Distraction sneaks up on us. For example, Nina sits down to the computer. She has just a few things to get done, and she’s got maybe half an hour before she’ll have to get up, get dinner going, and get that load of laundry in the wash. As she starts to get working, she suddenly sits back. Wait.
“What was I just going to do?”
Nina takes a deep breath, and tries to turn her attention back to the task at hand. Things aren’t flowing, so she turns on some music to help her focus, only to find that it overwhelms her and she can’t keep her train of thought. She sharply closes the music tab, and again tries to redirect her attention. At the same time, a little bubble of irritation pops up.
“I’ve only got another 20 minutes to get this done, come on,” she grumps to herself.
Nina’s partner comes in to check if she needs help with dinner, and it takes her a few seconds to respond.
“No. I don’t know. I’m trying to get this done, I just need a minute,” she says, flustered.
Again, Nina sighs. “Okay, what was I doing?”
A look at the clock tells her she’s got another five minutes. Knowing that it’s never going to be enough time to finish it, she angrily gives up. By the time Nina gets to the kitchen to cook, she’s irritable, grumpy, and no closer to having things done. When her partner asks again what would be helpful, she snaps, “I don’t know! I’m doing my best to get everything done!”
This is a common story for individuals with ADHD. Inattention and distractibility can cause increased irritability, anxiety, and frustration – especially when, despite your best efforts, things just aren’t getting done at the pace that you would want.
Here are five quick tips for dealing with frustration and irritability that can result from ADHD symptoms:
Communicate with important others
Be real. Tell them that you’re frustrated, and that things just aren’t going the way you planned. It may help both of you to recognize that the frustration and anger that is coming out isn’t directed at any particular person. It also gives you a chance to get some comfort and support.
Ask for what you need
If it would be helpful for someone to step in and take care of something for you, let them. If you need someone to talk through a plan with, or help you put the pieces together of what you need to do, ask. It’s good to learn ways of managing your inattention and organizing your time and responsibilities; it’s also okay if you need a little help sometimes. Important others in your life might be able to help you work through how to get organized, or help you set up a better system for next time.
If you’re getting frustrated, there’s a good chance it’s not helping you focus and stay on task. It may make distraction worse. Instead, take a moment to step away, take some deep breaths, and recenter yourself in what you’re trying to accomplish. Consider using a little self-kindness, and reminding yourself that you don’t have to motivate yourself by focusing on what you’re not doing. Give yourself credit for the effort you’re putting in, and then step back and try again.
Whether it’s getting up and doing a trip up and down the stairs, a walk around the block, or just grabbing a small item you can fidget with in your hands, do something that uses a little physical energy.
TIP: Stress balls, thinking putty, bouncy balls, slinkies, and other small toys might be helpful to have around and fidget with as you’re trying to work and prevent distraction. They can also help get out some frustration!
Keep it reasonable
It’s easy to find a free moment and want to pack a million things into it. While it’s good to feel productive, it sometimes sets you up for failure when the list is much longer than the time you have. To reduce distraction, take a list of what you would ideally get done, but then consider what the top priority would be, and start there. If you finish it, take on the next one. If you don’t, you’ve at least chipped one thing off of the list.
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