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Can we talk about ADHD and self-care for a sec?
I think there’s a common notion that it’s little more than a bubble bath and a mani/pedi which is total BS. Self-care isn’t something you can just check-off after a 45-minute massage on a slow Tuesday. It’s a form of ritual borne from a conscious choice that shapes how you value yourself and your health.
Watch the ADHD + Self Care Video
Listen to the ADHD + Self Care Podcast
If you’re feeling exhausted, overworked, overwhelmed, disconnected and slightly, if not terribly depressed, what do you think a pedicure will do for that? Nothing.
You’ll just be everything I just mentioned, but with pretty toes. So if you’re feeling all those things I just mentioned and you want to start feeling differently then it’s time to take a step back, understand the core issues that are driving the exhaustion, disconnection and overwhelm and then –
- take action to resolve what you can
- cultivate acceptance for what you can’t change – either in yourself, in others, or in your circumstances
- put yourself first (most of) the time, which is something women are notoriously bad at (I’m super guilty of this)
These are the principles of true self-care in action.
Let me give you an example.
When I was 32 and freshly divorced, I spent many late nights at bars with a cocktail in hand, dancing the night away and surviving on 4 or 5 hours sleep. I was young, so I thought I could handle it, but as it turned out, I could not. Some of the repercussions that stemmed from my behavior were immediate, but some of them took a lot longer to reveal themselves. The effects of poor diet and smoking put years on my skin (I no longer smoke of course), the late nights and partying put my career on a slow, unsuccessful burn for several years and the quality of my friendships weren’t something I was proud of.
By the time I left for Californa when I was 36, I was ready for a big life change that involved a lot more self-care and a lot less self-sabotage. I realized a big part of my behavior was driven by a fear of being alone. When I was able to understand the underlying issue, I was able to recreate a healthier lifestyle for myself in my new city (where I was very much alone!).
Back to your version of self-care
You can google a million ways to practice self-care in your life, but the tactics aren’t as important as understanding why you need it, and what the end result should look like – a healthy, engaged, reasonably happy version of yourself.
Why you need to start prioritizing self-care if you have ADHD
Because no one else will do it for you. Life is busy, full and totally distracting. Most of us are just trying to get through the day without setting anything on fire, so don’t assume that if your feelings of exhaustion or overwhelm with others that they will do something about it. They’re exhausted and overwhelmed, too, so it’s 100% your responsibility to take care of your own body, mind, and spirit. You can’t outsource this.
What will happen if you don’t prioritize self-care?
When you’re young, you’re resilient and it’s easy to bounce back from late nights, poor eating habits or stress. But those habits compound and the damage is like an iceberg, slowing building mass beneath the surface of your life. One day, you will wake up and wonder why you’re so tired, unhealthy, overweight and sad.
When that happens, know that you took your health and wellness for granted for too long. It’s not a life sentence mind you. You can turn it around at any age.
Why is self-care so important for ADHDers?
The more we ignore or deprioritize our self-care needs, the more our ADHD symptoms will interfere with life.
When we’re not caring for ourselves, our brain fog, impulsiveness and poor judgement increases while our ability to stay focused decreases.
Our nervous systems require more care than the average bear just to show up as a fully functional person. The sooner you can embrace this idea, the easier it will be to prioritize your self-care needs above all else.
How to start an ADHD self-care practice?
Start with taking an honest look at your life.
- What are you doing that’s causing stress?
- Are you working too much?
- Not getting enough sleep?
- Are your finances a mess?
- Do you have quality relationships with friends and family?
- Are you moving your body enough?
- Do you take time to play?
These are just a few prompts to consider, but you probably know the areas of contention in your life. The goal is not to create a perfect life, for that’s a form of stress in itself. Instead, think about the top thing that’s having the biggest negative impact on you and start there. Chances are, if you can resolve or at least improve the worst stressor in your life, it will have a trickle effect into other areas that need improvement as well.
For example, so many of us work too many hours at a job that’s an hour away and when we get home at night, we’re too exhausted to do anything but loaf on the couch. That job is having a negative impact on your health in so many ways that even if you love the work, it’s not serving you. Humans weren’t created to spend their entire day working, commuting, getting ready for or thinking about work. But that’s often what we do. Putting a stop to that is a great example of self-care.
ADHD Self-care in practice
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but a good start to making a practice of self-care that can dramatically improve your life and reduce stress.
Grab the ADHD-Friendly Self-Care Checklist
Sleep 7 – 8 hours a night
Our brains need sleep to repair, process and help our nervous systems stay in parasympathetic mode. When we are under-slept, our energy is low and we’re generally at our worst. What little energy you have is used up by the body just to get through the day, so your brain function gets depleted. If you’re not sleeping enough now, make this your top priority.
Move your body for at least 30 minutes every day preferably in the morning
Movement sends oxygen to our brains, giving us a dopamine boost and a good 2 to 3 hours of focused attention immediately following our workout. Starting your day this way gives you an amazing start!
