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Symptoms of ADHD can vary from one individual to another, and the circumstances or situations that exacerbate those symptoms can also vary. While the more common exacerbating factors are health related, such as lack of sleep, poor diet and little exercise, more recently it has been noted the Covid-19 pandemic has been an exacerbating factor and even causing trauma for adults with ADHD.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for people across the globe, but for adults with ADHD, dealing with global change can be particularly overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. In this blog, we’ll discuss why the Covid-19 pandemic may be triggering distressing emotions, and even trauma, in adults with ADHD and how to manage better.
Trauma is usually described as an emotional response to a significantly distressing or dangerous event. While some may experience symptoms immediately after the event, for others the symptoms will only become apparent when the memory of the trauma is triggered, which could be years after the initial trauma.
The experience of trauma is personal and will affect people in different ways, but people with ADHD may experience anxiety and distress in a more intense way when triggered. Since it is not unusual for those with ADHD to have experienced chronic trauma growing up, many will find themselves in a constant state of high alert, and become more susceptible to being adversely affected by traumatic events.
A trigger is defined as something that prompts recall of a previous traumatic event or experience. For example, those who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a car crash may be triggered at the sight of busy roads or getting into a vehicle. Triggers can come in various forms, including tastes, smells, sounds and emotions, and the first step towards managing these triggers is to learn to identify and understand them.
With professional guidance, people with ADHD who are suffering with trauma can become increasingly aware of what exactly is triggering their anxieties, and why their ADHD has such a significant impact on how they react. Getting help will also mean they can start taking steps towards minimising any adverse reactions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed a lot about how we live our lives, and for both children and adults with ADHD, coping with these changes has been particularly challenging. Since ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, associating factors of the pandemic such as restrictions, lack of social contact and uncertainty will have all played their part in triggering ADHD brains to display trauma reactions – particularly if the person has experienced trauma in the past. From extended isolation periods to furloughs, the pandemic has meant that a lot of us have waved goodbye to old lifestyle habits and routines, among other things. This general uncertainty has no doubt affected most of us, but responses to these changes are likely to be different for people with ADHD.
One effect of trauma is that the body and mind are left in a constant state of high-alert. We know already that hyper-sensetive emotions are a common trait among those with ADHD, but alertness is different. People with ADHD who have experienced trauma will be somewhat ‘primed’ to expect danger and threats, so when faced with something such as a global pandemic, the emotional response is likely to be more difficult to control. For example, feeling lost, overwhelmed or generally anxious during the challenging times of Covid-19 could quickly trigger feelings from past traumas.
Although restrictions are beginning to lift, that isn’t to say these issues will have less of an impact. Adults with ADHD may experience these reactions even several years from now, since emotional or psychological trauma can be recurring when triggered. Some adults with ADHD are also struggling with re-entry syndrome or post-lockdown anxiety – worrying about what returning to old ways of living could mean for their overall wellbeing. Take a look at this recent blog post for some tips on how you can manage post-lockdown anxiety symptoms.
The most effective way to manage trauma reactions is to seek help from an experienced ADHD or mental health professional who can fully understand your reactions from a neurodevelopmental perspective. It can be difficult to self-assess such things as you may subconsciously avoid thinking about a particular event in your life that may have caused these trauma reactions.
As well as professional guidance, there are several proactive ways that people with ADHD can help themselves cope during Covid-19. Below is some actionable advice:
Many adults with ADHD find their symptoms easier to manage when they can stick to a schedule. Small routine fixes such as making sure you wake up at the same time each day, taking your medication if necessary, having planned mealtimes and distinguishing between work time and downtime can be very helpful.
To make sure you’re held accountable for your routine, perhaps tell a friend or family member about it. This should encourage you to stay on task and continue creating a structure for your day-to-day life. Doing this can also give you a sense of productivity which may help you to feel less restless and more motivated.
While it’s important to keep updated about the news, adults with ADHD who are feeling particularly overwhelmed by the pandemic should definitely limit time online and only tune in to news channels when absolutely necessary. Getting caught up in the statistics around new cases and death tolls may be triggering, and having a constant negative outlook is unhelpful for the ADHD brain.
Instead of spending time online and getting lost in current affairs, socialise with friends and loved ones via video calls, learn a new skill like painting or cooking, read fiction books or listen to calming radio shows or podcasts. There are plenty of ways to find entertainment that don’t involve being in touch with everything going on in the outside world.
Self care doesn’t have to be about meditation and bubble baths – it’s about what will make you feel healthiest in your own mind. You might find it useful to limit mentions of the pandemic during social interactions, for example. Another way to practice self care might be to organise things around your home to keep your hands busy. The best self care is knowing what feels right for you and making time for it.
It’s also important to remind yourself that it’s okay to feel anxious and overwhelmed, both in this current situation and at any given time. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, and there are hundreds of ADHD and trauma specialists out there who can help you figure out how best to deal with any adverse emotions you’re experiencing.
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