(Originally published September 3, 2018, Updated October 11, 2021)
ADHD and worry go together like peanut butter and jelly.
In part, this can be because worry gives your ADHD brain the stimulation it craves. So, you may find yourself worrying about something one day and then the next day the worry just disappears. Was the worry just “candy” for your brain or was it something you want to address?
In fact, as I noted in Part 1, For ADHD Adults Who Are Tired of Being Hooked by Their Worry, the worry may not even be real, but a result of cognitive distortions – negative thinking traps. If you haven’t read Part 1, yet, go ahead and check it out. Figure out if something you’re worried about right now is real or not.
Then come back here where you’ll learn how to make decisions about your worries, so you won’t stay stuck in your worrying thoughts. Ready? Read on…
Focusing Only on What’s Wrong Exacerbates Your Worries
Of course, you already know focusing only on what’s wrong won’t help you decide what to do about your worries.
Let’s say you have a colleague, Stacy, who you think is not pulling her weight. You might initially focus on everything she’s doing wrong. Makes sense. Afterall, it’s a problem for you. But though you want the situation to be different, when you are only concentrating on what is wrong, you might:
- indulge in nonproductive ruminating about how angry you are at Stacy.
- leave Stacy out of important work communications.
- even procrastinate working on a project. Because you don’t want work with Stacy, but need her input on the project.
- avoid Stacy in other ways.
Not only is this obviously not a good work environment, but your problem(s) with Stacy will persist. Because you are only thinking about how Stacy is screwing up, rather than trying to come up with a solution. Maybe you’re stuck because you have no clue what to do or are worried you might make the situation worse by addressing it.
OK, you already knew all the above. I know. But just wanted to make sure. 😉
How Your ADHD Can Get in the Way of Making a Decision
No doubt, though, your ADHD symptoms can get in the way of figuring out what to do about your worries. And knowing just how your ADHD may get in the way is critical to creating the right workarounds – the ones that will work for you most effectively.
Your ADHD challenges with emotional regulation may make it hard to address your worries, for sure. After all, how many times have you said to yourself in frustration, “I can’t deal with this right now!” But the thoughts keep swirling about in your head. As I suggested in Part 1, in situations where you’re really frustrated, don’t do anything at first.
But, even when you’re emotionally ready, you may have difficulty organizing, prioritizing, and getting started. When you encounter ADHD challenges like these you may know exactly what you want to do but it’s just jumbled in your head. sometimes all you need to do is externalize your thinking by either talking aloud to someone or writing.
Of course, sometimes you may need help deciding and mapping out what you want to do. Knowing what kind of help you need is important, of course, so you can choose the right resource – person to help you.
Once you know how you want to address your worries you may need help sustaining your focus and effort, as well as persistently starting to be able to follow through. But, as you know persisting over the long haul, if the solution to worry is not a quick fix, can be a challenge for ADHD adults. A body double or accountability partner can
What kind of help do you need to figure out what to do about something you’re worried about right now?
Decide if You Can and Want to Do Something About Your Worry
First, remember, as I pointed out above and in Part 1, you want to externalize your thinking. Again, two ways to do this are processing aloud with someone or writing about the situation. And, when you’re initially addressing a particular worry, you’ll want to decide whether it worry is real or a cognitive distortion (see Part 1).
Then the next step is to decide whether you can and/or want to do something about it. As Dr. Hallowell’s adaptation of the serenity prayer reminds us, there are worries we have we may not be able to change or may choose not to try to change.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The insight to prioritize wisely what I want to change;
The patience to resist trying to control everything I could, had I the energy and time;
The courage and skill to change the things I have chosen to change;
And the wisdom to know the differences among all these.
While you obviously want to take care of the water heater leaking in the basement, you may choose to let go of your worry about an offhanded comment Stacy made in passing in the hallway at work. For those situations you choose not to take any further action, the next step is to practice acceptance.
When Practicing Acceptance Is the Best Antidote
Remember, if you choose to accept a situation, rather than trying to change it, it does not mean you like it or want it to be that way. It may mean you are accepting what is because you have no control over making it different. It could also mean you’re choosing to use your time and energy in other ways, rather than trying to change the situation.
