Exercise & Health

Will This Quarantine Ever End?!? ADHD Brains Grasping for Structure and Certainty

As quarantine drags on without an end date, many adults with ADHD are feeling ungrounded and overwhelmed with uncertainty. Implementing healthy habits, like exercise and a healthy diet, can help counter irritability and despair while providing structure for your day.

Fitness workout at home. Healthy fit young woman doing triceps dips exercise in the living room.
Fitness workout at home. Healthy fit young woman doing triceps dips exercise in the living room.

Q: “There is no end in sight for quarantine, and my ADHD brain is daunted by the increasing uncertainty and unstructured time. How do I cope?”

Quarantine makes some things easier and it makes some things harder. For example, it’s easier to save money on food when you can’t go out to eat. But ordering groceries in advance requires time management and meal planning. Or, many people have more time to exercise, but none of us can go to the gym. Some of these restrictions will be temporary, but it is unclear how long quarantine will last.

Emotional dysregulation in adults with ADHD can cause emotions to be felt more intensely than they would in neurotypical adults. So during a global pandemic, it makes sense that you’re experiencing an increase in negative emotions like impatience, despair, or irritability. Many of my clients describe feeling adrift in days that blend into weeks. Feelings of overwhelm combined with disrupted sleep and routine can also heighten these negative emotions.

The good news is, practicing healthy habits can help your ADHD brain create structure in your otherwise now-unstructured day. Getting into bed or out of bed at specific times, making yourself breakfast, working out for a set period — these habits can all act as placeholders and markers for the other points of time in the day.

Exercise, in particular, can have a moderating effect on our more negative emotions. Although the gym is no longer an option, quarantine has resulted in an abundance of online exercise classes, YouTube videos, and workout apps. But if you’re an adult with ADHD, too many options can be overwhelming — and make it feel impossible to get started.

[Do I Have ADHD? Take This Test To Find Out]

To simplify, identify an activity or exercise that you know you enjoy. If you detest yoga and staying still, try a virtual dance class instead. Choose something that is entertaining enough that it doesn’t feel like a death march to get yourself to do it. A bit of social pressure or accountability is a good idea: tell your partner or friends that you want to start working out and let them know when you plan on exercising. Ask them to check in on your progress, or even invite them to do the class with you — body doubles help adults with ADHD stay focused and get things done.

You can also set yourself up for success by choosing the best time of day to exercise. If you plan for 5 pm, but then realize your children or partner are hungry and it’s time to start cooking, then maybe the morning could be a better option. Or, if you have video calls spread out throughout the day, get dressed in workout clothes and fit in some exercise during a work break.

Sometimes it’s also a matter of making good food choices beforehand so that you’re not starving by the time you’re supposed to work out, or too full to exercise. Also keep in mind that some of your irritability comes from low blood sugar. Quarantine is a convenient time to try and start eating healthier. Since we are all stuck eating whatever we have in the house, try to have healthy options available — the temptation of going out for a drink or fast food is eliminated. Cooking is one of the main activities available, so use this time to experiment with healthy recipes.

Ultimately, it’s important to keep in mind that partial progress is still progress. Even if you’re just exercising a few days each week, that might still be a measurable difference. Focus on what you can do next, regardless of what happened yesterday. There is no superior way to handle quarantine, but using this time to focus on your health can alleviate some inevitable negative emotions and give you more energy to get through the day.

The following information came from Ari Tuckman’s webinar titled “Healthy Habits for ADHD Brains: Everyday Activities That Unlock a Longer, Healthier Life.” Watch the free replay here.

[Use This Guide: What to Eat (and Avoid) for Improved ADHD Symptoms]

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