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The Struggle WAS Real (Part 1 of 2)

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

How I cope with ADHD and being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)


As someone who is neurodivergent and has 3 kids on the ADHD continuum, I know how important structure, diet and exercise are for mood regulation and mental clarity & capacity. However, I didn't know what a game changer implementing a mindfulness practice would be until about a year or two ago.




Some Background Info

I didn't know I had ADHD until I was in my 40s. Even as we identified the behaviors and symptoms in my son when he was younger, it never occured to me that I might also have this form of neurodivergence.


I'm not surprised I missed the signs.


In retrospect (hindsight 20:20) they were all there FOR A GIRL. Why capitalize this point? Because it shows up differently for girls vs. boys, and can often be overlooked as was the case with my oldest and myself. (I see the signs just as plain as day now with my youngest.) See? I've learned.


We are a family of neurodivergents. In full disclosure, my son is dyslexic and I am on the HSP spectrum as well. All this to say... overstimulation and sensory overwhelm are very real challenges we face in this instant-gratification-kind-of-world.


My ADHD and HSP Regimen

First, let me tell you... it's by pure coincidence that I even have a regimen. I can't call it an accident because I'm quite certain divine intervention was at play, but it wasn't by conscious effort that I designed what is now my protocol for managing stress, reducing anxiety and keeping myself in a beautiful state of balance with very few flare ups. Below are the basic building blocks.


Diet

After reading countless articles and research studies on the plethora of health issues related to chronic inflammation, I challenged myself to a 6-week overhaul of my diet back in 2017. I eliminated gluten, caffeine, sugar, sulfates, nitrates, alcohol and nightshades.


The result: my brain fog lifted, my cystic acne outbreaks ceased to exist, I had less fatigue, improved mental clarity and less of that dull, heavy feeling that makes it hard to get motivated and moving. I also had less mental/emotional flare ups and breakdowns.


Dare I say, I became a little calmer, more relaxed and less reactive? YES... that's exactly what happened.


I suddenly had a newfound appreciation for the impact of food on my body and mental health. My 6-week challenge became my new norm. I don't always eat 100% clean, but I can tell the difference immediately when I eat foods my body can't digest. The impact on executive functioning is palpable. In addition to those high-inflammatory foods, I also don't eat a lot of processed, frozen or junk foods and anything with soy which I discovered I'm highly sensitive to. Any foods you are even slightly intolerant of will build up as toxins in the body and create inflammation.


Movement

Not all exercise is created equal. For some folks with ADHD, a kick-boxing or HIIT class is perfect for releasing energy and improving circulation. For my youngest, a daily dose of running and jumping is imperative. But for me, these activities increase my anxiety, and I spiral into a pattern of circular thinking and brain fog which increases my forgetfulness, amps up my shiny object syndrome, and creates the perfect environment for me to begin multi-tasking while never completing anything.


Now I do yoga and walk outdoors at least 2x a day. The time in nature calms my nerves and gives me the ability to connect with my dog, breathe in fresh air, and get a little cardio workout without the monkey-mind side effects.


About yoga... I used to go hardcore on yoga and assumed if it didn't hurt and I wasn't sore, there was little benefit. WRONG!!


Yoga has become a must have in my routine. It helps eliminate toxins, releases tension, and reduces cortisol production. Guess what ... cortisol is known to be inflammatory. So if you are in a constant state of stress, it will be harder to focus. This is the life a person with ADHD lives. External stimuli are a constant source of stress as we often lack a filter to buffer out the sounds, lights and other distracting motion around us. Coming into a quiet place to practice yoga without the loud clanging of free weights and water cooler conversations is peaceful and a safe haven for the always wired brain.


Connecting the body movements of asanas with breath is also very important as many neurodivergent folks lack interoceptive awareness, meaning they often can't feel what's happening inside the body. Imagine not feeling your heartbeat or the slow rise and fall of the ribcage as you breathe. This untethered feeling has been shown to increase challenges with self-regulation - a cornerstone of ADHD.


Ayurvedic Practices & Routines

Practicing Ayurveda and eating appropriately for my body and the season has given me year-round structure and agency to restore balance when I feel 'off'. A regular routine helps ADHD and HSP people remain calm in a life that's in constant motion and change. The dinycharya (daily practices) recommended in Ayurveda gives me core activities in the morning and evening that signal to my body a transition of events and prepares my mind for what's coming next. Most neurodivergent people don't function well with a cram-packed schedule or surprise events. On the flip-side, we also don't like having a blank calendar, canvas or sheet of paper in front of us.


The Ayurvedic practices of 3 meals at scheduled times daily, not eating after 7 p.m., oral and body care routines, sleep regimens (I'm in bed by 10 p.m. without fail) and other practical activities at certain times of the day create pillars in my diary that I schedule around. It also helps me remember to eat. I know that sounds crazy, but it's not uncommon for people with ADHD to forget. We get so hyper-focused on something, and again we lack interoception, so eating can sometimes be overlooked creating a train wreck of hanger later.


Another amazing aspect of Ayurveda for the ADHD person is agency - control and autonomy over my health and wellness. It's not unusual for neurodivergent individuals to be skeptical or even defiant of authority, and most don't do well with being told 'what to do'. We are naturally curious, knowledge-seeking individuals that want to do things on our terms (even if your suggestion makes the most sense and is clearly the superior choice). Ayurveda gives me the ability to use food as medicine.


Why this matters... if I feel imbalanced, rather than calling a doctor, I reach for something practical and available in my kitchen without needing an appointment, a consultation, and more activity on my already overwhelming schedule. I don't need to drive anywhere, talk to anyone or be on time to anything. I can simply assess what I'm feeling (present moment awareness) and can decide if it's too much, too little or just right. I also have an arsenal of tools in the form of food at my disposal to correct the situation using the mantra, "Like increases like and opposites balance." If I'm feeling overwhelmed, I can reach for some root vegetables, bone broth or ghee to help me find grounding. If I'm feeling lethargic and dull, I can eat something spicy or sour to get me moving and motivated. It's simple and intuitive, and I like having the ability to try something straightforward and natural before adding a flurry of activity with 3rd parties.


Why These Pillars Aren't Enough For Me

Although all of the above have been instrumental in changing my overall health and, to a large degree, have helped me manage my ADHD and HSP, it wasn't enough to help me overcome disorganization, procrastination, anxiety and overwhelm. The behavioral and mental health aspects of ADHD and HSP needed support. This is where my mindfulness practice became crucial. Find out why in part 2.


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