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.