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How ADHD Coaching – from a Distance – is Getting Us Through This Pandemic

Remote learning stress. Lack of structure and productivity. Off-the-charts anxiety. This pandemic has inflamed a wide range of challenges. And now many adults and adolescents are turning to ADHD coaching for its judgement-free nature and practical strategies — invaluable in these times.

Rescue concept to illustrate how ADHD coaching is helping people through the pandemic

Consciously or otherwise, we are all honing new coping mechanisms to manage the stress, overwhelm, anxiety, and exhaustion brought on by this pandemic. In recent surveys, ADDitude readers have told us they’re trying everything — from adjusting medication to limiting news intake to practicing mindful meditation — to stay ahead of ADHD symptoms nowadays.

Some readers are also finding great success with a unique resource they say is helping them reduce anxiety, improve time management and organization, and stick to healthy habits: ADHD coaching.

What is ADHD Coaching?

Like a life coach, an ADHD coach supports an individual as they work to achieve important goals or tasks. The big difference? ADHD coaches are intimately familiar with common challenges posed by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) — like procrastination, distractibility, and poor planning — and they help clients accomplish personal and professional goals with strategies built specifically for ADHD minds.

ADHD coaches typically work with clients in person, but many have long provided services by phone and video conference, and other methods that are now the norm with social distancing.

ADHD Coaching to Provide Structure

Sharla H. was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult about 10 years ago, but she admits to “forgetting” about her diagnosis — until the pandemic hit. Anxiety, depression, and overwhelm characterized her first few months in lockdown.

“I noticed life was harder for me once I stopped working and stayed home due to COVID-19,” she said. “I recognized I needed help.”

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

Finding a new physician to reconfirm her diagnosis and to prescribe ADHD medication helped, but persistent struggles with executive functioning and daily living finally led her to hire an ADHD coach. Weekly one-hour sessions are helping her very specifically structure her days and get “unstuck” while working from home.

“I have difficulties with activation,” she said. “Ambiguity is the biggest stressor for me. Not knowing where to start and feeling overwhelmed by the unknown kept me stuck.”

Sharla’s ADHD coach asks specific questions about her day’s tasks to determine where ambiguity may strike, and then offers strategies to keep her going. “I now know to split the big task into smaller tasks to eliminate as much ambiguity as possible,” she said. “By splitting it up, I find the smallest task, and start with one small action. Things feel less overwhelming, and I get stuff done.”

[Click to Read: How to Get Stuff Done Without Getting Bogged Down]

The tailor-made nature of ADHD coaching is key. “I know I’m intelligent and adaptable, but I haven’t been able to figure these things out on my own,” Hopkins said. “It is so helpful to have a trained professional guide me and create a road map for me, my life, and my brain.”

ADHD Coaching to Teach Independence

Some students with ADHD also use executive function (EF) coaches, who specifically build planning, working memory, organization, and other self-management skills. They are like a life coach when your life is largely school.

Diana Renn, who once worked as an EF coach herself, had long contemplated hiring such a coach for her son with ADHD, now entering the eighth grade in Massachusetts. “The pandemic solidified this decision, and accelerated it,” she said. Unusual and difficult learning conditions contributed to the decision.

With an EF coach, Renn is hoping to first target planning and prioritizing skills – the greatest areas of need for her son – but is also aiming for long-term solutions to everyday challenges. “Overall, we’re looking for greater independence navigating his school days, and establishing good habits and systems that can carry over into high school and into eventual post-pandemic life.”

Renn’s son began building a rapport with his EF coach one month prior to the start of school. Now, hour-long remote sessions take place weekly, and there’s time slotted in each session for the parent, child, and coach to connect on goals. Between each session, her son works toward a predetermined goal, and the coach keeps tabs via text.

“He takes more initiative to organize or deal with his belongings and is much more able and eager to discuss daily schedules, plans, and goals with us,” Renn said of her son’s progress so far. “Self-esteem is another important indicator of progress — he is expressing pride in doing certain things independently.”

Her son’s success has improved family relationships as well. “We have more energy and joy as a family because there is significantly less nagging,” she said. “When my voice isn’t hoarse from offering endless reminders and suggestions, I can tell that real progress is happening — and we’re freed up to talk about other things!”

EF skills coaching — like any coaching service — comes at a price. “I believe coaching is a valuable investment and worth every penny,” Renn said. “That said, it is not cheap. Especially for families with more than one child, and particularly for families economically impacted by COVID, this may not seem like a realistic path.”