Moving is also a great way to help with emotional regulation. If you find yourself in negative rumination, get up and move! Go for a walk, do jumping jacks or put on a great song and dance your face off. This will take your brain out of it’s Default Mode Network and back into Task Positive Mode Network where you can get back into your body and the present moment.
Meditate or Tap (Emotional Freedom Technique)
Both methods are great for calming the nervous system and leave you feeling centered and grounded. Even just 10 minutes a day can make the world of difference. If you find meditation to be difficult to focus on, try tapping. It will give your hands something to do, but will also calm the nervous system.
Take your meds
This goes without saying, right?
Start your day with a protein rich meal
If you prefer to fast in the morning, that’s fine, but try to make that first meal of the day something that will avoid spiking insulin and giving you a sugar rush, which inevitably follows with a sugar crash. Protein gives your body sustained energy, so try eggs, Plain Greek Yogurt or a protein smoothie (but hold the fruit juices and bananas).
Did you know your brain functions worse when it’s dehydrated? The only time it doesn’t function less effectively is when the hydration is due to sweat-loss during a workout -so there’s another plug.
Get ready in the morning, even if you’re not going anywhere
One thing ADHD people struggle with is transitions. This can only be exasperated if you spend half your day in pajamas. I’m not suggesting that you get dressed up if you’re just hanging out at home, but dress for the way you want to show up that day. For me, that’s typically workout wear as I want to show up for my workouts and daily walks.
Walk 10,000 steps a day
This is good for everyone, but research has recently shown that walking at least 30 mins a day, just 3 days a week, can improve memory, brain function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Walking is one of those things that’s hard to overdo, so if you can do more than 10,000 steps, even better.
Practice Future Self Journaling
Knowing who you are and how you want to show up authentically in the world is so important to the ADHD person. We’re not wired for fake interests, so the sooner you know what makes you tick, the sooner you can start living true to who you really are (and that’s when our super-powers kick in).
Future self journaling is an intentional practice of crafting that future self you want to be, then gradually stepping into that person as you continue to write daily. I have some future self journaling prompts you can use to get you started.
Yoga will not only improve your mind-body connection, but it also helps with balance and calms the nervous system. Honestly, if there was only one form of movement I could recommend for every ADHD’er, it would be yoga. I know it can seem boring at first, but if you’re able to push past the initial boredom, your brain will settle into the practice and you can completely lose yourself in the moment. It’s wonderful.
Commit to learning and practicing boundaries.
This is a much bigger topic than I can address here, but it’s worth mentioning, because it’s an important part of self-care. Setting clear boundaries, in your relationships and with yourself, will give you the capacity to take better care of yourself. Self-care takes time and commitment and the people around you need to understand that the better you take care of you, the better you can show up for them.
Look at your life. Is there room for self-care in it? What self-destructive behaviors are you engaging and why? The more you can identify fears and limiting beliefs, the faster you will move past them.
Find your tribe
Since my diagnosis, I’ve started connecting to other amazing women who also have this style of brain. I find that we understand each other’s struggles perhaps better than the average person. If you’re looking for a place to connect, give this facebook group a try. I love the energy and the willingness to help.
Enlist a coach for support and accountability
Did you know there is such a thing as an ADHD life coach? This is someone who is trained in the fundamentals of coaching, but also has specialized training in ADHD and often they have it as well. I’m currently working through coach certification myself and plan to start taking clients in the next several months. If that’s something that interests you, get on the wait list and I’ll send you more info when my calendar opens up.
Other self-care ideas
- Get 15 minutes in the sun every morning
- Drink Sleepytime tea before bed as a nighttime ritual
- Meal prep once a week so you have healthy food in the fridge for the week.
- Delete your Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter app. Whichever seems to piss you off the most or make you feel less-than should be your first choice
- Try a lavender-scented eye mask to help calm a busy mind and fall asleep faster.
- Find a few wellness blogs to follow that inspire you to think about ways you can improve your life.
- Take up a new sport you can look forward to learning and improving. Tennis anyone?
- Have a little less time on your schedule for toxic or negative people – you don’t have to ditch them (unless you’re ready to), but just hang out with them less often
- Read The Self-Love Experiment by Tarcher Perigee
How do you know when you’re self-caring like an ADHD boss?
The practice of self-care is never complete. It’s like breathing. We can continue to stay aware of it and evolve it to suit our life circumstances, but it doesn’t stop.
Put yourself on your priority list, friends. This is the only life you’ve got, so if you’re constantly on the struggle bus and making the assumption that it will just get better down the road, know that this is unlikely unless you do something to make a change. You can start now, or wait until you’ve hit rock bottom. Very often people don’t feel the motivation to change until the pain of staying the same is no longer an option. You can get ahead of that and start living a well-cared-for life now.
to your health