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ADHD and Managing the Holidays

The holiday season is fast approaching and usually I write an essay about managing the holidays. Mainly about how to deal with seeing family and friends without becoming overwhelmed. Many with ADHD struggle with going home for the holidays. Well this year many are not going home for the holidays and many are not hosting their usual holidays events.

The holidays are going to be different this year due to the current pandemic. For some of you this is disappointing and for others a relief. No matter what camp you are in, one of the most important things to remember is to take care of yourself while you are in the process of giving to others. We are all feeling a level of stress with the pandemic. No one likes wearing masks and social distancing. Neither do they like the low-grade general anxiety that comes from having to be always vigilant.

This may lead to feeling some level of sadness or depression during November and December. To combat this, I urge you to plan ahead. I know not a strong suit of many affected by ADHD but worth trying none-the-less. Decide in advance how you are going to celebrate Thanksgiving and whatever other winter holidays you observe. You may actually be alone on these days but you should still try to plan something so that you feel you had a break from the day-to-day responsibilities you carry. Even if the plan is ordering in, taking a bubble bath and curling up with a good book or video. Just do something to make the day special. Breaking up the monotony of daily living in a pandemic is important.

If you participate in a gift giving tradition start planning now. If you are making any gifts start getting to it. If you are ordering gifts get to that as well. A record number of people will be ordering online and delivery may have some delays or stock may run low. I know we tend to procrastinate but try getting things done in little chunks. First make a list of who you need to make or order presents for and then decide what you are going to get or make for each person on the list. Then start scouting out the gifts or supplies for making the gifts. Then take action and get to work making or ordering the gifts. Shock your family by not actually waiting to the last minute. This allows you to be more thoughtful with your gift giving.

These holidays are going to be unlike are any in our memory. Find new ways to make the situation work for you. Take time for yourself. Take time to plan how to give to others in this trying time. You will feel better for it. Most importantly stay safe as you celebrate.

ADHD and Maintaining Friendships

Many people affected with ADHD struggle with maintaining friendships. There can many reasons for this. One of the main ones is we forget to stay in touch. Reciprocity is important in relationships. Often, I hear from my clients that they have few friends and are not sure what happened. Many times if we investigate we discover that they struggle to remember to reciprocate.

For example, you are invited to go to the movies with your friend and you go and have a good time. A few weeks later they call you again and invite you out for dinner. You happily say yes, go, and have a good time. Some months later you realize you haven’t heard from your friend in a while but soon forget the thought and move on to other things.

You begin to notice you haven’t heard from other friends in a while either. Instead of contacting them you figure they might not want to be friends anymore and this makes you sad. Many people affected by ADHD are also extremely sensitive to rejection. What really happened was you were not initiating contact enough. After someone initiates an activity it is important that next you initiate an activity or even just a call.

The problem most often is we just don’t think about it or we forget it is our turn to connect. Recently I heard from some friends of mine that I hadn’t talked to in a long time. Actually, I had been thinking about them but never took action to re-connect. The friends and I connected and at the end of the call I made a commitment to initiate the next contact. This helps me remember to do it because I have made public my intention. After the call I went to my calendar and scheduled a reminder to contact them in a few weeks.

This may seem like extra effort and it is but friendship reciprocity is important in maintaining relationships. As someone with ADHD I know I can’t count on just my memory to help me stay in touch. I need concrete reminders. It is not that I don’t want to keep in touch but like many affected with ADHD I am not good at noticing the passage of time.

I am also not good at taking action even if it is something enjoyable. Therefore, the combination of making my intentions public, committing myself and creating a reminder increases the likelihood I will reciprocate contact in a timely matter. Friendships are important and as you age it is often harder to make new friends. So, it is important to maintain the friends you have. Being friends with someone affected by ADHD isn’t always easy so the least we can do is try to hold up our end of the keeping the connection going.

Mess Causes Stress

It is clear that mess causes stress. A lot of mess is simply unmade decisions. Instead of deciding where something should go or what to do with it you just put it in a pile for later to decide. A lot of times the decision you would make in the moment is the same decision you would make three months from now. Instead of making the decision you put the item aside thinking later you will take action. Often later doesn’t come until things get out of hand or you miss something like a deadline.

A great example of this is mail. Most of us have grown to hate mail because it involves taking action. A lot of times the action is simply to throw the mail away because much of it is unimportant. It is taking the time to check the pieces of mail to make sure you are not missing something that needs more action like a bill or a new credit card that needs to be activated. Instead we tend to dump the mail in a pile to look at later and the pile keeps growing as the weeks go by. It becomes a mess.

The same is true with other papers we accumulate. Instead is taking action such as tossing unnecessary paper, filing the paper or taking action related to the paper we simply set the paper aside to deal with later. Unfortunately, usually some pressure often negative has to occur to cause us to finally take action.

Paper and mail piles are just examples of the many types of messes we can accumulate. What we don’t often realize is that these messes are causing us stress. Maybe not in an “in your face” kind of way but they do cause stress. You see the messes and in the back of your mind you think “I need to take care of that.” But you don’t and that causes stress. It is a little bit a nagging feeling each time you see the messes or when you realize what you are looking for might be in one of the messes.

