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5 COVID-19 Survival Tips for Teens and Young Adults with ADHD

Hang in there!

Is the continuing COVID-19 shelter-in-place getting you down? Do you feel like you are losing your independent identity and morphing back into a younger self? You are not alone. Many older teens and young adults with ADHD feel increasingly frustrated, lost, worried, or depressed. Unsure of the future and unhappy with the present, it’s hard to know what to do or where to go. Here are some comments I’ve been hearing lately. Do any of these sound familiar?

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Zara, age 21, says: "All my plans have evaporated. I didn't plan on being trapped inside with my family, not going to school and having my summer internship. I was thinking about my next steps and moving into my own apartment for senior year.”

Finn, age 17 shares: "I wish I was in an alternate universe where this wasn't happening. I’m angry at everything. Sometimes I can’t interact with anyone. I just want to explode. It’s stupid but I just can’t calm down.”

Stacia, age 18, reports: “Things take longer than I expect. I’m not using energy so I don’t need energy. It’s like I’m turning into a sloth.”

Isaiah, age 23, says: “It’s hard for my parents to see how I’ve changed and it wears on me. I’m trying to move forward and manage my own life and they keep on bringing up the past or what I’m not doing right in their eyes. Why can’t they be different?”

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If you’re like any of these folks, you probably feel like you’ve taken an enormous step backward. Instead of spreading your wings and stepping out into the world, you’re resigned to a confinement you never expected. Dreams and plans for things like senior week, graduation festivities, summer jobs or internships, etc. have evaporated. It’s easy for people with ADHD who typically struggle with managing stress, intense emotions, and self-confidence to feel easily overwhelmed, anxious, and discouraged in this climate. But, instead of spiraling down into depression or negativity, how can you nurture the positivity and hope you’ll need to sustain yourself in the coming months?

You’ve got to focus on some type of forward motion. Resilience relies on the ability to meet adversity and pivot. It comes from the Latin word resilire, which means "to spring back"—to rebound. Learning to bounce back means being able to tolerate the disappointment you’ve been dealt and find something else to focus on and get involved with. This may well mean going against the voice in your head that tells you “It doesn’t matter,” “Why bother? Nothing will change,” or “It’s not worth the effort.” That's your negative ADHD self-talk. Pivoting means taking that on with small steps here and there to get you moving forward.

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Let's look at five tips for improving your mood and your outlook to mobilize your resilience and get unstuck:

1. Accept where you are and what you feel: It’s natural to have low morale and feel stuck right now. Acknowledge these uncomfortable feelings without trying to fix them. Avoid judging yourself and blaming others for your unhappiness. This situation is no one’s fault and everybody is trying hard to manage the best they can. Focus on building your resilience. Consider past difficulties and reflect on how you overcame them. Write some of these things down and post them on your wall so you can refer to them.

2. Control what you can: Limit your exposure to the news by checking it no more than once a day. Things don’t change that much and all of the statistics can be frightening and depressing. Set realistic goals for yourself about school or work and create timed work and break periods. Cut back on media multitasking and reduce switching from tab to tab which stresses your brain and makes you more tired. Do things around the house that demonstrate your independence like cleaning up after yourself, tidying your room, making a weekly meal, or going grocery shopping. Talk calmly with your parents about your frustration with the situation and ask them clearly for what will help you.

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3. Stop comparisons and ignore perfectionism: This is not the time to look at other people’s lives and compare yourself. Everybody is doing the best they can within this terrible situation. Limit how much time you spend on social media looking at other people’s perfect-looking lives. Instead of putting yourself down for the ways you don’t measure up to all of that, focus on what you are accomplishing every day. Take stock at the end of each day and write down three things you did—no matter how small. It sounds corny but it can help you maintain your self-esteem.

4. Connect with your posse: Reach out to a circle of friends and family at specific times rather than checking Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, texts, and emails throughout the day. Instead, set a few specific times to do so and then you can really enjoy your connections. Go for quality with one or two people at a time so there’s a better depth to your conversation. Consider organizing Zoom dinners or watching movies with screen sharing.

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5. Counter negativity with gratitude: Find one thing you appreciate every day, no matter how small: The privilege of eating a yummy dinner, seeing the tulips bloom, FaceTiming with a dear friend, or playing a fun video game. It’s easy to dismiss what we have in favor of longing for what we don’t. Shift your perspective and zoom out a bit to see the bigger picture of what you have and not what you don’t.

Hang in there. This is temporary—we don't know how temporary but it will eventually pass. Focus on one step at a time and you’ll get through this!

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