Nurturing the mind: Self-care for people with ADHD and executive function challenges

Nurturing the Mind: Self-Care for People With ADHD and Executive Function Challenges

Posted by | Jul 31, 2023

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects millions of people worldwide, characterized by symptoms including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Additionally, many individuals with ADHD also struggle with executive function issues, which involve difficulties with organization, planning, and managing time and tasks effectively. If you’re living with ADHD and executive function challenges, it can feel overwhelming and frustrating, leading to stress, anxiety, and a sense of inadequacy, but incorporating self-care activities into your daily routines can significantly improve your well-being. Let’s explore some self-care strategies and recommended readings to help you find more balance in life.

Understanding ADHD and Executive Function

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that typically emerges in childhood and persists into adulthood. It affects an individual's ability to regulate attention and impulses, leading to challenges in focusing on tasks, organizing activities, and controlling behaviour. The three main subtypes of ADHD are predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined presentation. Although ADHD poses challenges, it is essential to recognize that people with ADHD often possess unique strengths, such as creativity, intuition, problem-solving abilities, and resourcefulness.

Executive functions refer to a set of mental processes that enable individuals to plan, organize, initiate, and complete tasks successfully. These cognitive abilities include working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, and time management. Difficulties in executive function can lead to problems in managing time, setting priorities, and completing projects, which can be particularly challenging for people with ADHD.

Cultivating New Habits

Mindfulness and Meditation: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, can help improve focus and reduce stress for individuals with ADHD. Regular meditation sessions can enhance cognitive control and emotional regulation, making it easier to manage distractions and impulses. There are various mindfulness apps and guided meditations that cater specifically to folks with ADHD and executive function issues.

Exercise and Physical Activities: Engaging in regular exercise can boost levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that play a crucial role in attention and executive function. Activities such as yoga, dancing, hiking, and team sports can be both enjoyable and beneficial.

Journaling and Brain Dumping: Writing in a journal or engaging in brain-dumping exercises can help you organize your thoughts and emotions. Getting ideas and observations down on paper can create a sense of clarity and reduce mental clutter, making it easier to focus on tasks.

Time Management Strategies: Utilizing tools such as timers, alarms, and schedules can help you manage time effectively. Breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable segments with designated time frames can improve productivity and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. Executive function and ADHD coaching can help you develop strategies for implementing self-care practices consistently.

Organizational Systems: Implementing organizational systems, such as calendars, to-do lists, and color-coding, can aid in keeping track of responsibilities and deadlines. Finding a system that works best for you is essential for maintaining order and structure. Executive function and ADHD coaching can also make it easier for individuals to develop ways to organize their personal spaces and daily schedules. This reduces the risk of forgetfulness or feeling overwhelmed, making it easier to engage in self-care activities regularly.

Creative Outlets: Explore creative activities, such as painting, music, writing, or crafting, as they can serve as therapeutic outlets for emotions and stress. Engaging in these activities can also help improve attention and focus.

Social Support: Building a strong support network is crucial for people with ADHD. Connecting with understanding friends, family members, or support groups can provide encouragement and a sense of comfort and belonging. 

Limiting Distractions: Creating a distraction-free environment can help individuals with ADHD concentrate on tasks more effectively. Minimize external disruptions, such as noise or clutter, and consider noise-cancelling headphones or fidget tools, which can help you maintain focus.

Professional Support: Seeking professional support from therapists or coaches who specialize in ADHD can provide valuable insights and coping strategies tailored to individual needs. ADHD and executive function coaches can also provide ongoing accountability, encouraging you to stay on track with your goals, check in, and get help when you need it.

Sleep Hygiene: Adequate sleep is vital for everyone, but especially if you have ADHD, because sleep directly affects cognitive function, the brain-based skills that include learning, problem-solving, remembering, decision-making, attention, and clear thinking . Establishing a consistent routine and practicing good sleep hygiene can lead to improved concentration and overall well-being. The components of sleep hygiene include:

  • A consistent sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body's internal clock and improves the quality of your sleep.

  • A bedtime routine: Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine to signal your body that it's time to wind down. This could include activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation exercises like deep breathing or meditation.

  • An optimal sleep environment: Make sure your sleep environment is conducive to rest. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows, use a weighted blanket if it makes you feel more relaxed, and remove any distractions like electronic devices.

  • Limited exposure to screens before bedtime: The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with your body's natural sleep-wake cycle. Try to avoid screens (phones, tablets, computers, and TVs) at least an hour before bedtime.

  • Avoiding stimulating substances: Reduce or eliminate consumption of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, especially close to bedtime. These substances can disrupt sleep patterns and reduce sleep quality.

  • Regular exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity can help improve sleep. However, try to avoid intense exercise close to bedtime, as it may make it harder to fall asleep.

  • Watching what you eat and drink before bedtime: Avoid heavy meals, spicy foods, and excessive fluids before going to bed. Indigestion or needing to use the bathroom during the night can disrupt your sleep.

  • Managing stress and anxiety: Practice stress-reducing techniques, such as mindfulness, yoga, or journaling, to calm the mind before bedtime. Anxiety and stress can significantly impact the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

  • Limiting naps: While short power naps can be beneficial, long or irregular daytime naps can interfere with your nighttime sleep. If you need to nap, keep it short (around 20-30 minutes) and avoid napping too close to bedtime.

  • Limited exposure to bright light in the evening: Exposure to bright light, especially blue light, in the evening can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. Consider using dim, warm-colored lighting in the evening to signal your body that it's time to prepare for sleep.

Remember that individual responses to sleep hygiene practices may vary, so it's essential to find what works best for you and stick to a consistent routine. If you continue to have persistent sleep issues, consider seeking advice from a healthcare professional or sleep specialist.

Living with ADHD and executive function issues presents unique challenges, but incorporating self-care activities into daily routines can make a significant difference in improving overall well-being. By understanding the nature of ADHD and executive function and implementing strategies tailored to individual needs, you can cultivate a sense of balance, focus, and fulfillment in your life.

Remember, self-care is not a one-size-fits-all approach. You’re unique, and it’s important to explore various strategies to discover what works best for your personal well-being. Embracing self-care and seeking professional guidance when needed can empower individuals to thrive and overcome the challenges posed by ADHD and executive function issues. At Evoke Learning, our ADHD and executive function coaches help our clients achieve that important difference between surviving and thriving. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you become more centered and productive in your day-to-day activities.

Recommended Reading List

Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey.

The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa C. Orlov and Edward M. Hallowell.

Smart but Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD by Thomas E. Brown.

The Disorganized Mind: Coaching Your ADHD Brain to Take Control of Your Time, Tasks, and Talents by Nancy A. Ratey.

Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain by Peter Shankman.

Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell A. Barkley.

You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?! A Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo.

Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD by Susan C. Pinsky.

Mindful Parenting for ADHD: A Guide to Cultivating Calm, Reducing Stress, and Helping Children Thrive by Mark Bertin.

The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals by Lidia Zylowska.