When Suzette popped open her laptop at a café to catch up on some work, she planned to be working happily with the sounds of laughter, steaming milk and pressed coffee in the background.
Unfortunately for her, the vibrant noise of a local coffee house completely disrupted her ability to focus and she spent most of her time people watching instead of working.
“I see all these images on social media of people shredding their to-do lists while sipping an espresso in a funky coffee house and I’m so envious,” she says. “I want so much to be motivated by the energy, but instead I’m scattered and anxious.”
Suzette was diagnosed with ADHD in her mid-thirties after struggling to get her projects done on time as an office manager for a real estate company. Since her work was remote, she thought it would break up her days to walk to a local café to update spreadsheets. Instead, she lost hours of valuable time and was at risk of losing her job.
She did some research and discovered that people with ADHD are acutely impacted by different sounds.
A raucous anthem from their favourite band can help with cleaning up the kitchen, but the same high energy music would feel like nails on a chalkboard while trying to answer an important email.
People with ADHD are known to have heightened sensitivity to the physical environment. Sounds may feel like they’re happening in an intense rush and it can be overwhelming.
That’s why It’s extra important to curate your working environment.
For Suzette, working at her local library while streaming music through her headphones has helped her get control of her tasks.
“There’s a library a few blocks from me so I just set up at a quiet table in the morning and get my work done on time. It’s not the most exciting place, but I feel much more in control of my productivity.”
When neurodivergent people are in hyperfocus, it can be breathtakingly productive. A flurry of emails are written, bills get paid, and household chores get finished in record time.
Sounds can play a major role in setting you up for success. Read on for suggestions on how to make sounds and music work in your favour.
Curate your tunes
Brown noise has been rising in popularity on social media. It’s a specific frequency that’s meant to focus a busy ADHD mind. Studies have shown that it could work due to something called optimal arousal theory, which has been indicated to help neurodiverse people reach a more interested state. This could come in handy when updating code on a website, or organizing your desktop.
More traditional forms of music such as classical and jazz can help with focus so adding Vivaldi, Miles Davis or Mozart to your playlist can help.
Binaural beats, which are best enjoyed with headphones, play sound at a certain frequency with one ear and a sound at a different but similar frequency with your other ear. This coaxes your brain to produce a sound with the frequency of the difference between the two tones and it has been known to increase dopamine levels.
Many people report music with lyrics to be too distracting, so choosing an ambient playlist to keep you on track is a great idea. If your using a streaming service, commercials can be very disruptive so choose a service that gives you constant streaming without interruptions.
Seek out quiet spaces
Popular culture is filled with images of people typing away in busy environments, but the reality of ADHD’ers who may also be grappling with sensory processing challenges, it can be the worst place to complete work that requires linear thought.
If silence is too much, some people find running a fan or other appliance can help.
In a pinch, noise cancelling headphones can help blot out disruptive noise if you find yourself having to get work done in an open office or busy airport.
Remember, there is no one size fits all when it comes to managing noise distractions and what may have worked in the past may need rethinking depending on your work, school, and family priorities.
For more information on how ADHD impacts day-to-day life, read our blog about sensory overwhelm.
Do you find yourself always late for appointments because you have not factored in the “true” time it takes to get ready and get there?
Do you miss deadlines, because you think you have plenty of time left to complete your work?
Do little microbreaks from your work tasks end up consuming your whole day?
Have you ever sat down to plan a budget or get ready for a big life event and felt as though it was impossible to conceive?
If some or all of these scenarios seem familiar, it’s likely due to time blindness.
First popularized by ADHD researcher Dr. Russell Barkley in a 1997 paper about self-regulation and time perception in people with ADHD, Dr. Barkley also called this phenomenon temporal myopia. Put another way, literal near-sightedness to time.
Some folks in the disability community are uncomfortable with the term, but as of this writing, there hasn’t been a widely accepted alternative.
It’s important to understand that time blindness is the result of perception so working with your strengths and calling in support when you need it can really help.
Many adults are able to conceive and plan three months into the future, but with ADHD’ers, it’s closer to a week or two, sometimes even less. The future can feel like an abstract fantasy, which leads to a lack of urgency.
