How to Cope with Seasonal Transitions When You Have ADHD
The hot, long days are getting shorter and shorter, and the leaves will soon start falling off the trees. Summer is ending, the weather is changing, and kids are headed back to school — the world is in a state of transition.
What does this mean for you if you have ADHD?
The end of summer often brings about big life changes — for example, you could be going back to school, or returning to the office after some time off. You might have a child who’s going back to school. You may have just gotten home from a vacation abroad.
Changes like these are hard for anyone. If you live with ADHD, you could find that these end-of-summer transitions are especially disruptive. You might feel unbalanced and scattered, and you could even have an emotional reaction.
But there are coping strategies you can use to navigate, and thrive through, these seasonal transitions. Here’s everything you need to know about ADHD and coping with change.
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Why is change difficult for people with ADHD?
Big changes are difficult for most people, both neurotypical and neurodivergent. Experts say that even good change, like starting your dream job, creates increased stress. But people with ADHD could have an especially hard time with any sort of transition.
This goes for smaller transitions, like transitioning between one task and another. One study found that children with unmedicated ADHD had a substantially more difficult time switching between two tasks (children whose ADHD was medicated performed just as well as kids without ADHD).
But larger transitions can be even more challenging. People with ADHD often need routine. Big changes — like going back to school or work — can throw a wrench into carefully planned coping strategies and schedules. Combine this with brain differences in people with ADHD, and it’s easy to see why transitions can be difficult.
Here are some of the factors that could make big transitions challenging for you if you live with ADHD.
Executive functioning skills are a set of advanced skills that your brain is responsible for. These skills include things like planning for the future, self-regulation, and multitasking.
People with ADHD have deficits in their executive functioning, which means that you may need to work harder at tasks that require these skills. Transitioning from one thing to another is one area that’s impacted by ADHD-related executive function deficits.
Another common feature of ADHD is hyperfocus. We tend to think of ADHD as a problem with sustaining attention — but, more accurately, people with ADHD have a hard time regulating their attention.
Have you ever become so absorbed in whatever is in front of you that the rest of the world disappears? You may have even forgotten to eat while you were completing this task. This is called hyperfocus, and many people with ADHD experience it.
Hyperfocus is another reason why transitions are difficult for people with ADHD — it makes it hard to pull your attention away from whatever you’re doing now.
Differences in the brain’s reward center
Some experts say that people with ADHD could have a harder time with transitions because they have a lower level of neurons in the reward circuit of their brains. They say it’s actually changes in rewards, not a change in the task itself, that makes transitions hard. When the reward stays the same, people with ADHD have no problem with transitions.
To illustrate, imagine a recent high school graduate, diagnosed with ADHD, who is starting college. In high school, she may have found that by reading the “Cliff’s Notes” for assigned reading material, she would be able to get good grades. In this case, the reward for reading summaries rather than the actual text was good grades.
But in college, reading summaries may suddenly not be enough. The student with ADHD may not receive the same reward for simply reading summaries, and her professors could even punish her for not reading the full text.
But because of her ADHD, it’s difficult for her to switch gears — the reward circuit (between reading summaries and academic success) is still active in her brain.
Interruptions in coping
Lastly, a big change (like going back to school or work) may also interrupt the coping strategies that people with ADHD put into place to make it easier to live in a neurotypical world.
Many people with ADHD use schedules and timers to keep them from getting distracted or to pull them out of hyperfocus. During the summer, you may have had a certain schedule, especially if you didn’t have the structure of school or work. For example, you may have woken up (with an alarm) at 9 A.M., started your day with a 15-minute walk, and so on.
A big transition, like going back to work or school (or having a child return to school), could disrupt these schedules and coping strategies. This could make you feel like your entire life is out-of-balance.
5 tips to cope with transitions if you have ADHD
Luckily, there are things you can do to cope with the transitions of the season if you have ADHD and thrive in your next chapter. Try following these tips.
One of the best things you can do is to be aware of any upcoming transitions, and to prepare for them before you’re in the middle of them.
For example, mark a calendar with the day that you’re set to return to school or work. Don’t wait until that day to start using ADHD coping skills that will help you adjust. For example, if you need to start waking up earlier, then start practicing setting this alarm beforehand. Practice making the drive to the office to get an accurate measure of how long it takes.
When you’re prepared for a transition, it’s less likely to throw you off your stride.
Self-compassion is extraordinarily important for people with ADHD. As you probably already know if you live with it, ADHD can come along with heavy feelings of shame and embarrassment. These feelings might get stronger if you struggle with transitions.
Remember to practice self-compassion and be kind to yourself. Your brain works differently than neurotypical people’s, which comes with both benefits and drawbacks. You are not “lazy” or “stupid.”
Remind yourself of your strengths, and play to them, instead of just trying to overcome your weaknesses.
If you have ADHD, then you have the right to accommodations in your workplace or at school. This is nothing to be ashamed of; if you’re expected to succeed in an environment that’s set up for neurotypical people, then accommodations can help you to do that.
For example, you might talk to your boss about giving you more leniency on tardiness. Your university professor could give you extensions on deadlines, or more time to complete exams. Accommodations like these could help make transitions less challenging.
To learn more about your legal right to accommodations, read about the Accessible Canada Act.
Ask for support
On top of asking for accommodations from your school or workplace, you may also want to consider asking for support from friends and family. Your loved ones can be on your team and help you to balance the different areas of your life during a big transition.
For example, if you know that the beginning of school will be a challenge for you, then you could ask your family to take a look at how they could support you with your chores. Friends and family can also act as motivators, and help keep you accountable to your goals.
Get ADHD treatment
Lastly, perhaps the most important thing you can do to successfully cope with transitions is to make sure your ADHD treatment is working. ADHD medications have been proven to help people with ADHD succed at work and school. If you ADHD meds are working, then that could give you the extra push to get through this transition.
Get online ADHD treatment with Frida
Frida is Canada’s premier provider of online ADHD care. We deliver fast, accessible, and affordable ADHD assessment and care.
If you think you may have ADHD but haven’t been diagnosed, then take Frida’s free ADHD assessment to see if you could qualify for our services.
If you know you have ADHD, then take the assessment today to set up an intake appointment.
This year, the fall transition doesn’t have to throw you off track. With treatment and support, you can not only cope with, but thrive through changes in life.