ADHD and Transitions: Change Is Tough; How to Deal with It
People with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tend to struggle with transitions from one situation to another or one activity to another. Whether you have ADHD or not, even good change creates stress. Change is the definition of moving out of one’s comfort zone and it takes a lot of energy to react to the unknown. For people with ADHD, that discomfort is magnified. ADHD makes transitions much more challenging for people.
ADHD Makes Minor Transitions Difficult
Transitions with ADHD creates a contradiction because it seems that people with ADHD both crave change and are overwhelmed by it. It is difficult for me to find a good balance between being overwhelmed and bored. I want routine in order to feel comfortable and avoid stress but I also fear routine because boredom is particularly frustrating for ADHDers.
An example of a minor but still stressful transition for me is getting ready to exercise. The process of preparing to exercise has always been a significant barrier to my ability to exercise because it is not one step, but a series of steps. To go for a jog I might have to change my clothes (which, in itself, involves choosing, finding, taking off, and putting on outfits), make sure I’m hydrated but not too full, and, if I’m going outside, check the weather.
Multiple steps cause problems for people with ADHD because it involves working memory, which works differently in the ADHD brain. Working memory is what prioritizes, stores, and utilizes information. We might be able to remember plenty of things but not be able to access them when we need to.
This is why it can feel essential to do something when it is at the front of our minds, even if the timing is bad--we might forget it in a few minutes. On top of that, it is very easy for us to lose focus and motivation. Remember, our attention is difficult to regulate. One minute, we could be completely invested in a task, and, after an interruption, we might return to the task and find it entirely dull.
Transitions in ADHD Are Difficult Due to Perseveration
One reason transitions are so hard for ADHDers is because we perseverate, or hyperfocus, on certain activities. In other words, once we get started on something that catches our interest, it is difficult to stop. I sometimes feel as though I am falling down a rabbit hole of obsessions and am unable to crawl out.
Researchers have found several reasons for this, including ADHDers’ low levels of neurons in the pleasure and reward centers of our brains.1 In this case, it is the change in rewards rather than the change of activity that is so stressful.2 For example, changing jobs can be exciting but the new rewards are unknown. There is a chance of having less stimulation (or more negative stimulation) in this new situation and the stakes feel higher than they do for most people. It makes sense that we might love a change in certain circumstances but dread it in others.
Transition Tips for ADHDers
People with ADHD often have strong emotions and find it difficult to regulate them. During times of stress, we might become more outwardly frustrated than the average person.3 (Because our brains are working overtime, we may have good reason to be frustrated.) It is also hard to control our impatience, which is an essential part of any transition process.4
In the video below, I describe three things to keep in mind when undergoing transitions with ADHD.
Do you know the point when you feel overwhelmed or bored, or do you often react before you notice how you are feeling? What do you do to deal with changing circumstances and transitions? Let me know in the comments, and thank you for reading.
- Katherine Martinelli, Why Do Kids Have Trouble With Transitions? Child Mind Institute, accessed Jul. 2018.
- Matthew Poole, New Symptom Discovered In ADHD: Difficulty With Transitions. FastBraiin, Jun. 2016.
- Bonnie Hutchinson, ADHD During Transitions. Untapped Brilliance, accessed Jul. 2018.
- Marla Cummins, Get Unstuck – Tips for Easier Daily Transitions When You Have ADHD. Marla Cummins, Aug. 2015.
Matteson, N. (2018, July 24). ADHD and Transitions: Change Is Tough; How to Deal with It, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2018/7/adhd-and-transitions-change-is-tough-how-to-deal-with-it