How to Focus

Now Is the Time for Realistic Expectations (and More ADHD Advice for a Pandemic)

Today’s crisis has adults with ADHD trapped in their homes with unfinished projects, upended routines, and endless opportunities for procrastination. Here, get expert strategies for riding out this pandemic with grace and kindness — for yourself and others.

A client once told me that, in a zombie apocalypse, her ADHD traits would save her. I hope we never find out, but I believe her whole-heartedly.

Many people with ADHD find that they are clear-headed and resilient in a crisis — able to tune out the static and hyperfocus on what needs to be done. But what happens when the crisis tells you to stay at home — cooped up with all that energy and all those ideas — for the foreseeable future? Here are a few tips for thriving and getting things done in the midst of the current pandemic.

ADHD In a Crisis: Continue Routines

People with ADHD don’t necessarily thrive with a super rigid schedule, but basic structure and routine is very helpful. It’s so tempting to sleep in, stay in your PJs, eat chocolate straight out of the bag, and watch TV all day while trapped at home. However, if you do this for more than a few days, it is going to negatively impact your mental and physical health.

Why not stay out of the hole, instead of struggling to climb out later? Here are a few specific routines that will help your brain continue working at its best:

  • Get up around the same time each day.
  • Take your medications and/or supplements.
  • Get dressed and shower regularly.
  • Schedule your meals and set a reminder to tell you to eat (and eat at a table).
  • Find ways to move your body at least once an hour.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Set specific work times.
  • Go outside at least once a day.

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ADHD In a Crisis: Take Medications and Supplements as Prescribed

It’s so tempting to stop taking ADHD medications and supplements when you’re not going into the office. You might think “I don’t need to focus today.” However, it’s important to remember that medications and supplements help with much more than just focusing at work or at school. These treatments help to regulate the neurotransmitters in the brain, and often substantially impact functioning in ways that may not be obvious. So, while trapped in a house with your family, keep taking your medications and supplements because they will very likely help you all remain calm and cordial.

ADHD In a Crisis: Finish Projects, Don’t Start Them

Suddenly, you have time! You realize there are 100 or 1,000 different projects you’ve been wanting to do around your house for years. This is the perfect opportunity! But wait! Many people with ADHD are great at starting projects, but not so great at finishing them.

Before you start anything new, look around and make a list of all the projects that need to be finished. Then focus on completing those. When you do finish a task, reward yourself! Research has found that even people without ADHD need to connect rewards directly with a completed task. Those who have ADHD need it even more because the reward centers of the brain don’t work as well as they could. So do a happy dance, have a treat, show someone what you finished, text pictures to a friend, whatever it is, do something to celebrate your completed tasks!

ADHD In a Crisis: Set Realistic Expectations

When stuck at home with lots of time on your hands, it’s easy to have either very high or very low expectations for yourself and those around you. People with ADHD often struggle to clarify and set realistic expectations, so this is a great chance to work on this skill.

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Sit down and make a list of what you expect of yourself and your family, then talk it over with a friend, coach, therapist, or spouse. Make sure to get feedback on whether or not your expectations are realistic and achievable. If you have children at home, make sure to talk with them about your clarified expectations and hear what their thoughts are, too! If you need guidance on clarifying expectations, check out Stephen Covey on this topic.

ADHD In a Crisis: Limit Your News Intake

Those living with ADHD often also experience anxiety. And nothing produces more anxiety than constant exposure to breaking news on a viral pandemic. Instead of constantly checking your Facebook feed, leaving the TV news on all day, or listening to one dire news podcast after another, consider limiting yourself to one to three articles or reports a day from reliable news organizations.

ADHD In a Crisis: Notice Your Procrastination

You just finished eating dinner at the table. You get up and walk to the living room to turn on the TV. Your dinner dishes are still on the dining room table, and your pots and pans are still in the kitchen. Before you sit down and turn on the TV, notice your procrastination. Bring it to your brain’s full attention and say “I am procrastinating right now.” Don’t judge your procrastination; just notice and observe it. Get curious about it. Realize that you can create the space in your mind to make a choice about whether to procrastinate. You never know — maybe sometimes you’ll find yourself choosing not to procrastinate.

ADHD In a Crisis: Take This Time to Learn About Your Brain

The ADHD brain is unique and there is so much to learn about it. Thankfully, we still have the internet and we can use it to access high quality, evidence-based information about ADHD. Check out these amazing resources:

If you want to get nerdy, check out the Journal of Attention Disorders and APSARD. ADDitude magazine has articles with lists of books on ADHD, which are great recommendations. Consider getting one of these books on your e-reader as an audio book. Also, consider setting up a free consultation call with a coach or exploring group coaching options. This is a great chance to get actual information about the services available to you to help you thrive with ADHD.

No matter what you’re doing during this strange experience, make sure to prioritize taking care of yourself and helping your brain to thrive. If you do that, you’ll come out the other side more ready to take on the world!

[Read This Next: Pandemic Stress Has Upended Life. Maybe an ADHD Coach Can Help.]

Noelle Lynn, LLMSW, ADHD-CCSP is the ADHD therapist at the ADHD Center of West Michigan. She specializes in the therapeutic treatment of ADHD, related disorders, and trauma.


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Updated on April 24, 2020

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