Stress & Anxiety

On Piloting My ADHD Brain Through This Pandemic

“This crisis is different. It’s chronic. We don’t do well with prolonged emergencies. We’re better in the short term, like calling the ambulance if someone falls on the ice… This time, our ADHD is not coming to our rescue. It’s getting pummeled from all directions.”

It’s everywhere. The pandemic is seeping into every nook and cranny of our ADHD lives, disrupting our carefully crafted routines.

So how are you holding up? I’ve talked to women with ADHD who are staying in bed with the covers pulled up and boosting the dose of their anxiety meds. I know people with ADHD who are making daily trips to Costco (uh – that would be me). Some are working at home; some are taking care of kids or grandkids, learning first-hand about home schooling and e-learning.

Without belaboring the “protect yourself” advice found in virtually every email we receive, I wanted to make a few observations about how we, as an ADHD community, are handling this crisis.

We’re Already Distracted

Now the rest of the world is, too. With this huge distraction — and danger — bearing down on us, our ADHD is kicking into overdrive. Even the simplest tasks are torture. Details drift away from us more than usual. We’re staring down a triple layer of anxiety, distraction, and fear — a terrible burden for the ADHD brain.

I hate to say, “So this is how ADHD feels” to my neurotypical friends, but I’m too addled to come up with snappier responses to their complaints right now. While I write this, there is a tsunami of uncertainty churning just behind my happy facade. I am distracted. Now I’m trying to focus on staying alert and vigilant, too. Good reason to make sure your meds are up to date, and that your regular routines stay in place. Acknowledge that ADHD is going to get in the way — embrace it and make accommodations for it.

[Click to Read: “We Live in the Upside Down Now. Grace Is Pivotal Here.”]

We’re Supposed to Be at Our Best in a Crisis

When the world is collapsing, folks with ADHD are on high alert, all brain cells functioning, thinking of solutions and support that never occur to those already panicked. For example, a friend with ADHD whose husband is recovering from brain surgery rented an RV to get him back home. It would be a 17-hour drive. She stocked the RV with protective clothing, toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and food, organizing it all into precise, neat compartments. Why? Because her ADHD was overridden by the dopamine produced by the urgency of the moment.

But this crisis is different. It’s chronic. We don’t do well with prolonged emergencies. We’re better in the short term, like calling the ambulance if someone falls on the ice, notifying relatives, and picking up the mail. This time, our ADHD is not coming to our rescue. It’s getting pummeled from all directions. We struggle to make sense of the onslaught of new information and stimuli that our brains are juggling each day.

There Are So Many Things to Do and Remember

For people who have trouble remembering to take their daily medications, it’s a lot to remember to wash hands 20 times a day, use hand sanitizer, avoid your face, and keep a 6-foot buffer between you and potential contagion at all times. Even if you are staying home, it’s easy to fall into a black hole of endless newscasts and grim updates. There are new routines, enhanced precautions, and more data bombarding us every day. Yes, it’s a lot.

Our Impulsive, Rebellious Side Can Be Dangerous

A woman with ADHD whom I know well sequesters herself even on normal days, but when confronted with the possibility of being forced to isolate or “shelter in place,” she feels trapped. Worse, she mentioned rebelling and taking to the streets anyway. I understand bristling at the top-down restriction on her freedom, but in this case, her impulsivity could kill her. I never really thought that ADHD was a killer, but Russell Barkley says we have a shorter life expectancy for exactly these reasons: impulsivity, recklessness, short-term thinking. We have to do better with those right now.

[ADHD Catastrophizing in Times of Crisis: What To Do When Fear Spirals]

We’re Impatient People

If you are confined to home, chances are good that you are developing cabin fever. That feeling of frustration and impatience is not limited to people with ADHD. But we may suffer more because of our short attention span and need for external stimulation.

I’m not suggesting that we should band together and put on a square dance or carnival, but we might be a touch more antsy than our neurotypical friends and neighbors. Which is where our good friend the Internet can be used for beneficial distraction. (Stay away from social media, though. It’s too sensationalized and full of misinformation). It’s OK to spend some time playing games, texting friends, and checking up on family online.

Perhaps you see this at-home time as an opportunity to tackle some of the projects you’ve always promised to do “when time allows.” Now you have the time — unless, like me, you are still working. I’ve never been more grateful for the fact that I work at home and that most of my work is done online. Even so, it’s harder now to focus. A client of mine who is working from home said, “It feels like a snow day. I don’t want to work. I just want to sit in an easy chair and read a book.” That’s maybe not such a bad idea. A calmer ADHD brain is always a good thing.

We Are Compassionate to a Fault

People are fighting over the last box of Cheese-Its at Walmart, but I know people with ADHD who agonize because they feel it is selfish to hold on to a bundle of toilet paper when others are in need. Our generosity — to the point of ignoring our own needs for the benefit of others — is legendary.

There’s a middle ground here, people. You need toilet paper, too. Share some. Keep some. Run errands for elderly neighbors, but take your disinfectant wipes. Let’s maintain our compassion and take care of our families and ourselves at the same time.

We Are, Bottom-Line, Realistic People

Don’t tell us fairy tales. There is so much misinformation swirling around it’s dizzying. It’s hard to tease out the facts from the fiction, especially when the facts are shifting daily, sometimes hourly. Find a news source you trust and stick with it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the authority of record, but its wings were cut when budgets were eliminated or reduced. It doesn’t have all the answers, but there are reliable studies that have scientific footing about the infectious disease and how long droplets can live on a cardboard box. You have ADHD, so you are really, really good at research. Find straightforward answers that are based on science, not hysteria.

I’m sure there is more, but my ADHD brain is slowing down again. It has short spurts of clarity, then sinks into lethargy again.

My bottom line: We are creative, innovative, and smart. We can’t outsmart this thing, but I’ll bet my bottom dollar that the best solutions will come from creative brains like ours.

We can create interesting things to do during these times to keep our brains awake and alive with positivity, not gloom and doom. We can maintain our routines or create new ones that work for now. We can take the long view and know that eventually this thing will end.

In the meantime, we need to breathe in, breathe out, and smile. Life is still beautiful.

[Download This Free Resource: Make Mindfulness Work for You]


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Updated on May 20, 2020

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  1. My ADHD is coupled with social anxiety, so I was staying at home more or less anyways and was seen as the weirdo. Now I don’t stand out anymore and finally, fit in with a lot more experience than let’s say, my normal husband.
    However, all those tasks I have piled up…nope. Just looking at them triggers that fidgety squirrel.
    But I am working (translating) and producing music non-stop!

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