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The Struggle WAS Real (Part 2 of 2)

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

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


In the previous blog, I described 3 practices I use to help me manage some of the more physical aspects of HSP and ADHD like restlessness, circular thinking, inattention, headaches, fidgeting, anxiety and brain fog. They included:

  • Diet

  • Movement

  • Ayurvedic Daily Practices


Additionally there are many smaller things that add up to big wins like getting to bed by 10 p.m., staying hydrated with electrolytes (water with pink Himalayan salt), minimizing screen time and electronic distractions, and always leaving my commonly used items (phone, wallet, keys, etc.) in the exact same place daily. These help me avoid spiraling into the depths of chaos by keeping me in a state of relaxation instead of panic.


What I also disclosed in Part 1 is how ALL of these things are a necessity, but not quite hitting the mark on coping with the behavioral aspects of ADHD and HSP.


For example, I am a known procrastinator. I struggle with organization, and clutter is a very common issue. I often rush from one activity to the next without asking myself if it's a good idea, and typically base my decision on whether it feels good in the moment. If I become overwhelmed, my emotions take over and it seems like rational thought leaves the building. I'm notorious for starting a ton of projects and getting them to the 80% complete mark, and then not finishing them. When I get overstimulated, I retreat, distance, avoid or become curt...possibly even rude. At the extreme, I become hypersensitive and can't control my emotions. When I am out of balance, I become critical, judgmental, sometimes resentful and adopt a flippant attitude or victim mentality. It's not uncommon for me to 'blow up' an entire project or relationship if something isn't working or becomes too stressful. And don't get me started on my defensiveness. I also can careen down the highway of addicition taking any substance or activity to an unhealthy obsession. (Case and point, my relationship with alcohol and sugar is quite fragile.)

"I pretty much become the worst version of myself if I don't incorporate self-awareness princples."


My Experiment

I've explored tons of techniques over the past 3-4 years; each with varying degrees of success. It's been fun to play with these activities and be the silent, non-judgemental witness of my reactions and receptiveness - some work better for me than others.


It's important to note, I did not do a 'one-and-done' approach, and gave each experiment ample time and repetition to form an opinion. I have looked at combinations of activities - for example food, sleep and journaling - to understand if there is a sweet spot. (In full disclosure, journaling hasn't been one of my favorites.) I have also experimented with:

  • implementation at different times of the day, month, year;

  • different locations (office, home, RV, nature, etc);

  • frequency (how often I repeat the activity): and

  • variations in duration (how long I do the activity in one sitting).


For many of the activities, I've had counselors, teachers, apps, facilitators, YouTube, books and guides help me lay the foundation. For others, I've done some research and set off on my own. The important thing with all of this is to be open-minded to finding what works for you, and then consistently practice. E.g. you won't learn much if you pre-judge the experience, set too high of expectations, or if you do it once and give up.

In fact, it's best if you explore each practice with childlike wonder and curiosity, leaving your preconceived notions at the door.

Below are the activities I've tried during this experimental phase:

  • Acupuncture

  • Aromatherapy

  • Yoga (vinyasa, yin, Bikram (hot), restorative & Ayurvedic)

  • Meditation

  • Journaling

  • Plant Medicine (journeying)

  • Talk Therapy

  • Soul Collage

  • Mind Mapping

  • Silence

  • Time in Nature

  • Painting

  • Writing

  • Breathwork

  • Massage Therapy

  • Gratitude Practice


How I Measured the Effectiveness

My criteria was basic:

  1. Did I notice a positive change in my behavior?

  2. Did it improve my overall mood and decrease my anxiety, stress and feelings of overwhelm?

  3. Did I enjoy the activity?

  4. Did it reduce my heartrate and monkey-mind?

  5. Was I present while doing the activity?

  6. Did it help me better understand myself?

  7. Did it help me pause before reacting?

  8. Is it something I could incorporate in my life easily and without added stress?


I didn't do a lot of empirical evidence-based experimentation and there were no real controls, but rather I used my feelings and intuition to guide me -- a purely subjective analysis.


Since only I know how I felt and what was on my mind, it's appropriate that I determine which of these would be best suited for my lifestyle and goals. Something that lowered my heartrate, but was unenjoyable wouldn't be a go-to in my arsenal during moments of desperation. However it might be great for a once or twice a year tool. If I felt rising tension or judgement creeping in during the practice, I knew it was undermining my goals and wouldn't be helpful in my current state of mind. That's not to say I might not someday grow to love and appreciate it.


