When you have ADHD, you may feel you are at the mercy of your attention span. You may find yourself haphazardly jumping from one thought, idea, task, activity, project, or plan to another. And at other times getting caught up in a seemingly endless cycle of hyperfocus, rumination, overwhelming emotions, and impulsivity. Enter the powerful pause.
When we are able to pause, we become aware. And when we become aware, we also become better able to think critically, problem-solve, and ultimately make better decisions.
I first learned about the Power of the Pause during my time at the ADD Coach Academy (ADDCA). The model was developed by ADDCA’s founder and president, David Giwerc, to help children and adults with ADHD develop emotional regulation skills. The basic elements of the model include pausing to breathe; taking note of bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions; and finally, creating and implementing a plan to overcome whatever challenge you are facing in that moment.
Let’s look at each step individually…
1. Breathe: The first step is the simplest but also the most crucial: breathing.
You’ll want to make sure you’re engaging your diaphragm when you breathe, rather than taking shallow breaths which only engage your chest. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breathe in deeply through your nose so that the airflow causes your belly to expand (you’ll feel your belly rise under your hand if you’re doing it right) then exhale through your mouth.
Why is breathing so important?
When we breathe deeply, we are producing a state of calm and sending much-needed oxygen to our brain which activates the prefrontal cortex- the area responsible for problem-solving and critical thinking.
2. Check in with yourself: As you breathe, notice what your body feels like. Is it tense? If so, where? What emotions are you experiencing? Anger? Frustration? Anxiety? What thoughts are these emotions bringing to the forefront?
Perhaps you need to start on an important project for work, for example, but every time you sit down at your desk you’re unable to begin. Your neck and shoulders feel tight; it’s difficult to focus. You might say to yourself, “I’m feeling very anxious and overwhelmed because I’m not sure how to start this project”.
It’s critically important to identify and acknowledge what you’re feeling at this stage because doing so sets the foundation for developing emotional awareness. In other words, you have to “name it to tame it”.
3. Plan and proceed: Now that you’ve identified your thoughts and feelings and how they might be preventing you from moving forward, you can formulate an action plan.
Going back to the previous example, if you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed about a project at work, you might break the process down in to smaller, more manageable steps or think of ways to make the work more enjoyable.
Learning how to pause is like strengthening a muscle; it takes time, patience, and energy. You may have a hard time remembering to pause in the beginning and attempting to practice a new skill in the midst of emotional overwhelm is hardly ideal.
To get yourself in the habit of pausing, try choosing a familiar activity such as brushing your teeth or stopping at a red light to act as a cue to practice breathing and simply noticing what you’re feeling and thinking in the moment. Using visuals can be helpful, too. Many of my clients keep pictures of pause buttons in clear view to serve as reminders.
Over time and with practice, you’ll become more attuned to your inner state and better able to navigate overwhelm and big emotions.