We live in a wired, fast-paced world. We’re constantly plugged in — checking email and social media sites from all of our devices. We’re trying to meet ever-increasing expectations and demands, juggling careers and school, raising kids, managing our homes, entertaining, and much more, says Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, a psychotherapist and ADHD coach.
“For the adult without ADD, it’s a tough situation to keep their heads above water. But for an adult with ADHD, it’s almost an impossible task.”
“The brain can just ‘shut down’ due to feeling overwhelmed,” said Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, NCC, a psychotherapist and ADHD specialist. Adults with ADHD can become paralyzed because they don’t know where to start, she said.
Everything seems urgent — the dirty dishes, overgrown lawn, your child’s science project, work voicemails and emails, and the report your boss just said he needed by the end of the day.
This is when applying specific strategies can help. Below, Matlen and Sarkis shared key tips.
1. Enlist help.
If possible, hire house-cleaning services and tutors to help your kids with homework, Matlen said. (This helps “avoid blowups and stress so your time with your child is a positive, not negative experience.”)
“Always — always — keep in mind that not only are you juggling all of these responsibilities, you are also dealing with ADHD symptoms that make nearly everything in your day more difficult.”
2. Pause, and pay attention.
“Stop, look and listen,” Matlen said. Pay attention to your body and your loved ones, she said. Are you tired and depleted? Are you so stressed you can’t even savor your downtime? Is your family scattered and regularly rushing around? Is everyone frustrated and overwhelmed?
3. Reconsider your priorities.
“Knowing that your ADHD means you will most likely have to work harder — and experience more stress — than someone without ADHD, can you change your expectations of keeping up with the world and begin to make your own rules?” said Matlen, author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD.
For instance, is getting a top supervisory position more important than spending time with your family? Is the pay raise worth the late hours at work (or at home, finishing up that work)? Do you need the big house or more expensive car? Do your kids need to participate in four extracurricular activities? Would you benefit from a career change that’s more aligned with your strengths?
4. Learn to say no.
Both Matlen and Sarkis underscored the importance of saying no. Sarkis suggested exploring if your activities are contributing positively to your life or your loved ones’ lives. “If not, decide if you truly need that task or activity.”
If you don’t need that activity, say no. Say no to extra commitments at work, school or home, Matlen said.
“If someone gives you an attitude for saying ‘no,’ that is his or her problem, not yours,” said Sarkis, author of several books on ADHD, including 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD: How to Overcome Chronic Distraction & Accomplish Your Goals.
“The number one priority in your life is your health and well-being.”
5. Prioritize from within.
Prioritizing for adults with ADHD can be tough and overwhelming. Instead of focusing outward — “looking at all the things zapping you from all sides” — focus inward, “feel[ing] what is bothering you the most and tak[ing] action on that chore or responsibility,” Matlen said.
For instance, will you feel better after paying the bills, finishing laundry or mowing the lawn?
Matlen suggested writing down everything that’s overwhelming you, and asking yourself: Which one will make me feel better once it’s crossed off my list? “Then go with that one first.”
“Turn off the electronics, and go back to activities that help you to connect with family and friends,” Matlen said. For instance, she suggested hiking, play cards or hosting casual get-togethers.
One of Matlen’s former clients had three school-aged children and worked full-time. Her husband had a high-powered job so he wasn’t always available to help at home.
According to Matlen, “Just getting everyone out the door each morning was a huge feat.” Plus, her client would stay up late trying to finish her work from that day. (Her ADHD made it difficult to stay focused at work.)
She often relied on take-out or fast food because she was too rushed to cook. She didn’t get to bed until 1 a.m., at the earliest. She had a hard time falling asleep, because she felt guilty about yelling at her kids and not being a good mother (“because she couldn’t keep it all together”).
Matlen and her client worked on setting up schedules, assessing what she could and couldn’t do, reducing nonessential activities and reaching out for help.
Like Matlen’s client, you may need to establish specific systems, re-evaluate and reach out for support.
Juggling life in a frenetic world can be tough, and ADHD makes it tougher. But applying specific strategies that work for you can make a huge difference in getting things done and enjoying your life.