ADD and Anxiety

I don’t have any statistics about what percentage of people with ADD experience high levels of anxiety.  I do know that, when ADD is present, other things, such as anxiety, are often present as well.  In my own coaching practice, I can say that anxiety is a problem for most of my clients a lot of the time.  In this Friday Focus, I want to provide some strategies for managing anxiety because, if anxiety rises beyond a mild level, it interferes with performance and “quality of life.”

One of the best strategies for reducing anxiety is to stop time-travelling.  Here is an example of time-travelling.  You are at work having a conversation with a colleague.  All of a sudden, your mind travels back to the argument you had with your teenager last night and you regret something you said.  Then your mind travels forward to the wallet-busting repair bill you will have to pay if the sound you noticed in your car this morning  turns out to be anything serious.  Back and forth your mind goes, past to future, future to past.  You spend the whole day regretting the past, worrying about the future, and missing the present.  The regret and the worry do not resolve any problems, but they do take a serious toll on your health, well-being, and productivity.

When you notice your mind wandering back to the past or forward to the future, pull it back gently to what you are doing in the present moment, as you would a straying child.  As you refocus completely on just the present moment, the regret and worry disappear.  Notice the relief you feel.  This requires awareness.  You have to observe and notice when your mind drifts into a different time zone, but, as with anything, you improve with practice.

Another strategy for reducing anxiety is to begin today to tackle the things you have been procrastinating.  Tasks do not disappear because you “put them on hold.”  Each one takes up space in your mind.   A large backlog of uncompleted tasks can result in a surprisingly high level of anxiety.  Make a list of items that are backlogged.  Find someone who will hold you accountable to do a little each day until you polish off the list.  How good it feels when the anxiety meter falls!

Finally, when anxiety is very high, medication is an option.  You can discuss this with a doctor who has experience treating people with moderate to severe anxiety.

There are many things you can do reduce anxiety.  Rate your anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10.  Try any of the above strategies or  a combination of strategies.  Rate your anxiety again.  Notice the difference.  You are not at the mercy of your anxiety.  You have many tools at your disposal for reducing it.




Relationships and ADD

“Please give me some tips that couples can use for creating better relationships when one of the partners has ADD.”  This is what I said to my friend, Ingrid Melenbacker, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in couples counseling and who has counseled many couples where one partner has ADD.  Ingrid is the founder of Masterful Couples of Northern Virginia and is a certified  Gottman Method couples therapist.

She immediately brought up “blaming” and “criticizing” as things to be avoided if you want to have a successful relationship.

Let’s say that the ADD partner failed to meet the non-ADD partner at the time they agreed upon.  The non-ADD partner berates the ADD partner by saying something like, “You’re so selfish!  If you cared about me, you would show up on time.”  There is pretty much no good place to go from here.  Ingrid described a way to handle the situation that is better for the health of the relationship.

She explained the “softened startup” approach used in the Gottman method.  In this approach, the non-ADD partner would state the fact, “You didn’t show up on time,” in a nonjudgmental way.  Then she would state how it makes her feel.  For example, “This makes me feel disrespected.”  Notice that she doesn’t blame the partner for her feelings, but simply states what her feelings are.  Finally, the non-ADD partner asks, “How can we make sure that the next time we are supposed to meet at a certain time, it happens?”  This approach turns the partners “toward” rather than “away from” each other so that it is possible for them to create solutions.

Ingrid explained that sometimes the non-ADD partner becomes a parent to the ADD partner.  She added that the ADD partner is not really looking for a parent, but to be in an equal relationship.

In case you are wondering whether using this method will make your ADD partner show up on time every time for the rest of his life, it won’t.  The ADD will always be there so you work on making things better moment by moment, day by day.  It is true in every relationship that when partners give up “blame” and “criticism,” and look for more constructive ways to relate to each other, the relationship is far more likely to be satisfying and successful.

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Have a fabulous 4th!




Is Stress Wreaking Havoc on Your Health?

If you have ADD or ADHD, there is a better than average chance that you have some difficulty with organization, time management, procrastination, setting priorities, and maybe anxiety.  That means you have a better than average chance of being “stressed out.”

Chronic stress does more than cause uncomfortable feelings.  For years, everyone thought that people had no say in how their genes were expressed.  Now, thanks to the science of epigenetics, we know that many things influence which genes are expressed and which ones aren’t.  Toxins in the environment, thoughts and feelings, and, yes, stress hormones, can turn genes “on” and “off,” affecting everything from the immune system to the heart.  Chronic stress is bad news for your health so you want to reduce it as much as you can.

Two of the best things you can do to improve the way you respond to events you consider stressful are to exercise and to meditate.  Today, I would like to focus on how meditation can help with stress.  I will take up exercise another time.

The average person thinks around 60,000 thoughts per day, many of them negative.  Meditation, done properly, stops or slows down all of that thinking.  If you were hooked up to an EEG while meditating, you would actually see changes in your brain waves.  There would be fewer beta waves which are associated with thinking and even anxiety if their level is very high, and more alpha waves which are associated with relaxation.

To meditate, assume a comfortable position in a place where you won’t be distracted.  Close your eyes and take several deep breaths through your nose.  Breathe fully in and fully out.  Focus your eyes slightly upward, but not to the point of discomfort, to reach an alpha state more quickly.  Then, bring your attention to all of your body parts and consciously relax each part, beginning with the toes and working your way up to the top of your head.

