Feeling overwhelmed? Strategies for ND and ADHD
Toni Says: I am drowning in work and studies right now and sometimes just looking at the piles of articles and pages of notes, and then reading another email makes me feel quite panicked. So lets talk about how to tackle this as I know many of you are feeling the same. Going for accreditation and undertaking wonderful qualifications to further your practice and individual development is so important and rewarding, but all of us have those weeks and months where it seems just too much.
There are several strategies suggested online that you can use to cope with this situation. Some of these are common wisdom and work well for the neurotypical. I have added my thoughts as someone with ADHD.
1. Prioritize tasks: Start by making a list of all the tasks you need to complete and identify the most critical and time-sensitive ones. Focus on completing high-priority tasks first to ensure that you address the most important deadlines. ADHD – Generally, an imminent deadline isn’t the problem, its the longer term stuff thats harder to get started and so I leave it till the last minute. Prioritising is difficult because everything feels the same to me. Everthing is critical! Everything is effort! So “critical and time-sensitive” are not great prompts. Instead think about prioritising based on the consequences of NOT doing the task.
2. Break tasks into smaller steps: Large and daunting projects can be less overwhelming if you break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This allows you to focus on one step at a time and gives you a sense of progress as you complete each sub-task. ADHD – this is a great approach. When you are breaking it down, create sub tasks of different sizes and difficulties so there are some easy wins. Also think about what you will need to do to carry out each sub task. Group activities together that make sense for how you work, not because you feel you should do section 1, then section 2, then section 3 etc. Write a work package for that task – what do you want to have produced by the end of the task? Handwritten notes?
3. Create a schedule: Organize your tasks and allocate specific time slots for each one. Creating a daily or weekly schedule will help you stay on track. ADHD – The key thing here is to be specific. Don’t just have a big block of time called “my studies”. Sometimes the idea of doing a task to get a finished product (eg “write an introduction”) can be daunting to me and I feel like I am being forced to sit still till I’m finished (Grrrr!). Instead you can say “write an introduction for half an hour”, and give yourself a process to do for a length of time instead of labouring until you’re done. Try to rope someone in to read something you will produce and tie it to a particular day – deadlines involving other people can be more compelling. Oh and always set timers! ADHD time blindness means never really knowing what ten minutes feels like…..
4. Set realistic goals: Be honest with yourself about what you can accomplish in a given timeframe. Set achievable goals to prevent unnecessary pressure and disappointment. ADHD – As above, doing something for a fixed length of time is imminently more acheivable than struggling to finish a task. If you find that you are not getting through what you need to do, then rethink the task. Instead of “write an introduction for half an hour”, try “write bullet points that summarise what I want to say” or “draw a mindmap of what I need this section to say” and then later go back to writing the introduction. Sometimes with ADHD you have to let the work come out of you in the way IT WANTS to come out.
5. Learn to say no: If additional tasks or responsibilities are being assigned to you and you genuinely cannot handle them, don’t be afraid to say no or negotiate a more reasonable deadline. ADHD – So this is hard. ADHD means I get easily distracted so if you come along and ask me something I will jump off my little thought train and onto yours like a shot. Additional tasks and responsibilities are novel and interesting so of course I want to say yes! And negotiating to do them later doesn’t work – by then, they have taken up residence in my head and I am already devoting precious resources to them. No advice here – this is something I need to work on. Best thing I do is to let everyone know that I am at capacity and hope they get it and don’t ask.
6. Seek support: If you are part of a team or working with colleagues, don’t hesitate to communicate your workload and ask for support. Delegating tasks or collaborating on projects can lighten the burden and make the workload more manageable. ADHD – As with the previous note, letting people know how you are doing and what you need is important. Also tell them how this is making you feel and the impact it is having, and why you are asking for help. Be very specific about what help you would like. Delegating and collaborating is difficult because it often means prioritising and breaking things down according to other people’s ways of working. If you have problems with exefcutive functioning, all this planning and strategising is exhausting, difficult, frustrating and upsetting sometimes. Think about ways people can support you that don’t involve your workload directly. Can they take the kids to school? Make dinner? Let you ramble your ideas at them? Sit and work at the other end of the dining room table doing something else entirely? (this is called body doubling and is really effective).
7. Take breaks: It’s essential to give yourself regular breaks to recharge and prevent burnout. Short breaks during work hours can increase productivity and help you stay focused. ADHD – Unfortunately, I can take a break, wander off and never return! Set timers and alarms to manage the time you take on a break. Trying to stop at a good end point can work although I find sometimes that stopping mid sentence, adding a couple bullet points to capture the thought, and then leaving it is effective. I return to the document next time and get straight into typing to finish the sentence…. and then 9 times out of 10 the momentum carries me forward. Ask someone to call you at a certain time to mark the end of a break and getting you onto the next task.
8. Practice stress-reduction techniques: Engage in activities that help you relax and reduce stress, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or physical activities like yoga or walking. ADHD – Brain resets work really well. This is where you trick your body into a new emotional state or mindset. Take the dog for a surprise walk midday. If you work from home, have a shower in the lunch break. Put on loud music and dance for an entire track. Physical movement can be like wiping the white board in your head.
9. Avoid multitasking: Trying to do multiple things simultaneously can lead to decreased productivity and increased stress. Focus on one task at a time to improve your efficiency and reduce overwhelm. ADHD – hahahaha. Moving on…..
10. Celebrate accomplishments: Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, even if they seem small. Recognizing your progress will boost your motivation and confidence. ADHD – This can be hard, especially when other people get involved. Some days I want a certifacte of achievment because I got out of bed, or got around to calling the dentist. Also, we tend to think of acheivements as end points, when something is done or finished. Your essay may not be done, but you can give yourself a pat on the back for having done some of it today. ADHD for me means that rewards are pretty useless – I don’t think far enough ahead for them to motivate me, and I have no self control to think that they are dependent on anything I do. Tell me I can have cake if I finish my essay and I’ll tell you I can have cake anyway so go away! I find meditation and visualisation helps (see my comments about the body above), but not to visualise my achievment of the goal. Imagining I am handing in the finished assignment does nothing for me. But if I imagine that I am opening my laptop and starting to type, this can give me a little push so that when I open my eyes I can START.
Overall, I would say that whether you are neurotypical or have ADHD, try to constantly learn about yourself and how you work. I keep a little notebook by my bed and I write down notes when I think I’ve worked out something about myself. Setting routines or habits is so hard with ADHD – I just forget them! So this isn’t a regular thing. But I see the notebook next to the lamp when I go to bed and it prompts me to have a little think. About what I’ve done that day, how I coped. I try to find one thing that I did which I could have NOT done before turning out the light with a sense that I achieved something.
I hope you found this useful. Check out our workshop in September about working with neurodiverse clients, there are only a few places left! Click here for more information.