To study or work from home is challenging. If—like myself—you’re a person living with ADHD, it may feel especially difficult to adjust to the lack of structure that can come with switching to a fully online work/study environment.
Studying (and for some of us, also working) entirely from home means that we are more susceptible to the distractions of our household, and may find ourselves overwhelmed. The habits we’ve developed to adapt to traditional formats for work and study and are not so easy to tune into from the bedroom or living room. So— how is an ADHDer supposed to adjust to remote studies during the current COVID-19 pandemic?
Here are 3 tips to help us cope:
1. Prioritize your own structure and routine
An issue that arises for ADHDers is that at times we may struggle with internal structure. This means that we may be more distracted and feel less tolerant of boredom, which can affect the ability to accomplish tasks in a routine way. In this case, it’s important for ADHDers to set up a structure and routine that is specific to their unique needs. Instead of looking at a routine as boring and infringing on creativity and freedom, we can look at routine setting as a way to get things done efficiently, so that later we can spend time on unique interests without having to face the overwhelm and guilt that can come from pushing aside work tasks.
Routine-setting doesn’t need to be boring! It can actually be helpful, for example, to structure breaks and fun into the work day. This may look like pre-structuring and planning routine breaks, like scheduling 20 minutes after you complete a task to go for a walk or have a quick call with a friend. Planning a consistent and predictable routine may feel challenging at first, but as time goes on, it can become second nature and habit, which can really benefit ADHDers while working from home.
2. Limit household distractions as best you can
Decide early on in your remote-working journey where you will be doing most of your work. Keeping this space consistent is helpful for implementing a routine. Be sure that the area you choose to work in is quiet (if possible) and limited in visual distractions. Making sure things are uncluttered amongst your work space can help the ADHD brain to remember to prioritize and focus on only what is in front of it.
3. Set boundaries with loved ones and housemates
You are allowed to be clear about and set healthy boundaries. Now more than ever, it is important to be upfront about what is needed to allow your remote study journey to be successful. Try your best to make it clear to family and/or housemates that you have set a specific schedule, and that this means you need to be off the clock for house duties, answering texts or calls from friends, having conversations with your housemates, social media, etc. Implementing these boundaries can help take the pressure off of trying to juggle your school and/or work responsibilities while also remaining a supportive housemate, friend and family member.
Oftentimes when I share with others that I live with ADHD, I’m met with the pretty common response of “but you don’t act like you have ADHD.”
Throughout my life, it’s been pretty evident to me that there’s a major stigma associated with ADHD along with a whole host of misconceptions; among them that folks like us are altogether incapable of focus, that our lack of attention is just a form of laziness, and that it’s a diagnosis that only applies to children. Although living with an attentional difficulty does come with its challenges, there are a whole host of benefits that aren’t commonly discussed.
Living with ADHD allows us to live life with a sense of spontaneity that can bring upon so many wonderful life experiences. Living with ADHD allows us to experience the excitement of hyper-focus, a common symptom of ADHD in which one can be so intently focused on a task that we forget the world around us. Living with ADHD allows us to be intuitive and curious. Since the ADHD brain lets in a lot of what the non-ADHD brain might consider irrelevant noise, sometimes, ADHDers are able to notice things that others naturally filter out. This allows us to recognize patterns where others may only see chaos–a huge benefit for creativity and problem-solving!
Oftentimes, living with ADHD means that the good old trusted organizational strategies that work well for a majority just don’t seem to work quite as well for the ADHD brain. Working productively with an attentional difficulty requires a much more creative and clever approach, but it can absolutely be done. The next time you find yourself having difficulty with focus and productivity, consider using the Time Cube method. It’s a system that has worked wonders for me in terms of productivity and getting things done effectively while living with an attentional difficulty.
The Time Cube Method
The Time Cube is essentially a fancy kitchen timer shaped like (you guessed it) a cube. There are durations of times written on each of its sides, anywhere between 5 minutes to 60 minutes.
The key strategy behind the Time Cube is that it can help with compartmentalizing tasks. By doing this, we are teaching our ADHD brains to focus on one small task at a time, instead of the big picture. We are learning to allot a specific amount of time to individual tasks, rather than multitasking and then feeling even more distracted.
So how does it work? Begin your day by writing out the most important tasks that you are hoping to complete on that day. Decide for yourself how much time you should allot to each task. For example, allocating 60 minutes in the evening to finish up a work assignment or school paper, or allotting yourself 10 minutes in the morning to catch up on emails. Set the timer on your Time Cube and remind yourself that this time you have set is for that task and that one only. The minute the timer rings, take a break, have a snack, and begin your timer for the next task. This teaches our ADHD brains how to compartmentalize tasks and encourages us to utilize the ADHD superpower of hyper-focusing on the tasks that we’ve deemed most important for the day.
When we’re having a day full of distractions, we can likely feel pretty frustrated with ourselves and our ADHD. Being mean to ourselves about it, however, doesn’t increase our focus. Rather, we can see it as an exciting challenge to get creative in exploring tools and productivity hacks that work specifically for us. And if all else fails, remind yourself that you share your ADHD brain with the likes of Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan, AND Richard Branson (which is pretty cool if I do say so myself!).