I really reflected on how I felt (in the moment and later), what was reasonable for me to commit to given my unique circumstances, and when would be the appropriate time to use that particular weapon. Some are best suited for immediacy, while others are great for quiet, thoughtful reflection.


My Go-To Mindfulness Practices

I assure you I use everything in the list at various times throughout the year, and they all are an integral part to the whole experience of mindfulness for me. I have learned something about myself from each and they build on each other to create a beautiful inner-peace and awareness. But I am limited on how much you will read, so I've narrowed it down to my top 3 favorites. (Incidentally, Yoga would be among them, but I already discussed previously in the Movement section.)


Meditation

It took me a long time to appreciate the power of meditation. It was difficult to sit still, to become an empty vessel, and to not attach a story to every thought passing by. But after months of practice, I am now comfortable with sitting in silence. I can feel with each breath how my body releases tension, and how my ego is temporarily quieted. I feel my heartbeat and can hear the movement of breath around me, interoceptive awareness. BTW... my meditation practice always incorporates breathwork. I find the combination to be the most effective for me.


Why it's important for me: Meditation creates a dedicated time and place for me to slow down and become present. It helps me filter out sensory information and allows my cells to come back into coherence aligning to my slow rhythmic breathing. It helps me reduce mind chatter giving me the ability organize my thoughts, information and priorities more effectively upon completion. I can approach my day with a slow, methodical and considerate evaluation, rather than as the headless chicken. It also pulls me out of future- and past-tense thinking which can lead to overwhelm, catastrophizing and procrastination. Lastly, it helps me become aware of my feelings before emotions take hold.


Mind Mapping

I can't emphasize enough how much mind mapping has helped me! These are simple written exercises based on templates I've created or adapted from others that: help with self-discovery, provide project pathways, outline success criteria, or document recurring patterns for examination. They are mental practices with a tangible outcome that improve cognition, create new neuropathways and assist with meaning making. (One could argue that Soul Collage is a form of mind mapping too.)



Why it's important for me: Mind maps are reference points that remind me to notice and celebrate my successes. They also are awesome tools to help me set goals and action plans against those goals. I use them when I'm in a state of extreme procrastination, overwhelm or when I can't get beyond the ideation phase. I also use them to help me dissect emotions, circular thinking, beliefs, and stories. I can see how far I've come on a topic, project, relationship or behavior which keeps me out of the shame and blame cycle. They are also extremely helpful as a decision-making tool when I want to start a new project. I can simply review the mind map that set my goals and values for the year, and can ask if it's aligned vs. starting and not completing it.

 



 

Gratitude Practice

This is the art of intentional gratitude. What does that mean? It's not being grateful just during the holidays or when a negative event or outcome is avoided. It's the active participation in cultivating gratitude on a daily basis. Taking a moment to acknowledge your daily Wins, embody the feeling of thanksgiving for those moments, people and experiences during the day that helped you achieve the Win, and consciously deciding to be positive and acknowledge the abundance of life. It's not delusional and has to be grounded in reality in order to be effective.


Why it's important for me: I have ridden the rollercoaster of anxiety & depression all my life. My expectations used to overshadow the achievements and positive accomplishments of the day, or the stories I associated with past events created sadness, desperation and unhealthy coping strategies. This creates heightened stress, relationship issues, and all kinds of disappointment. Taking time everyday to measure backward and to reframe negative events into positive exchanges (coined from the book by Dan Sullivan & Ben Hardy, The Gap and the Gain) keeps me present and focused on how far I've come. It also keeps me out of the comparison game which is so prevalent in our society. Neurodivergent individuals have been compared all their lives to just-out-of-reach standards that really aren't applicable. So the fear of failure, the shame of not measuring up, and the corresponding low self-esteem are palpable. Focusing on my Wins reminds me how capable I am and helps me frame my activities for the next day. What wins do I want to achieve and how should I organize my day to accomplish them? It also feels good to be grateful.


Mindfulness and Awareness to Get SH!T Done

The bottom line ... based on my experience and experimentation, I can focus and improve my ability to get projects completed if I'm aware and more mindful about how I spend my time. Slowing down to go fast is imperative for me so I reduce anxiety, stress, costly mistakes, and scarcity mindset. My mindfulness practices help me frame my day against what I truly value, enjoy or know are critical for collecting my end-of-the-day WINS! They give me agency over my emotions and actions, and they make me accountable for my time. I love that I am more grounded and significantly less reactive! They have helped me create and become aware of the tiny pause before an explosion - the space where I can make a conscious decision about how to proceed.


Now to address my clutter issue.... (lol)

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