Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Part Two: More Strategies for Maintaining Spiritual and Mental Wellness

Ever notice what happens when you don’t adhere to personal boundaries, curb impulsivity, or keep emotions and negative tapes in check? If you, like many people affected by ADHD, face challenges in these areas, you may find it difficult to maintain spiritual and mental wellness. When you give support to your internal life, you improve your “external” life as well. This month I will share seven more strategies that can help you maintain your “inner” health.

1. Hold yourself back. Learn to say NO!

The word “yes” flies out of our mouths way too often, and we end up over-committing and stretching ourselves way too thin. Each day, say “no” to something, no matter how big or small, so you get comfortable saying it. Create a variety of dialogues that will help you hold yourself back from various situations. For instance, if your friend or colleague asks you to make plans for the upcoming weekend, say, “I’d like to give this some more thought before I commit. Can you check back with me tomorrow?”

2. Keep perspective. Be comfortable in the grey zone.

In times of crisis or stress, your sense of clarity can be skewed and the desire to make things “black or white” can be very compelling. Be sure to be flexible with yourself and others. Allow yourself time to be in the “grey zone,” especially if there is a crisis that is out of your control, like a death or divorce. Recovery can’t be forced, so let your emotion run its course. In time, the fog will lift, and your energy and clarity will return.

3. Journal your emotions.

If you frequently deal with “runaway emotions” or “negative tapes,” you probably get locked onto thoughts or issues, unable to let go. By keeping a problem-solving log, you can defuse emotions by distinguishing what they are and what they are associated with. Write in the log whenever your emotions are preventing you from moving forward. The log can lead you through a series of questions that you ask yourself, such as, “What specific situation triggered my sadness?” “What specific action did I take in the situation?” “What could I have done differently?” “What specific action can I take now?” Answering questions like these can help you step back, see the issue in perspective, and recognize that you have the power to deal with it. This helps you let go of the feelings you are overwhelmed by, gain a new perspective, and move on.

4. Plan in advance for potential emotional upheavals.

To help prevent or minimize emotional upheavals, make detailed plans for any times you find potentially volatile, such as holidays or unstructured time. Write out or go over dialogues in your head of what you will say in particular situations and how you will say it. Have an “escape” plan. For example, I have a client who gets in her car and goes to sit in a parking lot for a little while to take a break from the traditional Christmas Day celebration with her extended family each year. She returns renewed and more able to participate in the holiday festivities.

5. Create a history and future for yourself.

Keep a journal of past accomplishments, future goals, and plans. Review it regularly. Typically, individuals with ADHD live in the moment, which lends itself to a host of problems: not thinking of consequences before acting on thoughts; forgetting past accomplishments as well as past failures; not thinking of the impact of current choices on a future goal, even a short-term one. The feeling of being perpetually trapped in the present can often lead to feelings of emptiness and lack of direction. Having a list of past accomplishments can help to shift your focus to the success you’ve already achieved. It can also encourage you to believe that you can succeed again and achieve what you set out to do!

6. Beware of let-downs after completing big projects or accomplishments.

Many of my clients immediately go into a depression after they complete a large project. All of a sudden the pressure is off and nothing seems exciting or relevant. Know this can happen, and put a plan in place to compensate for the downtime. For example, immediately after I completed the Boston Marathon, I couldn’t escape the sense of “I haven’t done anything with my life; I’m a total loser.” To counter this, I put together a photo album of the marathon and started sharing my recent “win” with everyone so it would stay alive in my mind and help me remember that I wasn’t a “loser.”

7. Take a daily inventory.

Take time each day to reflect on your life and how you are living it. What do you want to change? What will it take? What are you willing to give up to get there? How were you of service today? How can you live a more purposeful life? Asking yourself these questions at the end of each day will help you focus on the things you can and cannot change in your life. That way you can begin to focus more on the positive instead of the negative.

These strategies and the ones I wrote about last month have made a difference for many of my clients who cope with ADHD. If one doesn’t work for you, try another. The key is to find something that helps you keep yourself in balance, use it for as long as it works, and try something new when you need to.