Ask the Experts

ADHD Fatigue: What It Looks Like, How to Motivate

ADHD fatigue is a real consequence of the stress, uncertainty, Zoom interactions, home schooling, and social media onslaught of the pandemic. Here, learn how to motivate your ADHD brain in a healthy way today.

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ADHD and Zoom Exhaustion

Q: “The triple whammy of the pandemic, the economy, and now the protests is exhausting. Is it normal for my focus and productivity to decrease because of all this? Some days I feel overwhelmed and hopeless.”

A: Let’s not beat around the bush; it is overwhelming and it is a lot for us to bear. Many, many people are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted now. Zoom exhaustion is a real thing. You have to pay more attention when you work online because you have to focus harder on fewer visual cues to read what is going on with the other person.

Normally, we get a wide range of cues — we rely on body language, sounds, and visual information. Now we have to rely just on visual information that we process in a very small window. This is stressful — not just for our eyes and our brains but also for our emotional selves. We are also trying to process information from multiple people at once within the Zoom confines, and this is further stressful for brains with ADHD and executive function challenges that need more time to take in information, figure out what it means, and then to respond. That’s harder to do online, so there is a constant level of pressure and stress.

How can you address that exhaustion? Have some type of daily non-screen, nurturing activity that feels like self care. It’s easy to be on your computer throughout the day, have dinner, and then watch TV at night. But that isn’t going to actually enliven you. I force myself to shut down my computer at lunch time, read the newspaper, get outside and take a walk. That’s what it looks like for me to give myself permission to extricate myself from that online world, which persists constantly.”

ADHD and Pandemic Fatigue

Q: “I find that I’m way more scatterbrained now, even on my medication I’m forgetting stuff way more and it’s extremely frustrating. This should not be happening; I’m in my 30s! Is the pandemic anxiety and stress and worry enhancing some of the ADHD symptoms even though I’m still taking my medication? I often say I’m in my 30s with Alzheimer’s because that’s how bad it is!”

A: You do not have Alzheimer’s. What you have is a stressed out ADHD brains. And stress affects your brain, particularly your working memory. Emotions drive working memory; that is how we attach importance to things and recall it. Whatever intense feelings you are having — anxiety, depression, stress, tension, disappointment — your already-weakened executive function skills will be further compromised.

Lower your expectations about your performance a bit. Maybe your expectations are a bit too high for yourself — and maybe for your kids, too.

Use tools to build working memory skills. Alerts. Reminders. Technology can be your friend. Post-Its. Brain breaks to integrate information. And when you are giving information to a child who has ADHD, make eye contact, state your direction, and ask them to repeat it back to you — not once but twice. I call this the Rule of 3 because it’s that second repetition that helps with encoding in the working memory.

ADHD and Lack of Motivation

Q: “I really get down on myself when I can’t seem to ‘bootstrap’ myself to get going. My friends are able to motivate themselves even during the pandemic. It’s easy to spiral into frustration, anger, and self loathing when you can’t seem to muster up the energy or momentum to complete the things you want to or have to.”

A: The first thing I want to say is, be kinder to yourself, please! The online world fosters comparisons that all make us feel worse about ourselves. Because we are online a lot, we are susceptible to these comparisons and they are not real — no one can live up to that ideal posted online.

I remember one of my 15-year-old clients said to me once, “No one ever posts on Facebook that they have a breakout on their face or they got a C on their last paper.” No, people don’t. What they’re posting is their beautiful dinner and how well they are managing. I’m here to tell you: It’s OK to have lost focus and productivity. It’s OK to struggle with motivation. I was talking with a friend who is a musician and she was saying that many musicians have lost motivation now because they have lost what they love most: performing with other people. So, yes, it is absolutely normal to lack motivation For people with ADHD who struggle with motivation, it is doubly difficult.

I would encourage you to meet procrastination and lethargy by doing the following:

  • break your tasks into smaller chunks
  • schedule 10-minute breaks where you leave the room and your computer; leave yourself a note so you can go back to it
  • hydrate
  • get some fresh air

Updated on July 20, 2020

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