Are you—and members of your family—overwhelmed, burnt out, tired of this pandemic? For people of all ages, the key to improving life in the now normal is to find some inner calm and spaciousness and hang out there for a bit.
by Sharon Saline, PsyD
Summer is supposed to be fun and carefree, but with social distancing entering its fifth month for some, your life might feel anything but. With restrictions on where to go and what to do, people are tired of dealing with COVID and emotions are running high. Everybody is wondering how to use the summer for some much needed rest, recovery, and rejuvenation.
For folks living with ADHD, time to unwind is especially critical. Your brain really needs time and space to integrate the many COVID-related changes and their challenges to your executive functioning skills. Whether or not you live alone, doing something regularly that sparks joy and comfort can transform your life. Instead of feeling like a leaky bucket losing energy every day you can plug that hole by regaining your strength.
Self-care is critical for so many reasons: resilience, confidence, and rebalancing. With the high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression people experience right now, taking time for restorative activities that rejuvenate us may feel like a luxury. But it’s not: It’s essential to your mental health. When we don’t feel taken care of, we become frustrated more easily, lashing out at people around us.
While some people feel nervous about going places again or seeing friends, others feel increasingly depressed, withdrawing social contact. Parents are especially burnt out. They may wake up, try to start the day with a good attitude, only to have it ruined by breakfast by inane arguments with their kids. Everybody’s nerves are frayed.
For adults, teens, and children with ADHD—who naturally struggle with higher levels of frustration due to struggles from impulse and emotional control—managing their anger, disappointment, worry, and sadness about COVID summer losses can be particularly challenging.
The trick to surviving this extended shelter-in-place is to commit to some type of regular self-care for yourself—and foster this self-care for each person in your household. Figure out what helps you regain your sense of calm, and then help your loved ones to do the same.
Practicing self-care means much more than just taking a luxurious bath and lighting a nice candle, though those are always great! The idea is to check in with yourself, step outside of routines that cause you stress, re-center, and then enter back into the shared space of your home with a new mindset and attitude.
Follow these steps to clarify the specific activities and actions you (and your family members) can take.
- Discover what feels nurturing.
You can’t run on fumes. Our minds and bodies are intimately connected. Think about what soothes you or brings you joy. Meditation, exercise, yoga, music, cooking, gardening, reading—whatever makes you feel good. Make a playlist of music that makes you smile. Find some new podcasts you like. If you have kids, help them brainstorm what they like to do. Think of shared and solo activities for everyone in the family. Write these down and post the list in the kitchen so you can refer to it later. It’s okay for people to have different desires. For example: Your son reads comics in his room, your partner prefers Sudoku, your daughter plays with LEGOS, and you enjoy a ten-minute YouTube dance class. Maybe you bake cookies together and then enjoy a delicious snack. The point is to prioritize and practice what would help each of you de-stress. It doesn’t look the same for everybody.
- Pay as much or more attention to what’s going well as what is causing you difficulties.
Start keeping a list of three good things about each day. These can be small or large: eating a nice dinner, having a good conversation with a friend, completing a project, or wearing a favorite shirt. The point is noticing what’s gone well, not judging its value or significance. Create a nightly dinner conversation naming a high and low of the day. Take this approach with your partner and/or kids, too. Focus on the nice things they do, like cleaning the dishes instead of the things that might get on your nerves. A positive mental attitude does wonders for boosting self-esteem and promoting well-being.
- Focus on your resilience.
Think about a tough time you’ve experienced in the past. How did you get through? What did you do or say to yourself? Write down these words of encouragement and, using Post-Its, put them up where you can see them. The negativity bias in our brains leads us to focus on what’s wrong and what needs fixing: We evolved to avoid threats and solve problems for survival. Instead, look at your strengths and name them. Practice this with your partner and/or kids too. Remind them of how they got through a tough time in the past and what tools they can apply to this situation. Again, write some of these down because visual cues are critical for triggering a different response in the ADHD brain.
- Schedule downtime.
If you don’t put aside specific time for self-care, it won’t happen. Designate a special period for refueling each day (ideally) or each week. Set alerts on your phone to remind you. Step away from your computer, silence your phone, and regroup. Even five minutes a day will help you feel refreshed. Consider creating this time for your family as well. Lay out activities that your kids can do without supervision. If this means using screens, then make that part of their daily screen limits. Everybody needs quiet time apart, especially during this pandemic when we are living on top of each other so much. Prepare and plan for this break with your kids and/or your partner in advance. “Winging it” usually doesn’t bring about your desired results.
This summer is an important time for giving yourself some much-needed TLC. It may sound counterintuitive, but you have to do the legwork to make self-care occur and strategize how to make it happen. Set a reasonable goal that you can actually follow through on and, if you need support from a friend or loved one, ask for it. The key is to find some inner calm and spaciousness and hang out there for a bit.
Sharon Saline, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist and the author of the award-winning book, What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew: Working Together to Empower Kids for Success in School and Life. She’s also the creator of The ADHD Solution Deck, which offers effective strategies for reducing stress, building skills, and fostering self-esteem. Learn more at www.drsharonsaline.com.