Stress & Anxiety

How to Feel Carefree When You Have ADHD

How adults with attention deficit disorder can recapture the natural enthusiasm of childhood with a simple shift in awareness.

Strategies for Adults with ADHD: No More Anxiety
Strategies for Adults with ADHD: No More Anxiety

Remember what it was like to be a kid on a lazy summer afternoon, when your chores were done and you were free to play? Remember the natural enthusiasm you felt for whatever came next?

For most adults — especially those of us with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) — those good feelings are a distant memory. We’re too caught up in everyday activities and obligations. Between getting out the door each morning and climbing into bed each night, meals have to be prepared, laundry folded, bills paid, homework done.

With so many demands on us, it’s hard to enjoy even an occasional belly laugh, much less revel in freedom and spontaneity. But via a simple shift in awareness, it’s possible to recapture those childlike feelings. Here’s what to do:

Become an observer of your mental process. Imagine sitting on your own shoulder and watching your thoughts and emotions flit by. Are you busy thinking about the future, which often feeds anxiety? Are you ruminating about the past, which fuels sadness, regret, and guilt? Are you constantly analyzing and assessing situations? How much of your day is caught up in negative thinking patterns?

Realize that you are the creator of your thoughts and feelings. Just as a painter creates art on a blank canvas, so we create our thoughts and feelings. While it’s O.K. to “watch” your mind as it goes about its business, try not to take your thoughts and emotions so seriously. Don’t “run with” negative thoughts or emotions. Don’t let them spiral out of control.

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Fight the impulse to analyze or act on each passing thought or feeling. Just watch as your thoughts and feelings pass by, as you might gaze at windswept clouds. As you become more skilled at merely observing your thoughts, you’ll feel more “in the moment.”

Worries, fears, and obsessive thinking should prove less troublesome, and you’ll feel more comfortable trusting your own innate wisdom. As you increase your awareness of the present moment, the urge to get to the next moment or the next thought or feeling decreases — and a deep sense of understanding, calm, and inner peace emerges. Once you master the art of noticing when you get caught up in mental chaos, you’ll be able to quickly return to the present moment.

Ultimately, the human mind is a toolbox. People with ADHD often assume that analytical thinking is the most useful tool in the box. In fact, if you devote all your time to rational thinking or to obsessively analyzing and reanalyzing your thoughts and emotions, you’ll be unable to make use of common sense. And this is the very tool you need to gain important insights and to solve difficult problems.

Many people with ADHD have had the experience of effortlessly solving a tough problem while in the shower, when they weren’t thinking so hard about it. Consider the ease with which people with ADHD can control their thinking when they are under intense pressure to meet a deadline.

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Of course, analytical thinking has its place. You can’t learn new information or balance a checkbook without it. But if you can observe your own mental process and take thoughts and emotions less seriously, life will seem less pressured. You’ll feel more creative and energetic. You’ll be more productive. And you’ll experience a deeper sense of joy and greater fulfillment in your relationships.

It really is possible: Here at the Hallowell Center, we’ve seen it happen again and again.