MINI-SERIES: SELF CARE FOR ADHD BRAINS

We know theoretically that self care is good for us, but a million things get in the way. And finally, we're alone at night — kitchen is clean, kids in bed (if we have them) and the only thing we have energy for is scrolling our feeds and bingeing on ice cream.

Self care feels close, but oh so far away... arrgghh!

I used to hate focusing on myself, and kept busy with a million projects, hyperfixations and spending hours being 'therapist' to my family and friends. In hindsight, I did all these things (and more) to avoid slowing down and being present or alone with myself. Maybe I was afraid of the complicated mess I'd find there. 

I reached rock bottom with mental health while pregnant during a 5 month long, Stage 3 Covid lockdown in Sydney. Life and extreme circumstances literally had me in a headlock, trapped in my own brain and body. I was under extreme stress with hospital restrictions for Covid changing every week as I got closer and closer to my due date. I was utterly exhausted. My lack of self care was really affecting my health and putting my pregnancy at risk. I knew the basic strategies that would help me calm my nervous system, but it was like it was right in front of me, and I couldn't reach out a hand to grab it.

Things got so bad, I was forced to examine more closely why I couldn't give myself down time and low-stimulation moments to recalibrate. I needed to change my perspective on self-giving and shift my beliefs around it... and this process is personal for each of us. 

But changing habits and patterns of behaviour from the inside out has shown time and time again to have the greatest surface level impact for me.

And - as I turned inward with the support of a therapist to examine my blocks - I discovered that, often, there's a really valid reason you feel blocked with self care. Physiological blocks in our nervous system actually prevent us from being able to access our self care options and keep us stuck serving others and our homes before we give to ourselves. 

^^ Read that again, because this is huge. 

Know this... There is no shame or judgement when we don't practice self-care. There are explanations though, and that's incredibly comforting.

What do I mean by physiological blocks (or gaps) in your nervous system?

I made a super quick, 3 min video to show you how it works with a simple visual model.

Why this nervous system capacity model changes everything

So much of the time, we focus on the fact that we can't seem to find the time to do self care, instead of asking ourselves why we're finding it so difficult to self-give? Often it's because our nervous systems are so depleted and burnt out, we can't even grasp the concept of where or how to begin with self care. Having nervous system capacity is as vital to our executive functioning as having enough sleep every night. To use the analogy I expressed in the video above, when we are struggling with self care, it's because we don't have that expansive larger nervous system capacity (circle) with a clear route out towards our self-care options. 

The 'bad driver' analogy

Sometimes it can be easy to focus on the fact that we're not doing self care well, when actually there's some deeper levels and root causes to uncover, and get to the heart of our limiting beliefs and resistance. Here's a second analogy that helped me make sense of this...

Imagine that you got a speeding ticket because lately you've been zoning out while driving. If you beat yourself up and tell yourself you're a bad driver, you're missing the opportunity to ask why you're driving poorly. (You'll also more likely become a worse driver because you lose confidence when you speak nastily to yourself 👀 #justsayin). If you ask yourself why, you realise that you've had insomnia for a month, and that it's ridiculous to keep focusing on your bad driving and self-criticising, when really there's a valid and disruptive root cause here. And the insomnia is only a partial culprit, because the insomnia is due to anxiety, which is due to poor boundaries and people pleasing. Gah. It gets messy, right?
 You'll need to address the boundary issues, leading to the anxiety, leading to that fundamental lack of sleep (affecting our ability to drive with a clear mind) before you assume that you've become a 'bad driver'. If you can work with the root causes of anxiety and insomnia, the ability to stay focused while driving could improve on its own, as a result.

Changing habits from the inside out

If you're feeling daunted by this, you're not alone. Peeling back the layers can be overwhelming, when you're just wanting some 'just add water' tips to improve your self care. 

But the reason I mention these more deeply-layered beliefs holding you back, is because I don't want to give you self care tips, and see you feeling bad because you can't seem to make the strategies work. 

Quick fixes rarely work with ADHD, because our habits are so ingrained, and are usually perpetuated by unconscious beliefs around self-love and self-worth that we're unaware of, and just play out automatically.

For me, the really impactful work I've done in the realm of self care has been taking the time to explore those deeper stories and beliefs holding me back around self-worth, and re-writing those. I have found my progress to form more consistent self care habits has flowed much more naturally once I have those neural pathways re-routed.

Sometimes, even just a slight shift in our beliefs and language can help begin the process of habitual change though.

So if you're not sure where to begin, start here.

Small but mighty shifts in our perceptions of 'self care'

I strongly believe that words play a crucial part in shifting the way we see self care, which can help us 'reclaim it' as a new belief or value that's important to us. Self care is a term that's become overused and can lose its meaning, so I find it helpful to put it aside and start to explore other words that may resonate better and inspire us.

One I've already mentioned is nervous system nourishment. It's a favourite of mine.

Some other words I've come up with for self care are: 

  • self attunement
  • self nurturing
  • self holding
  • self soothing
  • self replenishment
  • self listening
  • self giving

How do those words resonate for you? Which is your favourite? 

Stay tuned for the other resources in this Self Care for ADHD: Holiday Mini Series, to learn more about how to nourish your nervous system.


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