For example, you know you can’t change other people unless they want to change, right? So, you may decide to accept Aunt Tillie is going to grill you about your personal life when you see her at Thanksgiving. And maybe also come up with a plan of what to say to her. But you stop worrying about whether she is going to grill you or how to avoid her.
Another example where acceptance might be the best antidote is when you are worrying about what you said or did in the past. Though you may decide to address the situation, you know you can’t undo what you said or did. Adopting the mindset suggested by Maya Angelo’s quote may help you do that:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
In practical terms, this could entail reminding yourself you did the best you could at the time. And then also learn how you can make a different choice in the future that is more in alignment with your values. This could include upgrading your skills, adopting new tools, or learning new strategies.
Where might acceptance serve you about a worry you have about something you said or did in the past?
If You Want a Solution for Your Worries, First Decide What You Want to Change
If you’re worrying about a situation you want to change, before you start devising solutions, the first step is to specify exactly what you want to change. So you can be confident you are doing the best you can to create the change you want. Below are questions you can use to do this, along with answers to the hypothetical situation with your colleague, Stacy.
1. Why is it a problem for you?
I don’t think it is fair that I have to bear such a heavy burden of the workload because Stacy is not doing her part. I also really want balance in my life. And right now, I don’t have enough time to do what I want outside of work. If Stacey were doing her part, I think I would.
2. If it is something negative, what are you trying to get rid of? If it is something positive, what are you trying to achieve?
I want to get rid of my current heavy workload and get more time to spend outside of work.
3. If you could achieve this change, what would be different for you?
Where to start?! If I could make this happen, I wouldn’t use so much of my time and energy being angry about this. I would get more sleep, for sure. I would also be more content and happier at work. And, if my workload were more doable, I would have more time to enjoy my time outside of work. I’m sure I could think of more…
4. On a scale of 1-10, how much do you want this change?
Once you’ve answered these questions you are ready to craft a solution.
How a Solution-Focused Approach Helps You Manage Your Worries
The key to effectively addressing your worry is to take a solution-focused approach and focus on what you want to achieve, rather than what is wrong in the situation. Not only will you come up with a better solution, but, as you take the spotlight off the problem and focus instead on the solution, you’ll be more optimistic about the possibility of getting what you want.
And, when you can envision a path to the solution, you will also feel more in control of the situation. This will help you take the steps you need to solve your worry. And as you do this, your feelings of optimism and control will increase. Nice, right?
Better than letting the thoughts of the problem swirl about in your head! Ready to try?
Putting a Solution-Focused Approach into Practice For ADHD and Worry
If you’re ready to try, answer the questions below for a problem you currently have. Again, I’ve used hypothetical answers to your problem with your colleague, Stacy.
1. What do you want instead of the problem? That is, what do you want to achieve?
I want a fair workload.
2. Write out what the solution will look like, including as much detail as possible.
Stacy and I will agree on a fair distribution of tasks. We will meet each week to check in with each other to ensure we are both following through on our commitments. We will agree to renegotiate if down the road either of us feels that the workload is not fair.
3. What is it about having this solution that is important to you?
Like I said before, I want the workload to be fair and I want to be able to spend more time doing things outside of work.
4. How will things be different when you arrive at this solution? On a scale of 1-10, what will 10 look like when you have what you want?
I can stop worrying about this, for sure. And I’ll feel better while I’m at work and be more productive. Hopefully, I will also have a better relationship with Stacy, as I won’t be angry with her all the time. When it is a 10 we’ll all be pulling our weight, following through on our commitments, and renegotiating when necessary.
5. What are the steps you need to take to accomplish this?
- I’ll come up with a suggested breakdown of our tasks.
- Then I’ll email Stacy to ask to meet.
- I’ll email her my suggestions before the meeting, so she has time to think about them
- We’ll meet and discuss my suggestions until we can come up with something that works for both of us.
Working toward a solution takes time and effort. But so does worrying, right? So why not put your worry to work instead, right?
What Are You Going to Do with Your Worries?
Choose something you’re worried about right now. If you need to, reread this post and the previous one. Then decide. Are you going to accept the situation because you either can’t or don’t want to put in the time and energy to change it? Alternatively, if it is a problem you want to solve. Then do that.
Dealing with your worries often isn’t easy. But you can do it step-by-step. Better than letting them just swirl about in your head, taking up time and energy, right?