There is a difference between focusing on sensations and focusing on thoughts about the body parts or the sensations.  Focus on the sensations, not the thoughts.  When thoughts intrude, and they will, gently bring your attention back to the parts and the sensations.  Some people prefer to focus on the breath or a word such as peace instead of  body parts.  Do whatever works for you.

Be gentle with yourself.  Even short periods of meditation done throughout the day can help with stress.  Think of it as a “reset” for your overly active brain.  In case you are wondering whether people with ADD or ADHD can meditate, the answer is “yes.”  Some of my clients have done so and reaped huge benefits.




Don’t Beat Yourself Up!

I have been coaching adults with ADD for over twelve years.  One thing that surprises me again and again is how many of them are perfectionists and how hard they are on themselves when they experience a “perceived” failure.

Let’s say that a person with ADD puts ten things on an “action” list for the day.  At the end of the day, they have completed seven of the items on the list.  Most people, including me, would simply conclude that 7/10ths of the items have been completed and add the uncompleted items to tomorrow’s list.  However, many ADDers would proclaim that they “failed”  to accomplish the goal they set at the beginning of the day because three of the ten items were not completed.

These folks have fallen into what I call “all or nothing” thinking.  Either they achieve goals at 100%  and regard themselves as successful, or they don’t and regard themselves as having failed.  For them, there is no such thing as partial success.

If “beating themselves up” resulted in success, a reasonable person might conclude that “beating oneself up” is a useful strategy for getting things done.  However, when I ask clients if “beating themselves up” helps them to get more things done, nearly 100% say it does not help; in fact it tends to result in them getting fewer things done.  I say, “Would working for a tyrant make you more productive?”    Most of them say it wouldn’t.  Then I point out to them that they have become the tyrant they are working for.

They turn things around when they are able to recognize and celebrate each and every thing they accomplish, however small it might be.  When they begin to do this, they feel better and begin to pile small accomplishments upon small accomplishments to achieve some pretty amazing results.

If you’d like to comment on this blog or share it, click on the title to go to the page where this is possible.  Fill your next week, and the weeks after it, with small accomplishments.  If you’re going in the right direction, the results will surprise you.






What To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed

Almost everyone, even younger people, have seen the TV episode where Lucy (Lucille Ball) and her friend Viv are working on an assembly line in a chocolate factory.  The chocolates keep coming faster and faster.  No matter how fast Lucy and Viv work, they can’t keep up.  The TV episode is funny, but there’s nothing funny about feeling overwhelmed when real life throws things at you faster than you can handle them.  Everyone experiences these feelings, but people with ADD experience them more often.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by the number of things you have to do, by the amount of information coming at you, or by a task you have no idea how to begin because you’ve never done anything like it before?

First, take a few slow deep breaths, fully in and fully out.  It’s important to exhale completely so that the deeper places in your lungs can be refilled with oxygen-rich air.  The more oxygen your brain receives, the more clearly you are able to think.  Do this breathing with your eyes closed and turn your eyes up just a bit to slow down your brain.

Second, acknowledge the feeling you are having.  Notice where it is located in your body.  What is the color, shape, and size of the feeling?  Just becoming an observer of the feeling in yourself can bring a measure of relief.

Third, ask yourself if there are a few small things you could do that would result in in an improved feeling.  For me, this usually involves clearing a space to work in or assembling whatever items I will need to complete the task at hand, or removing some piece of distracting clutter.

Finally, notice the difference between focusing your attention on what you are doing or experiencing versus focusing your attention on your negative thoughts about what you are doing or experiencing.  When you are able to focus your attention on what you are doing or experiencing, rather than on your thoughts, the feeling of being overwhelmed will begin to fade away.

Have an awesome week.



Why It’s Important To Know Why You Want What You Want


When a client begins coaching, she is looking for change. For example, she may say she needs to manage her time better, establish and maintain a regular exercise program, organize her home or office, or find better ways to manage stress. It’s important for her to know why she wants what she wants because the “why” often suggests the best solution for her problem.

I had a client who came to coaching wanting to establish and maintain a regular exercise program. She clearly knew why she wanted to do this. She had been an athlete earlier in her life and she remembered how good she felt when she exercised on a regular basis. She just needed to figure out how to fit the exercise into the busy life she is now leading.

The other goal she brought to coaching was a desire to clear out boxes full of miscellaneous “stuff” that had accumulated in a spare bedroom so that the room would be usable.

After several coaching sessions, she seemed to have made significant progress on an exercise plan, but not so with the boxes. In fact, she seemed to be losing interest in the boxes and I pointed this out to her. Then it occurred to me to ask her why she had decided to clear the boxes out of the room in the first place.

Her answer surprised both of us! She began to describe a hobby for which she has a strong passion. As she talked about the hobby, the whole direction of the conversation shifted. I heard her talking about something she really loved. Suddenly she exclaimed, “I need to clear the table so that I have space to work on this hobby that I love. I don’t need to worry about the boxes; I can just stack them up for now.” In that moment, the problem was reframed and the solution was obvious. Had the “why” been different—let’s say she wanted to create a guest room—another solution would have been called for.

The next time you find yourself wanting something, ask yourself “why” you want it. If you can find clarity about why you want something, the solution may present itself very quickly without your having to struggle for a long time to find it.