The Emotional Side

“8 Ways I Will Rescue Myself from My Own Worst ADHD Instincts”

I’m an EMT (emotional maintenance technician) when it comes to rescuing and repairing other people and their problems. When it comes to my own health and well-being, my natural instinct is quite different — and destructive. Here is what I’m doing to change that.

Mindful african mom with cute funny kid daughter doing yoga exercise at home, calm black mother and mixed race little girl sitting in lotus pose on couch together, mum teaching child to meditate
Mindful african mom with cute funny kid daughter doing yoga exercise at home, calm black mother and mixed race little girl sitting in lotus pose on couch together, mum teaching child to meditate

The holiday season is pure chaos. Lists upon lists. Too many dates to remember. Not enough time. And exhaustion; so much exhaustion. For people with ADHD, this is not a temporary state or a December phenomenon — this is our everyday state of being. The bedlam is intense, persistent, and never-ending.

From the moment my feet hit the floor each morning until my head hits the pillow at night, I’m in overdrive. I may not appear frantic or hyper, but that’s only because people can’t see what I feel. They can’t see the invisible motor in my mind churning at high speed with no shut-off valve.

They can’t see that, when I’m angry, my heart starts to pound harder. My thoughts become louder. Like a pressure-cooker that’s begging for release, I feel as though my head might explode.

If I saw this emotional response happening in my child or my friend or my colleague, I would jump into action. I would throw on my superhero cape, jump in, and serve the person in need. When my adrenaline is pumping, I have a solution, an answer, and a cure for everything. I have an innate urge to fix whatever is wrong.

I’m an EMT (emotional maintenance technician) when it comes to rescuing and repairing other people and their problems.

[Download This Free Resource: Get A Grip on Tough Emotions]

On every airplane flight, I anxiously listen to the flight attendants telling parents to put on their own oxygen masks first, then helping their kids. I’m a mom. That goes against my instincts. My children come first.

Of course, giving myself oxygen first makes perfect sense. How can I help my child if I can’t breathe? I have to kick aside my tiger-mom instinct and do what’s best for my child. I know it’s true, but self-care isn’t intuitive when I interact with my children, relatives, or friends.

With my ADHD, I’m in or out. I can’t focus, or I hyper-focus. I’m full of energy, or I can’t get off the couch. The word balance is not in my vocabulary. Without a middle, I care for the needs of others with every ounce of my being. Eventually, I’m left with an emptiness — emotionally drained, physically exhausted, and agitated without knowing why. That is not a healthy long-term strategy.

Below are my resolutions — ways I will try to get better at the hard work of making myself a priority this coming year.

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1. Practice Saying Sometimes, Maybe, and Not Now

Whether I’m baking cookies for a friend or changing my plans to accommodate a loved one, I can’t say no. The truth is, I usually don’t want to. Saying yes is the universal symbol of peace. Happiness flows out of “Yes.” No one fights, and life runs smoother. Or that’s what I thought.

Eventually, I realized that, after I took care of everyone else, I was struggling to breathe. Soon I noticed I had no energy. I was always agitated and crying for no reason. I needed help, so I made an appointment with my therapist, who’s teaching me some new words: sometimes, maybe, and not now. 

2. Establish Personal Boundaries

I admit it: I’m an emotionally charged, high-maintenance woman who needs a lot of calm, quiet time to myself. I need nature, sunshine, trees, and water. However, finding time to do what I enjoy is a challenge.

When my children were small, my bedroom was always open. Knocking on the door, or asking for permission to enter wasn’t a thought in my mind. What’s mine is yours. Sharing is loving. Wrong!

Sharing everything became self-sacrificial. My desire to please was affecting my relationships. I was unable to say “No.”  In addition to losing myself, I also set a poor example for my children. I didn’t teach my children manners, limitations, and respect for other people’s places and things.

3. Make Daily Self-Care Non-Negotiable

Indecision traps me. Should I take time to zone out on my favorite TV show or wash the dirty dishes in the sink? Should I take a bath or go through the overflowing pile of mail? How do I know if my desire for self-care is just an excuse to avoid responsibilities? With the heaviness of these questions pressing down, negative thoughts send me into a spiral.

Recently, I’ve found the answer: Self-care is a lifestyle, not a situational choice. It’s not something I do only when I’m a cranky, burned-out, empty shell of a person. Caring for myself is something I must do every day — an important habit like brushing my teeth.

4. Don’t Accept Others’ Time Pressure

I don’t have to say yes or answer immediately, no matter how much someone wants me to. If I pause, I can think more clearly and make a smart choice, not a reactive one. My immediate, knee-jerk decision is not always the best one. I achieve better results when I say, “Can I think about it and let you know later?”

5. Perform a Daily Emotional Check-Up

Thanks to ADHD, my thoughts and emotions sweep me away quickly and forcefully. I lose my foothold in the here and now as my mind takes me on a journey to another world. This is disconcerting and disorienting — when my emotions take over, I don’t know what I’m feeling, thinking, or working toward.

This is why I carve out time each day to pause, check in on myself, and figure out what I need. If my thoughts and emotions are beginning to drag me under, I recognize this and try to take an analytic approach to soothing whatever is ailing me.

To achieve clarity and see the way out of these moments of crisis and indecision, I often need to talk through my emotions. My husband is my partner and a friend who loves me dearly, but he’s not a therapist. I have finally accepted that fact. I now have a therapist and an ADHD coach available to help me deal with my ADHD traits when they get in the way of my happiness.

6. Stock the Fridge with Healthy Snacks

Healthy eating requires strong decision-making, planning, preparing, and organizing. These executive functions don’t work well when I’m stressed out. It’s easier to grab a bag of chips when I’m hungry than it is to fight through the struggle. When I give myself a minute to pause before I grab the chips, I think of how I’ll feel after I eat them, and I grab a healthier option instead.

I keep my fridge stocked with ready-to-grab smarter choices: hard-boiled eggs, cheese, avocado, sushi rice, fish, cut veggies, and dinner leftovers. My body thanks me.

7. Learn How Your Body Craves Release

My physical being is as intense as my mental and emotional being. I have to be prepared and aware, knowing that uncomfortable emotions will enter my body and cause discomfort.

For years, I preferred aerobic exercise. But as life became more stressful, I yearned for a more relaxing type of movement. Now, yoga soothes my body and calms my active mind. Stretching releases my inner tension.

Sitting still doesn’t come naturally. When my mind is in overdrive, my body is, too. But after yoga, a stillness organically appears. My relaxed muscles are tension free. While sitting on a cushion, looking out the window, my mind is quiet. I breathe in the smells of nature and take advantage of those precious moments.

Each body has different needs at different times. Only you know what you need. Listen to the cues. Pay attention and nourish your physical needs.

8. Allow Yourself Some Time to Soak

When all other methods for self-soothing don’t work, my bathtub removes tension instantly. The entire experience of bubbles, fragrance, warmth, and quiet works wonders. Scientifically, bathing has proven health benefits such as increased oxygen intake, reduced pain and inflammation in muscles and joints, balanced hormones, and improved heart health. All those benefits, and it feels fabulous, too!

What I do for others feeds my soul, but I can’t omit myself from the picture completely, like I used to. Self-care is my number one priority for 2020.

[Read This Next: 12 Things You Don’t Know About Me and My ADHD]

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