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When life throws you unexpected challenges, you might find yourself getting easily irritated or completely shutting down. That used to be my immediate response to any unexpected events. But recently, something incredible has happened. I’ve noticed a significant change in the way I handle these situations, and it’s all thanks to the practices and behaviors I’ve adopted since being diagnosed with ADHD.
In this blog post, I want to share my journey of understanding and managing the ADHD nervous system, and provide you with some valuable takeaways that can help you too.
Understanding the ADHD Nervous System
Unlike neurotypicals, ADHD’ers often can experience difficulties in regulating our emotions. It’s crucial for us to understand our nervous system works in order to take control of our emotions and create a sense well-being.
Our nervous system consists of two major components: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS, includes both the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system controls voluntary movements, while the autonomic nervous system regulates our involuntary bodily functions like digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. The autonomic nervous system is further divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Our sympathetic nervous system is responsible for activating our body’s systems, preparing us for action and reaction. Meanwhile, the parasympathetic nervous system helps slow down our bodily functions, allowing us to rest and recover.
Both of these functions are important to a healthy functioning body, and achieving a balance between them is crucial for maintaining a regulated and healthy nervous system. Unfortunately, individuals with ADHD often struggle with maintaining this balance, leading to rigidity and challenges in adapting to different situations.
ADHD + The Vagus Nerve
One important component of our parasympathetic nervous system is the vagus nerve. This nerve plays a vital role in regulating various bodily functions such as digestion, heart rate, breathing rate, and sexual arousal. It consists of two sides: the ventral vagal system and the dorsal vagal system.
The ventral vagal system promotes a sense of groundedness, regulation, and resilience, allowing us to rest, breathe, engage socially, and process our emotions effectively.
The dorsal vagal system functions as a protective mechanism, shutting down our bodily systems to prevent experiencing pain and trauma.
When our autonomic nervous system becomes imbalanced, we may find ourselves in states of hyperarousal (over aroused, reactive, angry or impulsive) or hypoarousal (frozen or shut down).
To navigate these challenges, we need to expand our window of tolerance, which refers to the range of stress that we can manage while staying regulated. There are various practices that can help us achieve this, like doing things that calm the nervous system.
These practices enhance our ability to adapt to stress, promote relaxation, curiosity, and a sense of safety. More importantly, it helps us to self-regulate when we’re triggered, so that we can stay grounded, calm and adult as needed.
Bottom line, the more we can increase our window of tolerance and minimize the amount of time we remain in hyper or hypo-arousal, the better off we’ll be.
Balancing the ADHD Nervous System – What Works For Me
Now that we’ve established the significance of understanding our nervous systems, let’s dive into some practical strategies that have helped me achieve a more regulated and calm state. These practices can make a real difference in your life too.
1. Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation have been part of my life for a long time, but I’ve recently delved deeper into these practices. Both yoga and meditation are excellent for calming the nervous system, both in the moment of heightened arousal and as preventative measures. Even just five minutes of daily meditation can make a significant impact over time. So why not give it a try?
2. Getting Outside
Nature has a remarkable way of soothing our nervous systems. Going outside for a walk in a peaceful environment can work wonders, especially when you’re feeling triggered or overwhelmed. Find a green space or a quiet road near your home and make it a non-negotiable part of your routine. Trust me, the benefits are worth it.
3. Limiting Social Media Exposure
In today’s world, social media can be overwhelming and triggering. It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos and negativity. Taking a step back from social media has been a game-changer for me. By reducing my exposure to distressing content, I’ve been able to maintain a calmer state. If you can, consider taking a break from social media too.
4. Leveraging Character Strengths
We all have unique character strengths that can help us navigate challenging situations. For me, gratitude is a powerful strength. Whenever I’m feeling triggered or upset, I tap into my gratitude and remind myself that my problems are small compared to what others may be going through. This reframing technique helps me stay grounded and maintain perspective. Identify your character strengths and lean on them during tough times.
5. Heart Coherence
Heart coherence may sound a bit woo-woo, but it’s backed by science. The HeartMath Institute promotes simple practices that calms our our heart’s electromagnetic waves and improves our overall well-being. By practicing heart coherence, we can regulate our emotions, access our executive functions, and make more thoughtful decisions. I’ve personally found this practice to be incredibly transformative. Stay tuned for more exercises and techniques related to heart coherence.
Calmness and Presence is Possible, Even with an ADHD Nervous System
As I reflect on the chaos that has unfolded in my life recently, I’m proud to say that I’ve responded with resilience and calmness. The combination of these practices and behaviors has helped me develop a more regulated nervous system. It’s important to note that these changes didn’t happen overnight and that each person’s journey is unique. So, as you read this blog post, I encourage you to choose one or two strategies that resonate with you and start implementing them in your life.
Remember, the goal is not to be perfect or to adopt all of these practices at once. Start small and be patient with yourself. Over time, you’ll notice the positive impact on your nervous system and overall well-being. Life will always have its ups and downs, but by understanding and managing your ADHD nervous system, you can navigate these challenges with greater ease and resilience.
I hope my journey has inspired you to take control of your own nervous system. Embrace the practices that work for you, and remember that you’re not alone on this journey. Together, we can create a world where neurodivergent individuals thrive and find their inner calmness.
Stay tuned for more insights and techniques to help you on your path to a balanced nervous