One of my main life challenges is that I get overwhelmed quite quickly when life gets too busy. This is typical of people with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), particularly those with the inattentive type of ADD that I experience. Over the years I have developed a range of strategies and coping mechanisms to manage my life to avoid getting excessively overwhelmed. But there are times when life circumstances and work pressures seem to collide all at once and panic and exhaustion sets in. This happened recently when a specific work situation required more intense time commitments and interaction with others than usual. While I was able to manage the situation better than in the past, I still got extremely overwhelmed and exhausted. This got me thinking again about what is really critical to maintain my calm and equilibrium during busy times. I have captured these below and I hope that they will help you, ADD or not, to manage those busy periods in life so much better.
Here are my top eight strategies to avoid overwhelm:
1. Plan your day the night before – This strategy makes the difference between a calm day and stressful one. Decide on your main work and home tasks for the day ahead, and prepare for them. For example, if I am meeting a client first thing in the morning, I will have everything ready the night before, so that I can just pop it all in the car and go. Planning your day includes preparing, or at least planning for, lunches and supper and even deciding what you are going to wear. Like many ADDers, I am not a morning person, so making the morning activities as simple as possible is critical. I think much more clearly at night, so it is tempting to say (when I am feeling all ‘bright-eyed and bushy –tailed’) that “I’ll do it in the morning”. But I know from experience that when I do that my day generally goes awry.
2. Don’t overcommit your time – For us ADDers time management can be a challenge at the best of times. Our minds wander easily, we procrastinate and can find ourselves suddenly running very short of time. We also believe that we can do much more in the time we have available! Give yourself adequate time between meetings/appointments for travelling (at a safe law-abiding speed), for eating (fuel for the brain) and to allow for the inevitable interruptions that happen during the day. You will also feel much calmer and in control of your day. Not overcommitting yourself also means saying ‘no’ and ‘not now’.
3. Delegate or share responsibilities – Be realistic about what you can achieve, and delegate or share responsibilities with others to lighten the load. This includes the home environment. Ask your children and spouse to support you with household responsibilities. Don’t expect them to read your mind! Just ask for the help and you may be surprised when they step forward.
4. Get enough rest and relaxation – Adequate sleep is critical to replenish the overactive ADD mind. However, getting to sleep can be a challenge, particularly if you are a night owl. Try not to engage in intense mental activity before going to bed. At least an hour or two beforehand focus on winding down and engage in relaxing activities that will assist you to sleep, e.g. a soak in the bath or relaxing reading (not work or a gripping novel that you cannot put down). Also make sure to take breaks during the day to quieten your mind and maintain your equilibrium.
5. Exercise is one of the most important ways to keep your mind calm and focused, in particular cardio-vascular exercise like running, walking and swimming. I was hopeless at sports at school and avoided exercise, but since a car accident over a decade ago I have been swimming to help alleviate back pain. In turn I have discovered the mental and emotional benefits of swimming. I notice an immediate impact on my mood and level of calm and focus after a swim.
6. Eat properly – Sometimes easier said than done when life gets busy, eating healthily makes a huge difference to managing ADD in general. Most important is to avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar, to keep you blood sugar constant by eating low GI foods and protein, and the use of omega 3 supplements. Extensive research has been done on the impact of diet on ADD and there is a wealth of information on this topic.
7. Avoid overwhelm triggers where possible – Get to know yourself and identify the key situations that trigger overwhelm. Then try as much as you can to avoid or manage these situations. For me, long intense meetings and conferences are challenging situations. I have restructured my work life to minimise this kind of activity, or at least to make sure I have time to recharge before and after. I also struggle with activities like cooking when the kitchen is full of people (I am not a multi-tasker!). If I have friends over for a meal, I try to prepare as much beforehand so that I don’t find myself stressed instead of enjoying their company.
8. Be kind to yourself – Please don’t beat yourself up because you get more overwhelmed by life than others. At times I get frustrated by my inability to juggle what others seem to do so effortlessly. But I know that I have other unique gifts and talents that others don’t and that the world is a better place because of us creative, unique and wonderful ADDers!