Brain Health

How to Re-Build a Life: 7 Framing Tools for ADHD Minds Emerging from Quarantine

“Back to normal” no longer exists. Our world is forever changed, which means our post-pandemic lives are up for definition. What elements will you leave out and put back in, after social distancing ends? Will you take away any positives or new understandings from this pandemic? Use these strategies to help you think about how to re-build your life after this global pause.

Wooden blocks forming a pie chart.

Against a backdrop of crisis and tragedy, this pandemic has afforded us a remarkable opportunity to take a gigantic pause. The world has stopped in a way it’s never stopped before, and the time is now ripe to think about how we emerge from this situation with our “normal” redefined. In other words, with almost everything about our past lives taken from us, what elements do we want to include and exclude, post-pandemic?

Many have undoubtedly recognized this opportunity to reset and reassess. Questions about how to approach goals and priorities after the pandemic are already swirling in our minds. Whether it’s better managing ADHD, strengthening relationships, or streamlining everyday tasks, the following tools may help you assess your situation with intention and create truly meaningful changes in your life going forward.

The strategies below work best in a specific environment: One of personal kindness. When working through these, be gentle with yourself. Recognize that this time of getting back to normal is a struggle for many people, your emotions are valid, and you are doing your best.

Change Your Life: Clearing the Deck

There’s a technique in psychology called “clearing the deck,” where you imagine removing elements of your life as a way to start from scratch and assess what’s really important. If it sounds familiar, it’s because this technique is currently our reality. So, rather than imagine, I urge you to view this rare moment as your own very tangible clearing the deck exercise. We now get the opportunity to “Marie Kondo” our lives.

Use these questions to help you begin to focus in on what you really want to “keep,” or continue doing, and what you could do without:

[Click to Read: How Could This Pandemic Change Me for Good?]

  • If you’ve transitioned to working from home, how is the new structure and schedule helping you (or not?)
  • Are you better able to manage your ADHD at home now? Why or why not?
  • Have you used your ADHD medication differently? Do you need to connect with your physician for tweaking?
  • If at home with your partner, are you enjoying spending time together?
  • Do you enjoy having an activity to do every night?
  • Are there any activities that, looking down the line, don’t seem exciting or fulfilling to carry on?
  • What’s working for you and your family? What’s not?
  • Who have you enjoyed talking and reaching out to? Who are you less excited about?

Change Your Life: The Wheel of Life

If you need help better conceptualizing your present and your ideal future, the “Wheel of Life” exercise might help. In this activity, you’ll shade in slices of a circle to create a pie-chart of sorts that shows how happy you are in certain areas of your life (this highly visual activity may work exceptionally well for people with ADHD). Start by drawing a circle, then divide it into 10 or so sections – or pieces of your pie.

In this exercise, I recommend that the pie chart include each of the following areas of your life (however, please feel free to adjust to best meet your needs):

  • Health
  • ADHD management
  • Finances
  • Social relationships
  • Spirituality or faith
  • Career
  • Family
  • Romance
  • Self-Care
  • Fun

[Read: What If ‘Back to Normal’ Is Terrifying?]

Then begin shading in each section from the center and out relative to the amount you feel you are doing well in that area. For instance, if you’re thrilled with your exercise routine, a significant portion of that part of the circle would be shaded — perhaps 80%. If you’re not handling your finances well, on the other hand, that section of the circle might have very little shading — perhaps only 20%. The idea of the Wheel of Life is to give you a quick snapshot of where you see how well you are doing in various parts your life now, and which areas need more help and attention.

Let’s work through one together — social relationships: Suppose you realize, as a result of this pandemic, that there aren’t as many people in your life as you would like (a small portion of the wheel would be shaded to represent this category). One step would be to consider what behaviors need to change for you to have more friends? Can ADHD be getting in the way, as it can for many?

If you know you’re not good at following through and connecting, a behavioral change could be to plan or schedule a time to call or text a friend. You can also challenge yourself to go through your contacts list and simply connect with old friends and others on the fly. Since most people are home, see if you can find ways to connect virtually.

Engaging in common activities is also a great way to find friends, so consider joining a group (even a virtual one) for people who share your interests — that may be a bicycle group, a book club, or a cooking class.

You might also want to take a look at some webinars, podcasts, or other resources on making and keeping friends. But if you’re really struggling in this area, please know there’s help. Reach out to a coach or a psychologist to see if there are skills you can build on or things that you need to work out or unblock so that you can have a fuller life with others.

Change Your Life: Essentials to Keep You Afloat Now — and After

This pandemic will ease, no matter how impossible that may feel at the moment. As you prepare for and work towards getting back to your life, practice using these techniques and resilience strategies to help guide you.

Reframing: This strategy is used frequently in psychology, especially in cognitive-behavioral psychology. Reframing is used to help us right-size a situation or see it differently to change our feelings toward it. Many people, for example, feel that they’re “stuck at home” now. Could you reframe this as being “tucked safely at home,” to evoke a completely different set of emotions? Reframing can also enhance feelings of gratitude — a quality proven to boost happiness. What you tell yourself about situations matters.

Resilience: Cultivating a resilient mindset involves building on four key, interwoven qualities.

  • Kindness: To work on this, think about how you can help someone now, in spite of your own struggles or limitations. That could mean helping an elderly neighbor get groceries. Fortunately, you can even arrange that from the comfort of your home with online ordering! Kindness also involves being good to yourself, so don’t be afraid to take time for you in these stressful times and walk away from the things that may add anxiety, like the news cycle or comparing your situation to that of others on social media. Pay attention to your internal language, too, and cut yourself some slack — celebrate the small accomplishments and don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Gratitude: There are so many things that we can be grateful for even now, and practicing gratitude for can often help you get through situations much easier. Try starting and ending each day by reflecting on a couple of things for which you are grateful. You can just acknowledge it, journal, draw it out, or do a collage. These days, chicken and toilet paper make my list.
  • Humor: Think of things that make you smile and try to make people laugh. It could be remembering funny memories with the family. It could be posting one funny thing on Facebook a day (something I’ve started doing, which my friends seem to like!)
  • Connections: Strengthen bonds with the special folks in your life and take advantage of technologies that allow you to connect. I’ve had some fun get-togethers on FaceTime and Zoom, and I love using Trickster to play card games with my friends.

As we begin to think about life after the pandemic, move with intention to keep and further develop strategies, skills, and supports that you have found to be important. Know that we all will be emerging a bit different from this experience. What that looks like for you and your family is up to you.

[Read This Next: Surprising Lessons Learned in a Quarantine — When ADHD Brains Pause and Reflect]

The content for this article is based on Michele Novotni’s ADDitude webinar, “ADHD Life: Reassessing Goals and Priorities After a Pandemic,” which broadcasted live on April 30, 2020.

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