Managing the Stress of ADHD/ADD
In today’s world, we’re all under increased stress. Most of us feel we have no time to slow down. Our schedules and calendars are jam-packed, and we often live our lives at a frantic pace. Stress can come from a myriad of sources: work, school, relationships, financial pressures, and health concerns.
Stress is actually not all bad, though. Some stress is actually good! It can motivate us to take action and make changes for the better. Stress is really a protective response by the human body to get us out of a potentially threatening situation. It manifests in the human fight-or-flight response. When we perceive a threat, the body produces hormones, such as adrenaline, that prepare us for action by: increasing the tone in the muscles so that we are prepared to jump into motion; raising the heart rate so that blood flows more rapidly throughout the tissues; and signaling respiration to become more rapid so that an ample amount of oxygen is available to supply the entire body in a crisis.
But, over time, this heightened state of “red-alert” definitely takes its toll on us—physically and emotionally. Left unmanaged and unchecked, too much stress has been reported to be related to a variety of health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and depression. Stress also has been linked to suppression of the immune system, and has been implicated as playing a role in cancer, gastrointestinal, skin, neurologic and emotional disorders, and even the common cold.
Those of us affected by ADD/ADHD may experience even greater levels of stress, whether we have the condition ourselves or are living with someone who does. Many of the symptoms and characteristics that are stereotypically related to ADHD inherently cause stress on their own. Things like: distractibility; difficulty with focus; poor time management; disorganization; procrastination; weak follow-through; difficulty modulating emotions; and having too much on our plates can leave us with feelings of frustration and loss of control, which can contribute to significant levels of stress, day in and day out.
Families affected by ADHD/ ADD may experience more stress, more conflict, and more worries as well. Marital struggles are more likely, and family members often experience feelings of isolation. An undercurrent of tension in the family that can arise with the presence of ADHD can impact the family unit as a whole, and every member of it—siblings and parents alike.
So, what can you do about it?
First and foremost, make sure you put on your own “Oxygen Mask!” Airline crews remind us that, if there is an emergency, you should ALWAYS put on your own oxygen mask before helping others– for very practical and obvious reasons! But this is true for all of us in life outside the airplane as well! Putting YOURSELF first is not selfish! Taking care of yourself and keeping yourself in tip-top shape emotionally, physically, and spiritually enables you to be a better you in every aspect of your life and in every role you play—son or daughter, sibling, parent, friend, partner, employee, etc. When you are taking good care of yourself, in all aspects of your life, you can give more to others, and you can do it with greater energy and at less cost to yourself. And you are much better equipped to respond to the stressors that arise in your life.
Next, in order for you to learn how to manage the stress in your life positively, you must be aware stress when it arises—and this includes being aware of how you react to stress yourself. Pay attention to the cues your body and behavior may be giving you that signal increased stress. Do you feel the muscles in your neck tighten? Does your chest become tight or your breathing become shallow? Do you feel a knot in your stomach? Do you raise your voice or speak more rapidly? Paying attention to how you react to stress is an important part of identifying your stress triggers so that you can learn to manage your reactions.
Also, make sure you identify the ways in which you may be trying to manage stress that are not positive! There are plenty of things that can provide relief from stress in the short-term, but may bring us more harm than good in the long run: turning to things like drugs, alcohol, smoking or even food in attempts to manage the stress in our lives is not healthy. But many of us react to stress in other ways that are also less than constructive for ourselves and for our relationships. Yelling, fighting, shutting down, or playing the martyr or guilt card are also unhealthy ways to deal with the stress that can come along in life! It’s also important to pay attention to and note the less-than-ideal ways you may be trying to manage the stress in your life so that you can replace those activities with more positive ones.
Finally, make sure you keep your pocket full of positive stress management techniques that you practice before you need them! Routinely using techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive relaxation, or visual imagery can be great for helping us keep our stress levels down on a day-to-day basis, as well as for helping us manage stressful events in our lives.
But the simplest of all stress management techniques is one you are already doing—breathing! It may sound silly, I know, but one of the easiest and best things you can do in any stressful situation is to remember to breathe. When stress starts to take hold, our respiration tends to accelerate, and our breathing becomes shallower. Intentional, deep breathing can counteract stress hormones, and put you back in control.
If you feel yourself getting worked up over something, try taking 10 deep, slow breaths. Slowly and purposefully. Regulation of breathing is a proven way of reducing stress, but many of us fail to use this simplest of techniques when we need it most! We need to teach ourselves to notice our stress cues, breathe slowly, and slow our minds down to stop the negative thinking. Otherwise, stress can quickly spin out of control.
Diaphragmatic breathing works best: inhale slowly through your nose to a count of 4 and breathe in to your diaphragm or abdomen, simply feeling your abdomen rise as you breathe in. Pause and hold the breathe for a count of 4, and then release each breath slowly through your mouth to another count of 4 as you concentrate only on your breathing.
This is the best way, in my opinion to stop the stressful spinning and start to manage your stress. It really is simple: it all starts with breathing. You can do this anywhere—in meetings, at the dinner table, in your office, in the car. Anywhere. And it’s very, very effective.
If you, or someone in your life needs help managing the stresses that arise in lives affected by ADHD/ADD, please contact me for a complimentary consultation. I’m here and ready to help.
Just take a deep breath!