There are many things that can cause anxiety in my household. Right now it’s school starting, but it could just as easily be a big project, public performance, the reflection in the mirror, social standing, or if the stove was left on by accident. Whether the subject is big or small, important or inconsequential, real or imagined, many of the ADHDers in our house will find a way to worry about it. Anxiety is a very common co-occurring condition with ADHD, it’s estimated that 25 percent of children with ADHD also have anxiety disorders of one kind or another.
Keeping anxiety in check can be a challenge as we juggle ADHD, learning disabilities, and other co-occurring conditions. Here are some anxiety busters we use to help cope with going back to school and everyday life:
1. Make a List, Check It Twice (Or Thrice…)
Often my ADHDers’ anxiety stems from the fear of forgetting something. Checklists and notes help put the mind at ease because they provide something tangible to check and recheck when the mind is reeling with worry. For some of us, that has become digital calendars and reminders on electronic devices and emails, for others it’s strategically placed notes.
2. Get Up and Do Something About It
Preparing ahead of time can stop that thought that nags and nags. One daughter used to carefully lay out her clothes and backpack each night before she went to bed, then check it multiple times to make sure she’d gotten everything. She was doing something proactive rather than just fretting about it. Similarly, my son handles homework by planning out a project and setting a schedule so that it doesn’t pile up. Doing something helps ease the feeling of helplessness that comes with anxiety.
3. Make Preparations Visible
Whether it’s planning an outfit the day before or taping a list to the door, being able to see those preparations is a great reminder that we’ve done what we can to control the situation we’re worried about. It helps calm the voice inside that constantly screams “You’re going to forget!” and serves as a reminder not to worry.
4. Release Nervous Energy
We have a pacer in our family. He is definitely the most anxious member of the household. When he gets really overwhelmed he goes for a run, rides a bike, or roller blades — anything to help release some of that nervous energy. The added benefit of using movement and exercise to calm those nerves is the release of all those great happy brain chemicals, endorphins.
5. Channel Nervous Energy
Every member of our house has creative endeavors that help them relax and ease their anxiousness. Whether it’s drawing, singing, writing, or acting, channeling nervous energy into an imaginative project is great for the brain. It also helps switch the focus away from negative, fretful thoughts toward positive, productive thoughts.
6. Adjust Perspectives
Oftentimes our ADHDers take one little part of a situation and put in under a microscope, blowing it out of proportion and making it seem absolutely insurmountable. That warped perspective can be dangerous and difficult to manage. We have to help them recognize when their perspective has been twisted and how to adjust. We use communication, asking questions, listening, and thinking about the situation to help them see for themselves how and where the balance was lost.
7. Talk to Yourself
We always remind our kids that they need to be able to work through these problem themselves, mentally and physically. Part of this process is what our household calls “self talk:” reminding themselves that this anxiety is partly their brains playing chemical tricks on them. It reinforces the idea that they are okay and capable, and can work through it. For now we are here to help them, to walk them through the process of coping with anxiety, but that won’t always be the case. It’s just as important that they learn coping mechanisms for anxiety as they have for ADHD.
8. Talk to Your Doctor
If you or your child is suffering from anxiety, it’s important that your doctor know. Co-occurring conditions are so prevalent with ADHD that it’s extremely rare to have it by itself. To effectively treat a patient a doctor needs to know everything that’s going on — a good treatment plan takes into account the whole person and all their struggles.
Finding humor in life’s stressful situations is one of the greatest coping mechanisms we have. Laughing at ourselves, our circumstances, and our worries helps us find balance and put it all back into perspective.
Like ADHD, anxiety is interwoven in all we do. In fact, in many ways separating the ADHD from the anxiety would be impossible, as one feeds the other. Learning to cope helps us find balance and happiness in life.
Published Aug 14, 2014