Tag Archives: ADHD

ADHD and social injustice

A common theme these past few weeks with clients has been a tendency to hyperfocus on social media, especially Twitter. Therapeutically, cutting back on social media as a mental health goal is a good idea, and sometimes taking full breaks. Some of my clients feel guilty if they are not watching/scrolling, and I call this phenomenon bearing witness. Protecting your mental energy, gives you energy.

While individuals with attention and concentration vulnerabilities, including anxiety disorders, ADHD, and autism spectrum have been perceived as ‘tuning out,’ the opposite is actually true, based on the neuropsychology research. Instead, they tend to be overly sensitive to disturbing imagery and social injustice.

Please check out the article in ADDITUDE: Whay Am I So Sensitive? Why ADHD Brains Can’t Just Ignore Unfairness.
Also read: On Hyperfocus.

On Hyperfocus

People with ADHD have difficulty focusing. But many can also hyperfocus on things they’re very interested in. Parents come to me and say my kid can play Fortnite for eight hours, why can’t they focus on the three regular chores they have to do in a week?

The idea of hyperfocus can be confusing. How can a person who has trouble focusing on most things lose themselves in a video game, movie, series, sport, or craft project for hours? It might look like that person doesn’t really struggle with attention.

Hyperfocus is a common but sometimes confusing symptom of ADHD, is the ability to zero in intensely on an interesting project or activity for hours at a time. It is the opposite of distractibility, and it is common among both children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

But actually having good focus requires two opposing elements. People need to be able to pay attention even if something isn’t that interesting. Many things are not interesting. And that is reality. Why do I have to sit through this meeting, take this class, work with this team, read this book, do such and such? Why the heck am I taking algebra or physics?

Secondly, they need to be able to not pay attention to something interesting, or something that’s bothering them (the biggest distractions are anxiety or sadness), when they need to focus on doing what they’re doing because it’s more interesting than what they’re being asked to do. Un-focusing and focusing. One of my clients reported that it’s like being in a tunnel, you only see one thing. Both good and bad.

The neuropsychology of hyperfocus.

Like distractibility, hyperfocus results from abnormally low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is particularly active in the brain’s frontal lobes. This dopamine deficiency makes it hard to to take up boring tasks. Many of our life tasks can be mundane, repetitive, and frustrating.

So, what can we do? How can we harness the power of hyperfocus?

Mindfulness matters.
Focus can be combined with a mental health exercise: when you take out the trash, you can visualize an exorcism of anything nasty that happened over the week. I teach imagery, this is your chance to take out your accumulated trash.

Purpose matters. And Distraction helps.
I have a client who stands in a queue to pick up her kids after school for almost an hour. She loves them with heart and soul and wants them to be safe. In the meantime, I gave her a podcast that has appeal. Zoning out in the parking lot scrolling through social media was not making her very happy. Now she is stimulating her brain with a great podcast she rarely gets to fit into her busy life.

Practice matters.
Some of my teenagers have trouble with mindfulness and attention. Simple exercises can include, coming into a room, such as the kitchen. What do you see, what do you smell, what is the lighting? What do you hear. It pulls your attention back. And requires practice.

Timing and dosage.
Give yourself time you can play the heck out of the game that you love, watch the series that you are fascinated with, immerse yourself in the best book. Plan your binges. They don’t have to control you.
Also see, “On News Anxiety.”

Set external cues and reminders.
If you know you’re going to be lost in cyberspace, create multiple reminders. Set multiple alarms. Remember that we need to get up and move our bodies every 25 to 30 minutes.

Work with your own circadian rhythms.
If you work best in the morning with heightened alertness, do your toughest work then. If you’re tired in the afternoon, save that time for more rote tasks.

Engage with an accountability buddy.
This can be as simple as having a reminder that you need to get your stuff done, and then you can relax. Your buddy might say, we’re going to watch a great show tonight. Let’s get our work done.

