By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
~ 4 min read
When you have ADHD, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The symptoms make it harder to navigate all areas of your life. Recently, in this piece, we shared four things that cause overwhelm — from the barrage of thoughts and ideas in your brain to the endless piles and clutter that might surround you.
Today, we’re sharing five more triggers, along with practical strategies to help you reduce overwhelm, manage ADHD and get things done.
Your life lacks structure.
Disorganization is a big trigger for overwhelm. So it’s important to find an organizational system that works for you. For instance, psychotherapist Nancie Kohlenberger, MA, LMFT, uses both a paper planner and a digital one. “I know that no matter where I am, I have access to my calendar all the time.” She noted that Trello is a simple and free app, which you might want to try.
Using alarms also can help you get organized. According to Kohlenberger, you can set an alarm to remind you to take your medication, start a project, take a break and get back to work.
Juli Shulem, PCC, a productivity coach and organizing expert who specializes in ADHD, loves the Reminders app on her iPhone. She uses it to keep her master task list and scheduled task list; a grocery list; and a running list of books she wants to read and movies she wants to watch.
You can’t articulate your point during conflicts.
Many issues between partners can create overwhelm. For instance, during disagreements, partners with ADHD can feel like they can’t come up with the right words to communicate their perspective, said Kohlenberger, a marriage consultant who works with couples all over the country, and co-wrote the book The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD.
The partner who doesn’t have ADHD might feel frustrated and take an accusatory tone. The partner with ADHD might “feel on the spot to respond.” They might get defensive, which turns into anger, she said.
Before getting to the point where both of you burst, take a break. Set a time with your partner to return to the conversation. Pausing helps you center yourself and gather your thoughts, Kohlenberger said. You might take a walk, take deep breaths or engage in some exercise, which sends oxygen to your brain, she said. You can even jot down some thoughts you’d like to discuss when you return to your talk.
Finishing chores feels impossible.
Adults with ADHD also get overwhelmed trying to complete household chores. Kohlenberger stressed the importance of chores being a collaborative effort between spouses.
That is, instead of the spouse without ADHD delegating certain tasks to the spouse with ADHD, couples pick chores that play to each partner’s strengths, she said. For instance, you might enjoy taking care of the plants and yard, so you focus on the outside, while your partner, who’s more organized, pays the bills. This is key because when a partner with ADHD has to do chores in an area they don’t do well in, they might simply skip their chores. This can lead to nagging and other negative interactions.
A couple Kohlenberger works with created a different system that works for them: The husband, who doesn’t have ADHD, felt overburdened with the distribution of the chores. So he and his wife, who has ADHD, spend one night working inside the house together. The next night they work on the outside together.
It’s also important for partners to have a weekly check-in for 15 to 20 minutes, Kohlenberger said. This way you can discuss how your chore arrangement is going. A routine check-in also prevents partners from neglecting their chosen tasks and things falling apart, she said.
Everything seems important.
People with ADHD have a hard time prioritizing tasks. In other words, every task seems significant and pressing. And naturally, you can’t do everything at once, so overwhelm sets in.
For starters, Shulem suggested making sure that your task is really the smallest step. “People will write ‘organize desk.’ That’s a big project.” As she clarified, if you have to do more than three things to actually check one item off your list, it’s not a task; it’s a project. So instead of “organize desk,” you’d write such tasks as “put bills in a file folder” and “throw trash away.”
She also suggested categorizing your items based on the actions required: “Things I have to read, pay, sign, discuss with someone and give to someone.”
Shulem created this definition of “priority,” which you can use to figure out what to work on next: “something that, if left undone, will have a negative consequence. Consequences are a financial loss, business loss, health issue or breaking of a commitment.”
It’s also helpful to ask yourself this question, she said: “If nothing else gets done today but one thing, which must it be?” Plus, be sure to pause, and check in with yourself throughout the day. Shulem suggested asking these questions: “Is this the best thing I could be doing right now? Is this the most important thing? Is this the highest priority for me right now?”
You regularly miss deadlines.
People with ADHD “generally have a poor assessment of time passing so they underestimate greatly how long a task may take. They work past the deadlines they have set,” said Shulem, author of several books on productivity and organization, including Order! A Logical Approach to an Organized Way of Life.
What can you do? She suggested overestimating the time you think a task will take by two. For instance, if you think a task will take you 30 minutes to complete, carve out one hour, she said.
Kohlenberger also underscored the importance of asking for help. Remember that we “don’t have to do everything ourselves.” Think of different friends and family and their strengths, she said. When you need it, seek support.
ADHD is tough to manage. You don’t have to go it alone.