Reduced time horizons make it difficult to plan for the future and set goals.
The good news is there are proven ways to address this.
Watch out for time sinks
Social media, with its potential for infinite scrolling can rob you of valuable attention and time throughout the day. Logging on to post a photo can lead to an array of rabbit holes and may even trigger feelings of inadequacies, the last thing neurodiverse people need!
Try blocking specific times of day to interact via social media. Many people report holding off until later in the day when work is done also helps lower the chance of being exposed to negative news. There are also blocking apps that will prevent you from accessing social media during certain times of the day.
Track your days
Add a day in your calendar to record how long it actually takes to do things. For example, when answering an email, set a timer and log the amount of time it takes into a document. Making lunch? Set a timer.
Record every activity, even leisure time. Don’t sweat it if some tasks take longer than others, this is simply a way for you to get realistic about how long things take during the day so you can approach your work and responsibilities with more ease and realistic expectations.
Speaking of alarms, set up reminders and alarms on your devices and have a wall mounted or digital clock within your field of vision. It’s a good idea to build in some transition times for screen breaks and exercise. Being pulled from one task to another without a sufficient break can be extra taxing for adults with ADHD, so work with your abilities, not against them.
Schedule planning time
When you put your goals and budgets into a planner or document, it gets easier to see how much time you have to meet your deadlines and responsibilities. Having dates on your wall calendar can help with visualizing where tasks are at and what still needs to be accomplished.
Chunk it down
ADHD’ers can get overwhelmed with multiple projects and assignments, that’s why it’s key to create small doable tasks and set a timer to track how long it will take to get work completed.
There is also a risk of being given too much time, without tools and a blueprint of action, it can feel like being sucked into quicksand.
Building in small wins throughout the day, which provide extra motivation will help keep you on track to your goals.
Bring in a coach
Working with a coach can help you get back on track when things feel out of control in your day-to-day responsibilities. Many coaches offer programs aimed specifically at supporting you in time management.
Time blindness can cause unwanted frustrations throughout the day and can impact your long-term health, career and personal goals, but by setting yourself up with supportive apps, careful planning, a coach, and setting alarms, you’ll be well on your way to managing it.
For more ADHD content and inspiration, check out our new TikTok @adultADHDCentre and YouTube channel!
Chances are, if you’re on the ADHD discovery path, you’ve come across various ADHD coaching services through Google searches and following hashtags on social media.
Services you read about may range from group coaching, to online courses, to high priced one-on-one coaching sessions.
Since coaching isn’t a regulated service, unfortunately there are folks out there selling courses and online groups that haven’t been properly researched and are simply looking to make a profit.
Sadly, these programs can cause more harm than good and can be very expensive, sometimes adding up to thousands of dollars.
Caution is advised of course. But for the neurodiverse person, desperate for some strategies to help with organization and time management, they can be very tempting.
What’s a curious ADHD’er to do? Read on for some advice on how to choose wisely for your well-being and success.
It’s vital to note that coaching is not therapy. Coaches help with any number of challenges, including time management, organizing your workspace, relationships, studying for school exams, professional development, career advancement and more.
It’s important to understand that coaching can be an incredible part of a well-rounded toolbox for managing ADHD. Medication can help with focus and impulse control, but cultivating sustainable habits takes more effort and practice.
In tandem with a medical professional such as your family doctor or nurse practitioner, a clinical therapist, and a well-rounded exercise habit, working with a coach can yield incredible results.
Do your research
A good coach will usually have some form of certification and some may offer references or testimonials.
Keith Gelhorn is the founder of ADDvocacy a certified ADHD coaching and training provider.
He says it’s wise to choose a coach with lived experience of ADHD.
Keith struggled with mental health challenges before being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.
His deep understanding and compassion for the many challenges that ADHD brings are strong assets for a coach. He says implementing executive function strategies takes time, prolonged effort, and commitment to become habit.
He also advises being wary of astronomical claims from online coaching programs that promise quick fixes but don’t deliver. If group coaching makes sense for your schedule and/or budget, choose online courses that have a cohort/group coaching component with weekly or bi-weekly interaction from the coach.
