Stress & Anxiety

My 10 Secrets for Preserving Self and Sanity

ADHD is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. And chances are you don’t make recuperation a top priority — few of us do. Which is a problem, because no one else is going to make your health a priority unless you do. Get started today with these essential self-preservation strategies.

A woman does yoga to help her ADHD stress management.
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Self-Compassion

ADHD doesn't go away, but I can manage the stress it brings with a lot of self-nourishment. That means yoga, long walks, and longer books. You can call me selfish or high maintenance, but I know these “luxuries” are actually quite vital. It’s only when I devote time to my well-being that I’m able to take good care of my family — and achieve a happy, balanced, healthy life.

A woman takes a nap on the couch, one of her ADHD stress management strategies.
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Sleep

I have a love/hate relationship with sleep. My body craves it at the end of an exhausting day, but I find it sometimes impossible to transition into stillness. The slower my body moves, the faster my mind revs into high gear. When the afternoon crash rolls around (usually at 4 p.m.), I’ve learned that no amount of caffeine works better than a power nap. Sometimes all I need is a few minutes to refresh my mind.

Three women stretch in an exercise class, part of their ADHD stress management plan.
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Exercise

Exercise drags me out of my slumps, and calms me when I’m moving frantically fast. There’s just one problem: Most mornings I can’t get out of bed. I’ve tried all the recommended habit-forming tricks — sneakers by the bed, workout clothes ready to go, and early to sleep. Morning exercise just doesn't work for me, and I've stopped feeling bad about that. What does work is a varied schedule of yoga, dance, swimming, and gym workouts that keep me engaged and flexible.

Comedy and tragedy masks, a metaphor for the ups and downs of ADHD stress management
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Honoring My Push and Pull

My world is black and white. I’m either energized or exhausted, enthusiastic or uninterested.  This unsettled, self-conflicted feeling is almost impossible to explain to someone without ADHD. Knowing my needs, processing style, and focus cycles keeps me on a steady track. And having something fantastic to look forward to on my calendar helps keep my spirits up even when my body is feeling down.

A man sits with his hands in lotus position, part of his ADHD stress management plan.
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Meditation

Active minds need extra care. My rapid thoughts and time-blindness can make me (and innocent bystanders) tense and irritable. Meditation is the self-care that gives me control over my running-wild thoughts. Without it, I will invariably ruminate, obsess, and indulge in negative thoughts until they ruin my day. With present-moment meditation, I somehow find a calm place within my body, mind, and soul.

A woman gets a massage as part of her ADHD stress management routine.
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Massage

I end most days with tight muscles, a sore neck, and strained, exhausted eyes. When my body screams at me, I know I need to listen. If you can't afford a massage, save your pennies, ask your partner, or find an exercise program (such as yoga or body rolling) to ease the stiffness. The right masseuse can release inner tension and calm the tightest nerves. Find the restorative yoga poses that fit your body, and I can almost guarantee you’ll feel a weight lifted.

Dandelion fuzz blows away into the distance, a metaphor for letting go of stress with ADHD
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Be True to Yourself

Know yourself and don’t let others’ judgments weigh you down. A mom who needs extra alone time may feel guilty. A slow worker who needs more time to finish projects might feel shame. Trash those thoughts. Know what you need and how to provide yourself with a good dose of self-care each day. You are your top priority. You can't be there for others if you are not there for yourself.

A man holds up his hand to say, "No." Avoiding overwhelm is part of his ADHD stress management plan.
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Establish Healthy Boundaries

It’s hard to say “no,” especially when you’re a people-pleaser like me. I’ll cook everyone’s favorite food, all at the same meal. I’ll meet people for dinner when I need to stay home and unwind. If someone needs me, I want to be there even if I know I’ll regret it later. And every single time I don’t stick to my own healthy boundaries, I end up feeling dissatisfied and disappointed. I have to remember no is a word of compassion, for myself, and my loved ones.

A woman with ADHD wears a superhero costume, but trying to be superwoman can be stressful.
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Let Go of Superpower Delusions

My high energy tricks me into believing that I have superpowers. I take on more than I can handle. At first, it's stimulating. Until it’s excruciating, agitating, annoying, and unhealthy — for me and anyone who crosses my path. So I have to remind myself to stop and ask, “Is this something I can handle? Really?” I try to strike a balance between being inspired and being realistic — and it’s seldom easy.

A woman picks out peppers in the grocery store. She knows that eating healthy helps with stress management.
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Food Matters

I try to deny it, but food choices impact how I feel. Carbs make me feel good. They shoot off endorphins in my brain that slow down my racing thoughts and distract me from thinking about upcoming unpleasant tasks. Cookies soothe me when I feel bad about something I did. I also know that, after I eat a whole bag of cookies, I feel even worse than I did in the first place. But moderation is not natural to me. A support system (namely, a supportive family), a nutritionist, and daily exercise help me control my impulses and keep me focused on smarter food choices.

A notebook to write down priorities for ADHD stress management.
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Strike a Balance

My Start and Stop buttons don’t work. I venture deeply into my work and then can’t come out. I cook too much food or not enough. I’m all-or-nothing. When this produces positive outcomes, it’s awesome. But I know my scales are often out of balance, and that a healthy lifestyle hinges on balanced needs. When family, work, social, educational, career, spiritual, physical, and emotional priorities are not balanced, I need to re-prioritize to make sure they get there again.

A woman with ADHD stands by the ocean and makes a heart with her hands.
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Love Myself

Without proper self-love, ADHD takes charge of my life. It knocks me off my feet. My brain aches from overload. I feel frantic, freaked out, and free falling. When I remember to nurture, love, and care for myself, the gifts of compassion, creativity, hard work, and passion flow into my life. That’s why I can say I love my ADHD. I’m in control of my ADHD; it doesn’t control me.

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