ADHD Coaching to Build Accountability

Brian Wightman has been working from his Vermont home since March 2020. Though he was already working with an ADHD coach to address career-related problems, he calls it his “most powerful medicine” for keeping his remote-working routine on track.

“I am very clever at making excuses,” he said of his telecommuting challenges. “My energy for addressing challenges waxes and wanes.”

Wightman’s ADHD coach has focused on helping him direct his attention to completing long-term work projects and scoring favorable reviews. “My coach is a consistent, monotonous messenger – What choices are you making? Did you do the things that you know will work? What is the first step of doing that job, and when are you going to do it? She forces me to answer these questions to do what I have to do.”

Wightman uses videoconferencing to meet with his ADHD coach once a week, and in between they exchange daily emails that list successes, challenges, tasks, and progress for the week.

“My ADHD coach provides daily accountability, ensuring that I use my tools, that I not forget my long-term goals and commitments, and that my triumphs — no matter how small — are appreciated.”

ADHD Coaching to Reduce Anxiety

Rachel, a nurse based in Arizona, has been working with an ADHD coach for about a year, but calls the last six months pivotal. Renewed stress brought by the pandemic and her work as an essential employee has caused her anxiety to flare up considerably.

“I’m worried about my patients, my family, and people in general,” she said. “I am worried my brothers, for example, will be exposed to COVID at school, and that I will get it from them and pass it on to my medically fragile patients.”

“There are no mundane shopping trips or restaurant meals or movie theater matinees — so it is hard to take a break from the worry,” she said.

To manage stress, Rachel and her ADHD coach have revisited stress management techniques. She is working on getting to bed earlier to prevent burnout and exercising as an “outlet for nervous energy.”

“The thing with coaching is that it’s all about practical goals,” she said. “How do I get to bed on time? How do I plan my day? What’s really important to me? I’ve done therapy as well, and while it can be extremely beneficial for mental and emotional health, it never had the positive direct impact on day-to-day functioning that coaching has had for me.”

For Glynda Fox, of Oklahoma, hiring a life coach has helped her teen daughter, whose ADHD and anxiety spiked at the start of the pandemic. “Distance learning has been a big concern. She is already very stressed and did not do well with online learning last spring.”

The life coach, who has ADHD herself, is helping Fox’s daughter gain prioritization and planning skills to make schoolwork more manageable. Meeting weekly in person (with masks and proper distancing), the coach boosts dopamine production by instilling reward systems to celebrate all kinds of victories. Avoiding excessive media exposure is also part of her stress-management plan.

“I hope she continues to learn coping skills that help her with motivation and prioritization, given her ADHD struggles,” Fox said. But more than that, especially with the current world events, I want her to have a strong sense of self and to know she is capable of adaptation.”

ADHD Coaching to Build Confidence and Self-Esteem

Fox said her daughter’s self-esteem has blossomed thanks to her life coach. Verbal communication with peers and in the classroom has always been a struggle for her (stemming from issues with selective mutism), but progress is being made. “She struggles a lot with feeling intimidated by those in authority. Now, she is much more apt to directly discuss concerns with her teachers,” Fox said. “I believe so much of this comes from her life coach validating her beliefs and values and who she is as a person.”

For Carli V., who lives in Toronto, the pandemic meant a loss of momentum and of the things that contributed to her sense of self. Her ADHD coach of two years had been instrumental, she said, in helping her work through the self-esteem issues and emotional hang ups that came from years of living with undiagnosed ADHD. Her coach had also helped Carli secure a new job, which was compromised by social distancing and shutdowns.

“I had a good chunk of my self-esteem eggs in that basket,” she said. “As soon as everything closed down, I lost that sense of confidence and daily accomplishment. I woke up every day expecting to feel that same productivity, but there was only so much I could do at home, and eventually nothing felt important.”

Guilt and shame over staying in bed and ignoring chores consumed her, but her coach helped her reframe these actions as necessary components of a psychological recharge. Now, they are making room for what’s really important.

“My coach is a really great support in these times where I felt like I was losing control of everything,” Carli said. “Having an understanding, compassionate person who can help guide you through difficult situations, who understands your brain and can work with you to overcome challenges, or even just a person who you can vent to without judgment, has given me back so much self-esteem and confidence.”

“My coach ensures that there is space in our sessions for me to reflect and appreciate how far I’ve come – and gives me a socially distanced, Zoom-meeting pat on the back.”

A Life Coach for ADHD: Next Steps

Interviews lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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