If you are a woman with (or without) attention deficit disorder, you probably are balancing a multitude of responsibilities. Feeling scattered, overwhelmed, or exhausted can be the norm for many women who feel like they should be able to manage it all – take care of the family, handle all the household tasks, and often work outside of the home.
Symptoms of ADHD can make managing it all especially hard. Difficulties with focusing, remembering details, organizing, and following through on what you started are common challenges that can get in the way. Women also, while trying to meet the needs of everyone else, often put their own needs on the back burner which can lead to exhaustion and burnout. Life can get even harder if you combine the neurological challenges of ADHD with not enough sleep, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and the physical, emotional, and mental effects of stress.
Although I firmly believe that the symptoms of attention deficit disorder in women are the result of a neurological difference in executive functioning, I also think that learning self-awareness and working on self-care can have a great impact on how it affects us and our quality of life. When we are running around trying to take care of everything and everyone else, we are often caught up in a storm of constant ideas and thinking about the past and the future. In this state, we react to things on automatic pilot and out of long standing habits. We may feel scattered, forgetful, and unaware of what we meant to be doing right now in the present moment. We may also be completely unaware of our automatic thoughts that could be hurting us emotionally, such as self-judgments and harsh criticism. Under these circumstances, not only can the practical aspects of our lives take a hit, but also our health, happiness and well-being.
A simple 2 minute exercise from the tradition of mindfulness can help us take care of ourselves and be more directed and aware whenever we practice it. I love this for people with ADHD because it’s quick, but helps us slow down and be more stable in our thoughts and behaviors. It’s called S T O P and is meant to be practiced a few times a day. (Or even more often if you find it helpful.) Some women I coach set timers on their phone to remind them. Others practice it whenever they walk through a certain doorway or when they enter their car. And still others set up other reminders to use this resource when they are feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed. Here it is:
(S) Stop whatever you are doing for a few minutes.
(T) Take some deep breaths and relax the parts of your body that tend to hold tension. For some of us it’s the shoulders or jaw. Where do you often feel tight or tense? Most of us, unless we are in some kind of body/mind practice, may not even notice when our shoulders are up to our ears or we are gritting our teeth.
(O) This stands for observe. What are you thinking, feeling, or doing in this present moment? How are your thoughts serving you? Are you doing what you meant to be doing? Are you behaving in a way that aligns with how you want to be living? A crucial part of this step is to observe without judgment. Just notice but don’t get down on yourself if you discover something you would like to change.
(P) Now it’s time to proceed or change direction. If you feel good about what you observed, great! Keep going. If the preceding step made you realize you are researching potatoes online when you need to make an important phone call, now is the time to change direction and make the call. If you observed that you just yelled or talked sharply to your child and would choose to behave differently if you had a chance, now is your chance. If you recognize critical and judgmental self-talk, see if you can be a little kinder and give yourself a break. This isn’t so easy but consciously hearing it is the first step.
I hope you find this exercise helpful. I’m an ADHD coach in Seattle who specializes in women with attention deficit disorder. I coach women in my office or over the phone nationwide. If you would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact me below. I’d love to help and look forward to hearing from you.