Don’t set impossible standards.
Most people, optimally, cannot focus after 30 to 40 minutes, especially on complex tasks. Take a break. Regularly.

If there’s something that you really dislike doing, see if you can trade it off. We put off tasks that are aversive. I have a client who has sensitivity to washing dishes, it truly grosses her out, but she can do laundry and fold clothing like a luxury retail store. Ask your partner, child, roommate, colleague, to do things that you don’t love and vice versa.


High functioning ADHD can look like:

    • Feeling like you have great ideas, but are unable to organize them or act on them.
    • Hitting a wall or shutting down in the middle of the day, or after going for hours.
    • Feeling not good enough or an imposter.
    • Losing or misplacing things.
    • Difficulty prioritizing when faced with multiple tasks.
    • Mundane tasks are avoided or postponed.
    • Dreading facing deadlines and time constrained tasks.
    • Trouble focusing on the task at hand.
    • Procrastinating: difficulty starting tasks.
    • Difficulty ending tasks; feeling like you can go on and on.
    • Feeling restless and fidgety while working (leg jiggling, playing with objects on
    • your desk, moving in your chair).
    • Feeling behind. All the time.
    • Messy workspace, desk, car, purse, papers.
    • Exhaustion from trying to stay organized, hold it together, and keep up.

Also see these work and study tips.

Distracted?  Try these study tips.

These are study tips I share with patients who have ADHD and trouble with planning, organizing and staying on top of tasks.  And these same suggestions would be beneficial for most students and learning styles.

Review Before Bed
Studies show that you remember more when you take 10 to 15 minutes just before you go to sleep to review what you studied or learned earlier in the day. This doesn’t mean that students should do all their studying at bedtime, but reviewing what they have studied allows students to process the information as he or she sleeps (consolidation of short term memory into long-term).

Don’t Cram
Space out studying over time.  A small window of study, daily, leads to greater encoding of information.  Those who cram often report great difficulty bringing the information to mind when they need to retrieve it.

Exercise Sharpens Focus
Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise a day, four to five days a week, improves focus and executive functioning skills, especially in students with attention issues. If you are a student athlete, try to study after an event. Consider studying right after practice, too.  Although any aerobic exercise will do the job, the most helpful exercises for students with distractibility are dance, yoga, and tai chi, all of which require students to focus on their body AND their mind.

Meditation can help sharpen focus and clear brain fog when distracted.  Several meditation apps are available, including headspace, Calm, and Buddhify (these are available for iPhone and android).

Most people need to sleep eight to nine hours a night to retain (consolidate) memories, but teenagers and young adults need more. Thirty-minute afternoon naps can help. Be sure these siestas aren’t any longer than 30 minutes, since extended naps can interfere with sleep cycles at night.

Taking a break helps all learn more, especially those with ADHD. Studies show that students remember more when they take breaks between study sessions instead of studying straight through for an extended period. Having downtime enables a student’s brain to review information and material, even when she doesn’t know she’s processing it.  Use your smartphone to set a timer for 30 or 45 minutes. During these breaks, do something active, such as walk around the house, stretch, or go outside.

Sip a Sugary Drink
A drink that contains some sugar helps homework performance. Sugary drinks provide glucose, which is the primary source of fuel to the brain. If you’re low on glucose, you won’t be able to focus or perform well.

Sipping Gatorade or apple juice slowly delivers glucose, without overloading your system with sugar. Sodas and other drinks with high levels of sugar (up to 10 teaspoons) provide too much glucose, which results in a sugar crash later, impairing memory and clouding thinking. So a slow release of glucose can bring improved focus and mood.

Smartphones are built with every organizational tool imaginable. At the beginning of the semester, put all the important dates into your calendar and use the alerts to remind you in advance. Set recurring alarms to wake you up or remind you to go to class. Use memo reminders, calendars, and lists to remember deadlines for assignments and exams.