While he is open about his own ADHD discovery, Keith is also a seasoned coach and can offer clients tangible exercises and tools to reinforce their commitment to improvement. It’s an effective strategy and he works with clients to meet their academic and career goals with a high success rate.
Once you’ve found a coach that feels right, don’t be shy to ask for a discovery call. Most coaches offer a 15-30 minutes of free consultation so you can ask questions.
Here are a few sample questions to get started:
Have you taken accredited training directly focused on ADHD?
How long have you been coaching?
What brought you to ADHD coaching?
Do you have lived experience with ADHD or have a close relationship with someone who does?
What can I expect in a session? Do you use frameworks or guides?
How do you measure results?
Can you offer any references or testimonials from other clients?
How much will it cost?
After a phone call, you should have a good sense of whether it’s a good fit.
Trust your gut
Always trust your instincts! ADHD’ers have often spent a lifetime not trusting themselves due to negative feedback from peers, family members, and colleagues. But your gut is usually right so if a coach feels too high pressure, or not firm enough, keep searching until you find the right fit.
Depending on your work situation, some coaching may be covered by extended health benefit programs. But if you’re freelance or a sole proprietor, it might not be covered. All the more reason to practice due diligence and research carefully before signing on with a coach or online program.
Students may find some financial relief through federal education grants.
Remember, this is about you finding healthy ways to manage some of the challenges that come with ADHD. It’s your choice and your well-being.
Whatever route you decide to take, researching and learning about how to best support your success will yield great results.
It’s April 19th, how are those taxes coming along? If that sentence strikes terror in your heart, we’ve got you covered. Continue reading for some helpful suggestions on how to tackle doing your taxes without going off the rails.
A major struggle and source of anxiety for ADHD’ers is financial paperwork so it makes sense that neurodiverse folks feel extra anxious around tax time.
But this yearly personal administrative task can potentially yield some financial relief, depending on your situation. With living costs skyrocketing across the country, spending some time to organize your files and get ready to submit your taxes can yield big results.
People with ADHD pay what’s colloquially known as an ADHD tax for all the forgotten subscription sign ups, library late fees, and spoiled groceries. Not to mention the high cost of medications that often aren’t covered by Pharmacare or personal health insurance plans.
If you're already paying more for so many other things, why not take some time to ensure you're getting the benefits you're entitled to?
In Canada, the Disability Tax Credit or DTC is designed to help offset the many costs of living with a disability. If you’re not on disability, that’s ok, you can still apply. Many working Canadians with varying degrees of challenges qualify for this benefit. Take some time and read through the criteria.
Don't leave money on the table
It’s important to research what benefits you may be entitled to! Most tax credit programs aren’t widely advertised so we’ve created a resource page, just for you.
In order to apply for the Disability Tax Credit, you’ll need to work with a nurse practitioner or your family doctor to fill out the form. Depending on your health care team and access, this should be free of charge, but check with your provider. In BC, the Medical Services Plan covers this fee. Even if it isn't covered, it can be applied as a deduction on your taxes next year.
Once you apply for the credit, it usually takes two to four weeks (longer around tax time, due to high volume) to be screened and approved. Once you receive the letter of approval, you can fill out your taxes.
But wait, there's more! Once approved for the DTC, you can open up a Disability Retirement Savings Plan which is a fantastic way to set yourself up for future financial security. For those younger than 49-years-old, there are government grants that can help you grow your funds so make sure you ask about this important resource.
Help is available
We understand just thinking about taxes and all that mundane paperwork is often the overwhelming part! But there are many free tax software programs available online if you have a fairly straightforward tax return.
There are also free tax clinics that many non-profit organizations, including MOSAIC, that help folks new to Canada navigate the complexities of the tax system.
In Vancouver for example, many neighbourhood houses host tax clinics. For a full directory of local tax clinics, visit this page on Canada.ca.
If you are on disability, there are advocates that can assist with more complex tax returns through Disability Alliance BC.
For those with very simple tax returns, Wealthsimple Tax has a no-nonsense online filing system that links directly to your CRA account.
There are expenses that you can claim but may not be aware of, including the cost of some medications, even medical assessments such as those for ADHD. A helpful guide can be found here.
