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How to Manage Your Energy With ADHD


By:Donae Cannon, OTR/L


I've found that managing my energy is crucial when it comes to thriving with ADHD.


We may have the reputation of having boundless energy, but most of the women I know with ADHD are tired. Having a busy brain often means that we burn our mental energy on tasks that aren't even a priority for us (like which brand of zip-up hoodie we're going to buy for our daughter *hint: they all look the same and cost roughly the same amount, so you can probably just pick one). There, I saved you the 45 minutes I lost this morning. Harnessing our mental energy may not be intuitive for many of us, but if you have ADHD, you'll want to learn more about this.


What can we do to manage our mental energy with ADHD?



1. Simplify. If you have ADHD, it's likely that you have a hard time making decisions (executive function skills like planning and prioritizing are heavy lifters when it comes to decision making). That means that daily tasks that require you to make choices can be especially taxing to your brain. Simplifying the choices available to you can save a lot of mental energy.


What does simplifying look like? Let's look at a daily task for many of us: preparing food. We can decrease the "choice load” of this task by making a handful of simple meals and rotating them rather than coming up with different ideas each week. I've been eating the same two breakfasts for an oddly long time, but my breakfast menu is not where I want to spend my decision making energy budget, so this works for me. To decrease your choices with clothing, you could try a capsule wardrobe-which means having a few things that you love and use rather than tons of items that are "meh" and complicate decision making.


Your schedule can be simplified by saying no to commitments that aren't adding value to your life and resisting the FOMO (fear of missing out) siren call. Maybe you check out 1 or 2 books from the library instead of the 15 that you found fascinating (and that will then sit on your nightstand until they are overdue). Maybe that one is just me?




2. Kick Perfectionism To the Curb. Perfectionism is an energy vampire! Many ADHDers are "unlikely perfectionists". I'm not sure why- maybe we've adopted this mindset in our attempt to keep up with expectations.. I see this every day in my clients (and myself) and it doesn't serve us- perfectionism is exhausting.


Celebrate your small wins instead of focusing on where you came up short. Feeling good about what you have accomplished allows your energy to snowball (and self-criticism does the opposite). Good enough is actually good enough, especially because it allows you to show up for other things that matter to you.



3.Become a Satisficer. Speaking of good enough... People tend to lean towards one of two broad categories of decision makers: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers attack every choice with the thought "I must make the best decision- that one that gives me the maximum benefit". Satisficers think "I'm going to spend just enough time on this to make a "good enough" decision".


In case you missed the 45 minute hoodie purchase reference at the beginning of this, I'm a maximizer that's truly trying to learn to be a satisficer. Many of the women I work with are also maximizers. They put so much energy into making perfect decisions that they wear themselves out before they can even take action. Embracing the role of satisficer can help conserve your precious energy.


4. Leverage Habits. I know...yuck. If you're like me, you might feel like you're not particularly good at habits, but they're pretty powerful when we're trying to conserve our mental energy. (I have a podcast episode that explores how we can use an ADHD-friendly approach to habits. You can listen to that here: ADHD Crash Course Podcast | Clarity Coaching (theadhdclaritycoach.com) or on Spotify). Why are habits so powerful for energy conservation? Because they automatize our actions. Once established, they don't deplete our energy the way decision making does because they happen automatically and with virtually no decision making.





5. Eat The Frog. "If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”~ Mark Twain. Tasks that you are avoiding sap your mental energy. If an overwhelming task stays on your to-do list for a while, it can really wear on you. Sliding an unpleasant task repeatedly to the next day may carry an energy consequence that's just not worth it. Eat the frog.


I must add one caveat- it's ok to start the day with low bandwidth frogs if you're not your best in the morning. My most productive time actually is first thing in the morning, but if you know you hit your mental stride at 2pm, that may be the time you dedicate for mentally demanding tasks. The takeaway here is not to let overwhelming tasks steal your precious mental energy by remaining on your things to-do list.


6. Check In With Yourself. If your energy has dipped, sometimes a simple reset can refresh you. Many of us aren't tuned in to our bodies and attempt to power through energy lows without honoring our needs for pause and refueling. How can we reset if we find ourselves depleted? If your schedule permits, a power nap (10-20 minutes or so) can do wonders. But if you can’t sneak one of those in, get outside in the fresh air for a few minutes, have a quick stretch, or take some time for a short guided meditation. Try closing your eyes for visual breaks throughout the day (about half of our brain is related to vision in some way. Taking moments to rest from processing visual input can provide a significant brain break).


If you have ever been around a young child, you know that ignoring their needs for rest does NOT typically end well. A tired toddler is not about to “push through” for one more quick errand and you're likely to make a gawk-worthy exit out of Target with your little angel screaming like a banshee and attempting to alligator roll out of your arms. Honor your need for rest the way you would honor a toddler’s nap time.


Managing our energy is key if we want to thrive with ADHD and there are several ways we can do that. So keep it simple and above all, be kind to yourself!



 


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