Understanding the ADHD brain and how you can tune it to your liking
ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurological condition often diagnosed during early childhood which is defined by inattentiveness or hyperactivity depending on the individual. The general misconception of being diagnosed with ADHD is that we are lazy or unambitious, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
People who have ADHD are considered to be highly creative individuals and have the ability to focus on a task for hours on end, tuning out everything around them during the process. But what happens when you tune out too much?
A common metaphor for having ADHD is that it feels like putting your car radio on scan. You hear bits of sound and music, but before you’re able to get adjusted to a particular station, your brain jumps onto the next one. This can be a challenge when needing to get work done, as many people including myself find it hard to tune back into that one specific station we meant to look for in the first place.
It’s not that we don’t want to, but we often get so caught up in the wonder of other stations that we find it hard to move away from them. We’re curious people that have an innate hunger for learning, so it’s not always easy to tune out a station that may quench our thirst for new and exciting information.
The devil is in the details
Hyperactivity is one symptom of ADHD and can manifest in different ways. For some, it can look like constant fidgeting or movement, while for others it can look like an obsession with very minute details in our work. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your work to look good, it is your work after all! However, it starts to become a problem for us when we’re so hyper-focused on the smallest of details that we’re unable to be happy with our work unless it looks perfect to us.
Think of it this way: you’re so focused on looking for the perfect radio station that no other station will do. It has to be that one. specific. station. So you try incredibly hard to tune your radio so it can fit into that mould that you’ve already envisioned in your mind. You keep trying and trying to get it just right.
Before you know it, the day has gone and you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in several radio stations that had nothing to do with your initial plan. You spend the whole day trying to achieve that perfect vision, but all that tuning and searching has worn you down. You feel like you’ve failed yourself because you weren’t able to get that perfect station, and now you don't find enjoyment in your own work.
Research tells us that people who have ADHD have lower dopamine levels, which is the neurotransmitter that is associated with your attention and focus. Dopamine is also known as the ‘’feel-good’’ chemical, so whenever you’re having a good time listening to your favourite song or eating your favourite meal that’s your brain releasing dopamine. Due to the lowered levels in people with ADHD, we can find it difficult or even challenging to start work we don't enjoy as we don’t get the same rush.
Tuning your radio
A helpful tool that can get you started is the Pomodoro Timer - it’s a handy website where you can time yourself to work for 25 minutes then take a break for 5. Once you’ve completed this four times you get a much needed long break of 15 minutes. If you’re struggling with starting a project, this can easily break down sessions into much more manageable chunks, increasing productivity and can yield the most results in a short amount of time.
Listening to jazz can lower your heart rate and improve focus. The waves of jazz music are linked to mental stimulation and stress reduction, improving creativity and workflow. This especially helps when you’re stressed about a current project and need help tuning out brain-fog and your surroundings. Looking for the ‘’perfect’’ station can put your brain under a lot of stress, listening to jazz in the background can work as an aid to decrease mind clutter.
Going out for walks before starting a project can also increase dopamine levels. Studies have shown that consistent exercise has been linked to an increased level of dopamine in the brain. It also helps to get rid of any nervous energy that you have by moving and taking in the surroundings of a different atmosphere. Maybe you’ll even find inspiration while taking a step back from your workspace, the world is your oyster!
These tools are a great starting point, but the most important tool that you have to remember is yourself. Be kind to yourself. These tools have helped me clear my mind and my radio, but none of them will work if we are not kind to ourselves. So remember to take a step back and appreciate the work you’ve done. After all, this is your radio.