The ADHD brain tends to be chronically understimulated due to low levels of neurotransmitters critical for task initiation and focus, specifically dopamine and norepinephrine. A lack of external stimulation or interest can cause ADHD-related symptoms to spike whereas an increase in stimulation actually has the opposite effect. That’s why you might notice you have an easier time focusing when the task at hand is fun or interesting. Here are 10 ways to give yourself a mental pick-me-up when you’re feeling “meh”.
1) Have a snack: Not eating enough, or eating the wrong things, can really have an impact on your ability to focus. Many ADHDers rely on caffeine, sugar, and carbs to give them a quick jolt of energy. The problem is, the burst of energy is often short-lived and is followed by a crash, leaving you feeling even more sluggish and tired than before. Like every other organ in your body, your brain requires the right nutrition in order to function optimally. Avoid skipping meals and choose foods that are protein-rich and contain brain-friendly sugars like fruits and dairy products. Many of my clients swear by peanut butter and trail mix.
2) Take a break: ADHD brains expend a great deal of energy, particularly on activities that are mundane or tedious. Consequently, taking breaks is absolutely essential; you need time to recharge your batteries. Watch a favorite TV show, read a book, or partake in activities in that you find engaging but not overly taxing- puzzles, knitting, etc.
3) Make it a game: ADHD brains often love a good challenge so if you’re faced with a boring task that’s leaving you feeling less than inspired, make it more challenging. Many of my clients love setting a timer and challenging themselves to see how much they can get cleaned up, put away, or completed before it goes off.
4) Shake things up: When things get stale or routine, boredom is sure to set in which is kryptonite for ADHD brains. Oftentimes, making small changes is all that is needed to make things interesting again. Change up your workspace; do things in a different order or in a different place; use colored pens and treat yourself to a new notebook; etc.
5) Set a timer: If you’re feeling blah and having a hard time getting started on a task or activity, pick what feels like a doable amount of time such as 10 or 15 minutes, set a timer, and resolve to work on the task or activity until it goes off. This takes the pressure off and often just the act of starting is enough to “grease the wheels” and give you the momentum to keep going even after the timer goes off.
6) Do the things you love: Because daily life can be so draining for those with ADHD, it’s important to make time for the things you love and make you feel accomplished- hobbies, sports, creative passions, etc.
7) Do nothing at all: There’s no doubt that between work, taking care of kids, and maintaining a household, life can be pretty hectic. When you’re feeling drained, sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all. Take an opportunity to just sit quietly and daydream. Stare out the window. Giving yourself even a few minutes of quiet time without having to focus can be extremely restorative.
8) Get moving: Movement- whether it be a walk, a trip to the gym, or a fidget toy- is an incredibly powerful tool when you have ADHD. The benefits of exercise, particularly for ADHDers, are numerous and the simple act of fidgeting has been shown to increase focus. So when you need a boost, your best bet might be to take a quick stroll around the block, do jumping jacks, or break out the silly putty.
9) Involve a friend: For many people with ADHD, having someone nearby to chat with or just be in the same room while they work on a task can be energizing. This is often known as the “body double effect”. If you’re feeling sluggish and unmotivated, invite a friend over or chat on the phone while you work. Many ADHDers find that working in a coffee shop or other location where people are out and about can have the same effect. There are even virtual body double services available for those who wish to partner up with someone long-distance.
10) Keep it fun: One of my coaching colleagues who has ADHD herself once told me that she hates being bored so she makes sure she never is. If you’re faced with a task that you find tedious or boring, find a way to make it fun. Put on music, dance, wear a favorite outfit, or listen to an audio book or podcast. It doesn’t really matter what you do, so long as it energizes you.
One of the most frustrating parts of ADHD is the inability to focus “at-will”. Taking good care of yourself physically and embracing those things that naturally energize, interest, and excite you can go a long way when you need a mental pick-me-up.