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How to Mobilize Your Strengths When You Have ADHD

Adults |

Though kids have gotten most of the attention in recent years when it comes to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, for short) – the diagnosis is slowly becoming more common in adults. Though the reasons for this are still up for debate, what is clear is that for many adults who’ve only recently been diagnosed with ADHD, as kids their hyperactivity or attentional impairments were likely chalked up to either their parents’ disciplinary strategies or just “being a kid.” In addition, medications for ADHD have come a long way in recent years. As a result, many adults are beginning to learn that sometimes an excess of energy or persistent inability to pay attention isn’t just a personality trait that can be changed if they just “try harder” or are more “self-disciplined.” In fact, they’re learning that there is a chemical, neurobiological reason for their challenges – and that’s called ADHD. Like many mental illnesses, ADHD presents in various ways and severities along a spectrum – and its diagnosis is not a life-sentence of chaos as some might think.

In fact, people with ADHD often have many strengths – they just need to be accessed in the right ways. ADHD can be an asset if it’s managed effectively – and we’ve got some helpful tips for doing just that:

Clear away clutter, always

We know, we know – we’ve all heard this a million times: a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. For people with ADHD, though, a cluttered environment can severely impair your ability to meet your goals. A hallmark symptom of ADHD is distractibility, often including racing thoughts – and if your desk is cluttered and your brain is also going a mile a minute, little often gets done. A messy environment can make it really hard to get absolutely anything done without interrupting yourself and impairing your ability to think clearly and complete what you want to do. We’ve all been there – we’re working from home, and we get up to get a glass of water. Suddenly, we notice that the dryer chime has just gone off – and while we’re putting laundry away, we find an old photo album to look through…. and it goes on. This is the default mode of many people with ADHD, and in order to set ourselves up for success, we’ve got to make an effort to remove distractions in our environment.

Write everything (important) down

We mean it – write down everything that you don’t want to forget, even if you really think you’ll remember this time. The working memory of those with ADHD (the part of the brain that controls short-term thinking and memory by “holding” information temporarily) often has a much shorter lifespan, meaning that they can be incredibly forgetful. The solution to this is to write absolutely everything down that you need to remember. This might sound intimidating or tedious at first, but most of us have cell phones with notetaking apps. It takes only a few seconds to quickly jot down something you need to do, pick up at the store, send to your boss by the end of the day, etc. Many people with ADHD have learned that they can’t always trust their short-term memory, so they’ve learned always to have a notebook and pen (or cell phone) nearby to quickly write it down. This allows them to release any worry or anxiety about the thing they don’t want to forget – and to focus more of their creative, cognitive resources on the task or conversation at hand.

Streamline your hyperfocused states

Another innate characteristic of ADHD is the ability to become intensely hyperfocused on certain tasks. This can sometimes mean that you lose track of time or forget about other responsibilities. The solutions to this are 1) backup alarms, and 2) time-blocking techniques. If you have an appointment or commitment on your schedule that you’d rather not be late to, before you begin an important project or task, set an alarm on your phone or watch. Even better, set staggered alarms to give yourself adequate time to wrap-up (e.g. one for 20 minutes before you need to stop, and one for 5 minutes before). This way, your brain won’t be subconsciously distracted and worried about remembering your upcoming commitment, and you can focus all your cognitive resources on your present goal. Setting alarms gives you peace-of-mind and allows you to maximize your focus and productivity! Finally, schedule out your days to-the-minute and set alarms or reminders if needed when you need to switch gears in your day. This leaves you less time to get distracted in the in-between.

Embrace your passions, creativity, and problem-solving skills

People with ADHD are often extremely creative, energetic, spontaneous, and passionate. These are all wonderful qualities to have! Because brains with ADHD rapidly associate things together that don’t normally go together (often through a series of racing thoughts), they have a unique ability to come up with creative and out-of-the-box solutions. People with ADHD don’t always come to the most practical or logical solutions quickly, but they are often able to swing open doors to entirely new ideas and innovative fixes when given the time and space. If you have ADHD, take the time to notice when you’re able to think the most clearly – when you reach a sort of “flow.” Who was around you? Where were you? What were you doing? Try to remember this next time and set yourself up in an environment that works best for you.

Surround yourself with people that support you

This is a big one. Though ADHD is part of your identity, it’s not your whole identity. There are some personality traits that you might be able to connect to your ADHD, but that doesn’t mean that you should be trying to fiercely control or eradicate them (such as spontaneity, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness). They’re part of what makes you, you – and if they’re causing a serious problem in your relationships or mental health, they might deserve some constructive attention. But if your mental health is feeling great and you are happy with your current day-to-day life, and someone is constantly criticizing you for being too hyper, distractible, or too “high-energy,” it might be time to reevaluate that relationship. Sometimes personalities just aren’t compatible and that’s ok – we don’t need to “like” everyone, and visa versa.

Don’t be afraid of a fidget spinner

Yes, seriously. Particularly hyperactive individuals have excess energy – and unless they have an effective outlet to release it, they’re going to be distracted and scattered. Find your (healthy) outlets and use them proudly. Having ADHD and a lot of creative energy is a major asset if you’re able to manage it properly.

Look into medication if you need it

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental, biological disorder. This means that A) you’ve likely had it your whole life, and B) there is a chemical imbalance in your brainNeither of these things are your fault. There is zero shame in taking medication for mental health – read more on that here. ADHD is one mental health condition that often significantly benefits from the use of medication to ensure the brain is balanced and functioning normally. If you suspect you might have ADHD, or have been diagnosed but never looked into medication and think it might be helpful, reach out to your family doctor. For more on how to stay organized with adult ADHD, check out this article.