ADD students have the unique ability to hyper-focus. As such, you run the risk of finding yourself so caught up in a task that you completely miss your 2 o’clock class. Set alarms for everything! Also, when studying, put your phone in airplane mode to minimize distractions like emails, texts, or social media pushes.

Identify what distracts you
As Socrates echoed, “Know thyself.” Does your mind wander in utter silence? If so, avoid the library. For some students, a quiet room with the occasional sound, like coughing, page turning, or whispers is more distracting than a noisy environment where they can tune everything out. If this is you, find a restaurant, café, or coffee shop that has Wifi and study there.

Do you need utter silence? Find a private study room in the library. If you have a hard time sitting still, a private study room will allow you to pace while you study without feeling like other people are looking at you.

Do you find yourself remembering other tasks, like mailing a letter or taking laundry out of the dryer? The key is to figure out what distracts you and avoid those environments. It may be a trial and error process, but keep trying different settings while evaluating your productivity.

Make lists
Studies show that the distracted brain has a difficult time prioritizing. Sit down and make a list of everything that needs to get done. Don’t worry about the order. Go over your list a second time and number the tasks in order of importance.

If you have a large assignment, write out all the steps. This will help divide the task up into manageable chunks so that you are not overloaded with everything all at once. This will help you set realistic goals for yourself.

Write down stray thoughts
Our natural instinct is to find an escape route from unpleasant tasks. Menial things, like thinking about returning an email, checking text messages, or wondering what your dog is doing at home, pop into our minds and it is a temptation to do them “real quick” so that we don’t forget. Don’t fall into the trap.

Write down the fleeting, distracting thoughts. The brain is programmed to keep things that we don’t want to forget in the forefront of our mind, which crowds out the information you are trying to learn. These thoughts can easily bounce around, distracting you from the task at hand.

Any stray idea that you feel the need to address, just write it down. Get it all out. It’ll clear your mind so that you can concentrate on your work; if it’s written down, it won’t have to stay on your mind!

Move around!
Get-up-and-move.  This is a particular problem for those with distraction—sitting still can be hard. When studying, find a place where you don’t feel self-conscious moving around. Repetitive movements, like pacing back and forth or rocking in a chair can help you to concentrate and better retain information.

If you are attending classes in person, talk to your professor at the beginning of the semester and explain that you might need to stand at the back of the room occasionally. However, avoid doing anything that will overtly distract the other students, like tapping your pencil or sitting in a squeaky chair if you have keep changing position.

OHIO Principle
When given something to do, complete it immediately if it all possible, rather than putting it down to do later. Follow the Ohio principle: Only Handle It Once. Avoid the stress of paper shuffling.

Tension and stress undermine the memory process especially in terms of recall. If you find yourself tense up or get panicked when you first sit down with an exam or assignment, close the book, take a few deep breaths and calm your nerves. Use positive self talk like, “I studied well for this test, I will know at least some of the answers.”

Make it multi-sensory.
The more senses incorporated during the learning process, the more deeply the memory is encoded. Hearing and seeing the information is always better than just one or the other. Hearing, seeing, and having a tactile experience with the information is even better.

Translate information into your own words. This is a great one to do when looking through notes, studying for a test, or reading a book. Talk to yourself, or tell the info to a friend or family member.

The more you repeat the information, the better the consolidation, and the more efficient the storing and retrieving. One of the best ways to do this is by making flash cards. The following programs help individuals create flashcards on line: Quizlet, StudyBlue, and FlashCardMachine.

Visualization strategies are extremely effective in remembering information. When listening to a story, make a movie in your head to play out that story. If trying to associate one person or concept with someone or something else, make up an image that places these two things together.

Chunk Information.
This is particularly important when studying. To avoid overload, study one section at a time so that you can consolidate that information before adding more information. When taking a reading comprehension test, stop after reading each paragraph to scan the questions and see which ones you can answer based on the paragraph you just read.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.