of five people you could thank right now. Often we are too busy to go out of our way to share in detail how someone helped us at a time we needed it or has always been a steady presence in our lives. This is a good time to write thank-you notes.

In addition to directing your attention toward the area of surplus, you can take steps to increase your attention. There are many science-backed ways to restore attention.

  • Short bursts of exercise can increase attention
  • Time in nature restores attention
  • Relaxation and mindfulness can increase attention.

You can also use your self-talk to coach yourself toward focus.

“Focus on Completion”

“How good will I feel when I have finished this?”

“I can just get started and make progress”

“What are the costs of reading the news or checking social media more than once or twice a day?”

One of the tried-and-true strategies for people with ADHD is to find an accountability partner. Find someone you can check in with every day to ask you what your goals are for the day and help you problem-solve around the distraction of having kids or spouses as home. If you have kids home from school, stay in contact with teachers or other parents for advice and guidance.

During this time, when there is so much uncertainty, it can help to take small specific steps to boost your attention and mood. Think in terms of the small things you can take control of and that each day will never come again, find ways to bring you creativity into each day.


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