Dorian Schwartz is a therapist with Real Campus
As a student, you have a unique privilege you may not have considered. Many schools have art galleries on campus that you can visit for cheap or for free, and many off-campus galleries offer student rates, meaning you can see great art on a budget. Have you considered taking advantage? It could be just what you need. Visits to the art gallery allow for the chance to step away from daily life and engage with the world in a new way.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of viewing art in a gallery is the mental exercise of creating our own interpretation toward the art we are observing. This is a practice that encourages the type of creative thinking needed for problem-solving. By practicing this type of creative thinking, we learn better ways to come up with our own unique solutions to difficult problems, a key skill required for better mental health. When we leave difficult emotional problems unsolved, we may end up feeling even more frustrated and stressed. Understanding how to solve problems in a creative way may at times be what we need in order to improve difficult relationships, our own self-esteem, and circumstances within our lives that are causing us stress and anxiety.
You do not need to be a Renaissance painter or a beret-wearing artISTE spewing art-speak in order to reap the mental health benefits of visiting a gallery. The actual act of observing and appreciating art stimulates the same areas of the brain that are involved in processing feelings of pleasure and reward. When we’re feeling especially anxious, stressed, or emotionally down, a visit to the gallery may help us re-focus our attention in a therapeutic way. This can allow us a moment to take a step away from our overwhelming emotions and provides us with the opportunity to revisit these feelings at a time when we are less emotionally drained or anxious.
A gallery visit may also be a source of inspiration and has the power to boost our own personal creativity. Engaging in creative expression has significant therapeutic effects in decreasing anxiety. For example, acting creatively can get us into the mental state known in Positive Psychology as “flow.” It’s where we are totally and completely immersed in the enjoyment and involvement of what we are doing, and it’s why being creative feels so good.
The next time you’re having a difficult mental health day, consider the therapeutic benefits of visiting a local art gallery. It’s a wonderful way to incorporate creativity into your self-care practice!
When we practice regular self-care, we are allowing ourselves to engage in what it is that we need to feel emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy. When we remove our focus from our own needs and place it entirely on the things that do not nourish us emotionally, we may begin to feel unbalanced and emotionally unwell.
Placing our needs consistently on the back-burner can really wear us down, which is why practicing self-care is essential for taking care of our own mental health. And P.S.— self-care is not selfish. Meeting our own needs can allow us to be in a better headspace to be more emotionally present and caring for others!
So, with the Fall season and semester quickly approaching, how can we make the best of the last few weeks of summer? How can we enjoy the outdoors while also incorporating self-care?
1. Plant something… anything!
Fun fact: the best time of year to plant a tree is late in the summer or beginning of Fall. Why? Cooler temperatures help encourage new root growth (don’t ask me how I know this). Planting a plant or gardening can help keep us connected to nature. What does this have to do with self-care? Gardening can be a pretty awesome practice in mindfulness, allowing us to stay connected to the present moment and in touch with all our senses.
2. Journal in the park
Journalling is a great stress reliever as it helps us to process our thoughts and externalize any difficult feelings we may have had throughout the day. Journalling while enjoying some time in the sun? Even better for boosting serotonin levels and our mood. Check out some journal prompt ideas here.
3. Browse local farmers’ markets
I love farmers markets because they’re a win-win situation for us all. Purchasing at a farmers market means we get to enjoy something delicious that we may not have necessarily picked out at the grocery store, while also supporting a local or small business owner (yay sustainability!). It’s also an awesome way to get outside ourselves and be surrounded by a community of pretty cool people!
4. Solo picnic
Picnics offer a lot of social-related self-care benefits. We can use it as a means to bond with our loved ones by enabling communication in a relaxing environment. But a solo picnic also allows us some time for self-reflection. The occasional solo time is great for self-care as it provides a chance to self-reflect and to develop self-awareness so we can better understand our emotions.
5. Have a Yard Sale
I don’t know about you, but having a cluttered space really stresses me out. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our mental health is to let go of the things that no longer serve us. That may start with cleaning up our physical space. And when it comes to self-care, throwing a yard sale adds a few bonus points. We’re decreasing our stress levels by clearing up our physical space, we’re getting in touch with a community by spending time in the neighbourhood, and we’re enjoying some much needed time outdoors while doing it.
I am a huge proponent of daily journal writing. Journalling allows us to better process our thoughts and externalize any difficult feelings we may have had throughout the day. It can be a helpful tool in allowing ourselves to get to know what situations trigger us, how we process our thoughts and emotions, and how we might use our creativity to solve difficult problems.
And yes, sometimes writing feels tedious. Or we just have no clue where to start. For those moments, I’d encourage you to try these 6 journal prompts and see where they take you.
1. What’s on my mind right now?
This prompt can allow you to practice mindfulness and awareness of the present moment.
2. What has been going well in my life lately? What has been more difficult? Why?
This prompt motivates us to get more in touch with how situations, relationships, or circumstances in our lives are playing a role in influencing our feelings.
3. What inspires me? Why?
Exploring what inspires us is a helpful tool in determining our values and coming to understand what feels enriching for us.
4. What are 5 things I am grateful for right now?
Gratitude! Practicing a little bit of gratitude can help us feel more positive emotions and relish our experiences.
5. What are 5 ways that I can go out of my comfort zone this year?
There is no better way to grow than by stepping outside of our comfort zones. Experiencing and growing through a new challenge is a great way to boost self-confidence and belief in our abilities.
6. What area of my life needs more love and attention? Why?
This prompt may allow us to recognize where we need to cultivate more care and self-love. It can also be a helpful prompt toward setting small goals to make us healthier and happier.