It’s Okay to Put Yourself First Sometimes: Developing Self-Care

 ADHD Weekly, December 13, 2018

When you think about self-care, what comes to mind? Is it something as basic as brushing your teeth twice a day? Or, do you imagine a special event–like a trip to a spa, complete with yoga, massage, and pedicure?

It’s been said that self-care is really a form of parenting yourself when it comes to your own well-being. While a spa trip sounds lovely, it’s more of an indulgence. Using a day planner and following a routine, making and attending doctor and therapist appointments, developing an organizational system and then regularly scheduling the time to review all of these is the type of self-care an adult who has ADHD needs.

“Self-care in essence is the mindful taking time to pay attention to you, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that ensures that you are being cared for by you,” says Maria Baratta, PhD, LCSW. “Self-care goes a long way in managing stress and living your best life.”

ADHD coach Kari Miller, PhD, BCET, tells us that self-care should be a balance among five different areas:

  • physical needs
  • safety and security
  • love and belonging
  • self-esteem, self-respect, and self-efficacy, or your belief in your ability to succeed
  • fulfilling your talents and potential

Self-care for the adult with ADHD

Developing healthy self-care practices are part of the behavioral management of ADHD. Sometimes referred to as “coping skills,” they are the structures that allow someone to meet daily life demands and remain in a positive mindset. These are “activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness and restoring health. These activities are derived from knowledge and skills from the pool of both professional and lay experience. They are undertaken by lay people on their own behalf, either separately or in participative collaboration with professionals” (Self-care in mental health services: a narrative review.)

Professionals who treat adults with ADHD are encouraged to work with their patients to develop self-care strategies as their patients begin to improve with treatment. This is often by discussing ways to make the person’s environment more accommodating to their needs.

How you engage in self-care is up to you, and there is no one “correct” way. But there are many approaches that are complementary to one another and to your treatment plan.

Creating self-care strategies

What does self-care look like for an adult? Dr. Miller says it is being honest about your needs and how ADHD symptoms can make ordinary tasks (sorting mail, paying bills) difficult. It often begins with a day planner and establishing routines that work for you.

Physical needs
These are the basis of self-care—taking care of your health, your needs for water and food, shelter, exercise, and clothing. This can also mean scheduling times for meals or putting an appointment for grocery shopping  in your day planner.

“True rock-star self-care involves more than just attending to your physical needs,” says Dr. Miller.

Safety and security needs
These needs can involve some big issues, and you may have to get help from outside sources, such as a therapist or financial expert. Included are financial security—are you trying to save for a down payment on a house, but can’t seem to get there?—and physical security, which might mean living at risk of human or environmental harm. Emotional security is also included here—do you struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, anger?

Love and belonging
Self-care should include regular efforts to maintain positive relationships. Check in with yourself and make sure your relationships are strong and supportive in both directions. Dr. Miller also suggests finding a sense of belonging by joining support groups or groups with an interest that you share, such as a book or knitting club, a foreign language club, or a recreational sports team.

Self-esteem, self-respect, and self-efficacy
Do you sometimes forget to give yourself credit for all that you’ve done? A “mental scrapbook” can be a great way to focus on your successes instead of your mistakes and failures. Take a moment a couple of times a day to think about what’s going well in your life and what goals you have met—no matter how small. Another part of that might be learning to say no to activities that don’t interest you, people who are needy, and projects you don’t have time for. It can be difficult, but once you say no, it gets easier. At the same time, you may need to practice asking for help, whether with housework or on the job.

Fulfilling your talents and potential
You might think of this as living your life’s purpose, using your gifts to their greatest capacity. Spend a few minutes writing down your values—what’s really important to you in life—and think about how well your daily actions match up with them. Are there changes you might make to feel more fulfilled in your life or to fully develop your skills and talents?

Making time for your needs

Dr. Miller says there’s no need to tackle it all at once.

“Take one small step at a time, notice what’s gone right, and keep your eyes on the prize—that is the only way to make changes,” she says. “We can’t make changes all at once—the brain is not hard-wired for that. Instead of panicking, take an inventory and say, ‘Where do I feel that my needs could be met right now?’ Ask yourself, ‘Where is one place that I could start today and take one small step toward better management of this great gift of life that I have?’”

“If you don’t look after yourself, it is easy to become physically depleted, emotionally exhausted, resentful, depressed or angry, which in turn can mean your ADHD symptoms get worse, relationships suffer and performance at work suffers,” says Jacqueline Sinfield, author of Untapped Brilliance.

All self-care starts with your belief that you are valuable, Ms. Sinfield adds. Many people with ADHD have trouble putting themselves first, thinking they need to take care of others in their lives before focusing on themselves. That may be caused by a feeling that you’re not deserving of self-care, or that you think you don’t have time. But you’re likely to find that taking good care of yourself gives you a feeling of control and organization, things that may be missing from your life with ADHD.

Looking for more?

Join the discussion: Which of the five parts of self-care do you usually avoid? Why?