The key is to try and tackle messes before they become so stressful that you are overwhelmed and become so paralyzed you are unable to act. To deal with this try breaking off a small chunk of the mess and just deal with that and have a small success. Then you can either decide to keep going or come back to it another time or day. This takes some of the pressure off and negative feelings. Start pushing yourself to take action in the moment when you are inclined to just toss something aside. Most often it will take you just a few seconds to put it in the proper place.

You may not feel your messes are stressing you out but at some level they are, if only in the way back of your mind. It can be draining. So today take one mess and see if you can reduce it or maybe even remove it completely. Remember usually messes are piles of unmade decisions or are action not taken.

ADHD and the Flip Side

As an ADHD coach I hear a lot about people not getting things done. My clients often share with me how they didn’t get anything done from the last time we spoke. When I push them a little on this it turns out they did get some things done just maybe not everything or maybe not perfectly. We tend to judge ourselves for our perceived failures instead of seeking out our successes.

The difference is important. What would you prefer to be “stubborn” or “persistent?” One has positive connotations and the other negative ones. We can focus on our failures but that is not very motivating, it can actually be de-motivating. Or we can focus in on our successes and semi-successes which tends to motivate. It can also provide helpful information to help us succeed.

Let’s say you are trying to diet. You do well the first few days then blow it on the weekend. Many of my clients would tell me they failed and might even use that as an excuse to quit. Instead, I would suggest focusing on the days of success before the weekend. What made the weekdays easier to maintain the diet versus the weekend. There might be some good information to be discovered that will help manage future weekends. The successful should be acknowledged, the weekdays, and curiosity should be applied to thinking about the weekend. I use the word curiosity specifically because it involves being open to possibility and learning whereas judging shuts us down.

If you are dwelling in negativity about not getting things done try looking at the flip side. What did happen not what didn’t happen. Get curious, learn and re-apply yourself to the task.

ADHD and Systems

As an ADHD coach I get a lot of calls from people wanting systems to solve their problems. Systems are great. They help us get things done. Until they don’t. Some might say systems don’t work for people affected by ADHD. That is not true.

They work differently. They work until they don’t. Usually because we get bored. The solution – change up your systems frequently. For example, you may create a system for cleaning your kitchen. Every Tuesday you clean your kitchen starting with cleaning out your refrigerator, then clean your stove top, counters, and sink. Then take out your garbage and finish with sweeping then mopping the floor.

Your system works for awhile then you get bored with it and stop. That is when you need to change the system up. Changing it or adding something to it. For example, you could add listening to a podcast while cleaning or instead of doing all the tasks on Tuesday to do a kitchen task a day. Whatever you decide. What is important is that you change enough that the experience feels different. Then start doing your new system.

After a while you will probably have to change it again to keep it fresh for you.  I realize this is a pain but if your system fails to work you need to change it unless you can find someone else to do the task for you.

Sometimes you find a system that works and you are able to keep doing for a long period of time. That is golden. Enjoy that system. Try to analyze why you can stick with it. Why it has lasted a long time. Model your other systems after it if you can.

When creating a new system maybe write it down so you have a list you can check off as you do the different steps. Checking off a list can be very satisfying and help with momentum.

Stop Being Late

Many people affected by ADHD struggle with being on time. I used to struggle with this myself. I was late to everything for years. It began to affect my relationships because people couldn’t count on me to be where I said I would be when I said I would be. One day I realized that always being late was showing profound disrespect for the time of others. Disrespect in a relationship can be extremely damaging.

In order to stop being late all the time I committed to a set of guidelines.

  1. Look at your calendar the night before to figure out how you want the next day to play out. Especially note when your first appointment or task for the day begins.
  2. Look at your calendar in the morning to sure you know what you have to do that day.
  3. If you are nervous about missing an appointment, set your phone alarm to remind you when you need to leave for the appointment.
  4. Keep your bag packed and near the door so you can grab it and go. This means if you remove something from your bag while at home, you must be sure to put it back in the bag as soon as possible. This way you are not running around at the last minute looking for your keys or some other necessity.
  5. Estimate how long it will take to get somewhere based on the longest time it has ever taken rather than the shortest time it has ever taken. If going to a place you have never been before add extra time just in case you get lost or delayed.
  6. Always have something with you to do so if you are early you can use that time productively.
  7. If you end up being late, apologize briefly and move on. Don’t waste someone’s time going through all the in’s and out’s of why you were late. Most don’t care and you are wasting more of their time with long explanations.

People affected by ADHD are often poor time estimators. We are often unrealistic as to how long something will take us to do. Many of us also struggle with prioritizing. How this plays out when trying to be on time is that we often start things we can’t finish before we have to leave and go somewhere. For example, you have 15 minutes before you have to leave to be somewhere. Instead of using that time to make sure you have everything you need to leave and a plan to get where you are going, you start a new task. One that will take you longer than 15 minutes. The result is being late. I try not to start anything new 15 minutes before I have to leave to be somewhere. Instead I finish up the task I was doing or find a good stopping point and prepare to leave. It might mean I get to my appointment early but early is better than late. It shows you are respecting the time of others.

Time is finite. It does not expand to suite our needs. We have to always be thinking ahead as to what is next and what time does it start.