Why is self-care important for ADHD?
We hear the term ‘self-care’ banded around a lot these days. What does it really mean and why is it important in the context of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
I believe self-care should be a holistic approach to keeping our mind and body healthy; there are three pillars to ‘self-care’ success:
1. Exercise: ideally this should be relatively vigorous aerobic exercise that lasts for 10 minutes or longer. The key here is to try and get some form of exercise; walking the dog, the kids or the cat – it really doesn’t matter what is it, so long as you move regularly. Why is exercise and movement important for ADHD? Exercise helps to generate and maintain neurotransmitters critical to helping reduce ADHD symptoms. Movement has been shown to increase attention and concentration levels.
2. Nutrition: a balanced diet that is eaten three times a day with small snacks in between if required. Regular mealtimes help regulate blood sugar and this helps the ADHD brain function better. There is a lot more research into functional foods and their impact on the gut/brain axis which is fantastic, but you will need to see a professional to know what functional foods your body requires. An easier approach for ADHD is ‘what not to eat’ and the main culprit is: sugar. Try to reduce or eliminate both sugars and sweeteners where possible.
3. Sleep: most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Children, depending on their age, require more. Sleep is a highly underrated part of human health and we often take it for granted. Research has shown that sleep is critical for regenerating vital neurotransmitters in our brain and it also helps with many other regenerative processes. Lack of sleep in individuals with ADHD really does ramp up ADHD symptoms (inattention, disorganisation, lack of emotional control). An alarm can be set to remind you that it’s time to go to bed - try it!
I would like to challenge all of you (whether you have ADHD or not) to try and incorporate some of the basics of self-care into your daily routines. It will make a significant difference to your daily functioning and emotional wellbeing.
Please be realistic. Don’t try to set up intricate exercise routines, gourmet meals and try going to bed at 8 pm if you're used to going to bed at midnight.
Introduce achievable goals – i.e. if you don’t usually eat breakfast, try eating breakfast. If you don't normally exercise, try stretching, a walk or a quick exercise routine - there are loads on youtube (aerobics, yoga, 'no equipment needed' workouts).
Some areas to look out for if you have ADHD:
1. Starting a new activity:
- We often don't begin new activities because we think that we won't follow through and stick with it.
- This makes the very thought of starting the new activity unattractive and we often put up imaginary barriers - "It's too hot today" or "I haven't got the right footwear to walk in".
- These excuses are planted by our brain to avoid the 'prospect of failure or failing' at the new activity.
- If you are aware of these tactics, you know what your mind is trying to do and so now you can make an informed choice to begin your new activity!
2. Keep going whatever!
- So you started - well done!
- You've done a week and you can begin to feel the difference - perhaps a better mood, sleeping better at night, not waking up fatigued, mentally more alert and can concentrate better.
- However, life gets in the way and you miss a day's exercise, or a meal, or you didn't get to bed until 3 am - "it's all over, the routine has been ruined, there's no point in continuing" - this may sound familiar...
- This may be the perfectionist in you; just because the routine was not executed as per the plan, the whole project gets shelved. Is this you? If so now you're aware that your brain is back to old tricks again. It is the act of completing the activity that gives you the motivation and mood boost you are looking for, so not even taking part will ensure you get neither.
- There is also a chance the 'new routine', is now considered the 'old boring routine', despite the benefits you're deriving from it. So spice it up a bit - if it's exercise it doesn't have to be the same thing every day - perform a dance routine to loud music, walk backwards, trampoline - above all else try to keep it interesting. This is the same for your food - mix it up! For sleep, try different 'going to bed' routines.
3. A final tip - keep a success diary:
Log three aspects of your day that went well before you go to bed each night. This helps to show you:
- How far you have come since you started introducing self-care into your routine.
- Whilst the success may not be relevant to self-care, it's a really good discipline to have.
- Having this perspective can really help maintain and increase your motivation to continue your self-care routines.
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