At the Adult ADHD Centre, we understand how hard it is to start a daunting task such as your taxes, but as with many other projects, getting started can break the spell of analysis paralysis and/or perfectionism.
Break it down
One way to minimize overwhelm is to break it down into smaller chunks. For example, taking 20 minutes to read up on free tax clinics, then take a 5-minute break, then return to signing up for a CRA online account if you don’t yet have one. Once you get rolling, you'll be surprised how quickly it all comes together.
Remember, the urgency and stress you’re experiencing from procrastinating on your tax return may not be how the government sees it. In Canada, even if you overlook an important item on your return, you can refile through the CRA my account online portal.
Wherever you are on your journey, it’s important to give your attention to this yearly paperwork. You may even be entitled to a tax credit or refund!
Early in 2020 when worldwide pandemic lockdowns forced most people inside, Sheila felt strangely excited. As a highly sensitive person with ADHD, she looked forward to being safely away from the office drama. Her employer’s open office concept was painfully distracting, but working from home she was certain she would be much more productive. She relished the idea of being at home with her young son. An added benefit: no more gruelling commutes!
Two years later, she’s not holding up so well.
“Some days I roll out of bed and just feel hopeless,” she said. “Between global news, the lifting of mask mandates, and my tight financial situation, I don’t know which way is up.”
Uncertainty Affects Wellness
Sheila is far from alone. Millions of people worldwide have been navigating chronic uncertainty for the better part of two years. Our brains aren’t designed for this level of heightened anxiety and stress.
Our limbic system is efficient in fight or flight response when we need to act quickly to outrun a predator or perform an urgent task, but when it feels like every day is an emergency, our entire nervous system can get overwhelmed by cortisol and adrenaline.
For people with ADHD, it’s even more disorienting as they experience more intense symptoms than the general population.
Learning to Cope
When time permits, Sheila takes her five-year-old for long walks around Trout Lake in East Vancouver. She finds the willow trees, paddling ducks, and quiet atmosphere brings her back to the present moment. Her son can cavort with other kids at the playground and skip rocks over the smooth surface of the lake.
“It’s the only time I get to just be and breathe,” she says. “Work is always busy, but trying to do it from home while my son needs my attention feels impossible some days. I’m lucky to work with a company that understands this and gives me some flexibility so I often work on my projects late into the night while he’s sleeping.”
Diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD by her family doctor at 30, Sheila manages her symptoms with psychostimulant medication but has started wondering if she is depressed. She’s far from alone: 85% of adults with ADHD meet the criteria for a comorbid condition with a high prevalence of depression and anxiety.
She has scheduled time with an online therapist to help her sort through the complex emotions she’s feeling and plans to discuss other treatment options with her doctor.
Strategies on Dealing With Uncertainty and ADHD
In the meantime, there are strategies and habits that can help Sheila, and anyone struggling with this long emergency to reduce the stress of chronic uncertainty.
1: Sheila is wise to get into nature. Studies show that even a short walk in an area with clean air and trees can reduce negative thoughts and release stress.
2: Connect with friends. Positive feedback loops help our brains build new neural pathways, which are vital for creating new memories.
3: Start a journal. While apps and notes on our smartphones can be efficient, the physical act of putting pen to paper can help calm our nervous system and slow down racing thoughts.
4: Invite more joy. Yes, the world is scary sometimes but finding moments to laugh throughout the day will help release pent up tension.
5: Reduce your news and social media consumption. ADHD brains are wired to seek out stimulation, but when it comes in the form of war and unattainable beauty standards, it can lead to tremendous suffering.
For further information on how to be assessed for Adult ADHD
More helpful suggestions for managing Adult ADHD
1 CADDRA - Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance: Canadian ADHD Practice Guidelines, 4.1 Edition, Toronto ON; CADDRA, 2020
Katzman, M. A., Bilkey, T. S., Chokka, P. R., Fallu, A., & Klassen, L. J. (2017). Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach. BMC Psychiatry, 17(1), 302. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-017-1463-3
3 Kathleen Fuegen and Kimberly H. Breitenbecher.Ecopsychology.Mar 2018.14-25.http://doi.org/10.1089/eco.2017.0036
Robbie McDonald was diagnosed with ADHD in mid-life and writes about mental health from her home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.