For those of us with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), a little worry can quickly escalate to full-blown anxiety. When stress levels rise, we procrastinate, which only exacerbates ADD/ADHD symptoms. We become more forgetful, disorganized, and distracted. Amy, a working mother diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, is a worrier. As a freelance event planner, she uses her inclination to worry to anticipate problems that might ruin an event. She is successful, in part, because of it. At home, though, Amy can’t turn off the worry switch.
We agreed that life was not as easy as planning for an event. Life is unpredictable. When Amy realized that needless worry was sapping her emotional energy and motivation, she made changes that gave her a sense of peace. These days, when Amy worries about something she can’t do anything about, she writes her worry down on a scrap of paper, shreds it, and stops thinking about it. She also takes yoga classes three times a week, which reduces anxiety. Here are other suggestions that help Amy worry less and enjoy life more:
Limit or postpone worrisome thoughts.
Set a timer and give yourself permission to worry, for a specific amount of time. Writing worries down to mull over later also helps free you from them. Reading about something you worried about in the fresh light of a new day makes it seem unfounded.
Try for perfect; settle for imperfect.
Making your best effort at work is always a good goal. But you can’t be perfect in all facets of your job, or your life, without your effort causing you worry and burnout. A client of mine is an excellent technical writer, who works in health-care communications. When she started her job, she’d fret over e-mails and memos to coworkers, making sure every word was a pearl, sometimes at the expense of meeting the deadline. This resulted in 60-hour workweeks, burnout, and, eventually, late assignments. We decided she would save her writing skills, and her perfectionism, for the documents that really counted -- the ones that were written for outside clients.
Do what you can.
Thinking about everything that could go wrong does not make life more predictable or safe. Excessive worry prevents you from enjoying the present. Those with ADD/ADHD worry about things going wrong, because things have gone wrong in the past. Doing things differently gives you the assurance that you’ve done all you can to change the outcome. So you can stop worrying. One ADD/ADHD mom who went back to work after maternity leave worried about whether the nanny she hired would take good care of her daughter while she was at the office. She installed a nanny-cam that allowed her to monitor the babysitter. It calmed her fears.
Re-frame negative thoughts.
Many with ADD/ADHD have low self-esteem, which results in negative thinking and debilitating worry. Challenging negative thoughts with positive thinking can short-circuit the process. Sam, a new hire at a prestigious law firm, felt insecure about being able to do a good job. We decided that, when he had doubts, he should remind himself that the brightest in the business decided to hire him over other applicants.
Tell your worry to a supportive friend.
I had a tough time picking out a dress for my son’s wedding. It should have been the happiest shopping trip I ever made, but it wasn’t. I worried about everything I tried on: Was it too short? The wrong color? Too fancy? Too plain? I couldn’t make a decision until I asked my girlfriend to join me on a second trip. She dismissed my worries, and I walked out with the perfect dress.
Learn relaxation exercises.
Simple breathing techniques, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can be done almost any time that worries escalate and create indecision and inaction. Several studies show that meditation increases attention while reducing stress.