Are Your Adult ADHD Symptoms Worsening During the Pandemic?
Five strategies to help you thrive during COVID-19 if you have adult ADHD.
Posted May 09, 2020
The current COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone's lives in various ways including health concerns, working from home, job security, homeschooling, and quarantines.
I wanted to write this article to help you and your clients cope with these emotions and potentially even thrive during this difficult time.
Increase Your Structure
People with ADHD often struggle with a cluster of cognitive skills called executive functioning. These skills include time management, organization, and prioritization. Challenges in executive function can lead to significant problems with school or work.
For many people, work, school, social and other engagements help to structure our lives. Due to the pandemic, many of these normally quite structured activities have become unmoored. And, for someone with adult ADHD, having structure is essential. As you know all too well, without a structure or routine, you may bounce from task to task without getting anything done or feel overwhelmed and not even know where to begin.
Having a schedule or "game plan" can help you feel calmer. Using a calendar, either paper or digital, can help structure tasks and time; thus, helping you be more productive and more organized. Many people with ADHD have difficulty incorporating these habits into their lives; however, finding help from a therapist or executive coach who specializes in adult ADHD can get you started with these new behaviors.
Another way of thriving during this crisis and other challenging times in our lives is meditation.
Mindfulness describes a state of sustained attention to the present moment, without judgment. Significant research shows that mindfulness can improve symptoms of ADHD such as distractibility, attention, and a sense of wellbeing.
Mindfulness exercises include meditating, breathing exercises, or imagery. Start with just five minutes of sitting down with your eyes closed and counting your breaths on the exhale from one to ten. When you get to the tenth breath, return to starting from one. If you are distracted and count beyond ten, just notice this and return to one. This is normal. Just be curious to see what happens during meditation and how it may affect your day.
Exercise is often an essential component for people with ADHD. Dr. Russell Barkley, a leading ADHD expert, emphasizes the importance of exercise to improve focus and productivity for people with ADHD. And, now with the pandemic and the changes in your life, maximizing your mood and focus are more important than ever.
Easier said than done, right? Well, not necessarily. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a critical factor in brain growth and development. It is important for mental tasks, such as focus and attention, as well as mood.
Exercise such as biking, running, or swimming is good for your overall health. In addition, there is significant research that demonstrates that exercise helps to boost your mood and motivation while improving your mental focus.
Monitor Your Self-Talk
The current pandemic and constant flood of information on the news is likely causing increased anxiety and distractions. You may be having self-talk or thoughts like, "What if I lose my job?", "When is this going to end?", and "I can't handle this stress." ADHD can actually cause you to have more of these negative or worrisome thoughts than people without ADHD and can create overwhelming internal distractions.
In addition, other critical self-talk that has been present for years may be heightened during this period. Many people with adult ADHD often feel they are never going to achieve their goals. This may be due to painful experiences in the past. You may recognize variants of these self-talk comments, including: "I am always screwing things up", "I will never be good enough," and "This will never work out for me." This type of critical self-talk is often called the "inner critic" and can sap your motivation and confidence.
Here is a three-step strategy to address your inner critic. First, notice the inner critic when you are having a lot of doubts or negative thoughts. Second, label this experience, as "Oh — there is the inner critic again." This helps to decrease the power and energy of critical thoughts. Third, use a supporting statement such as "I am a work in progress" or "I have succeeded at this before" to help you continue moving forward.
This type of self-talk may appear to just be plain old positive thinking. However, thousands of studies have shown that how we talk to ourselves affects how we feel and behave. This concept is the basis of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
It may sound obvious that sleep is important. However, recent research shows that with the current quarantine, many people are getting off their schedules by staying up later and sleeping later.
Restorative and adequate sleep is not only important for rest, but also for effective cognitive functioning. People with ADHD have an increased prevalence of sleep problems including having trouble falling asleep, going to bed too late (the "night owl syndrome"), or having difficulty waking up. Researchers have also found that people with ADHD have an increased risk of medical sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. Inadequate quality sleep can worsen your symptoms of ADHD.
Here are some tips that may help to improve your sleep:
- Avoid digital devices for four hours prior to bedtime.
- Establish a consistent evening routine.
- Create a calm, uncluttered sleeping environment.
- Use earplugs or white noise machines if there are distracting noises.
- Consider a sleep consultation to rule out an underlying medical sleep disorder.
This is a challenging time with the COVID-19 pandemic. So many changes and so many unknowns. However, I hope these strategies help you move forward, thrive, and make significant positive changes during this difficult time in history.