Managing ADHD during COVID
As COVID restrictions and isolation strategies continue pushing past the half-year mark, we are only beginning to understand the overall impact of COVID on our mental health. While the impact of COVID on depression and anxiety may be more intuitive, the impact of COVID on those with other psychiatric concerns, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), may be just as profound. This brief article outlines just a few of the challenges that COVID presents to people with ADHD and some ways to potentially help navigate these challenges.
Changes and Challenges for people with ADHD during COVID
One of the more dramatic changes that COVID has created has been the large-scale shift from office-based workplaces to work-at-home and hybrid work arrangements. Offices and other social work environments typically provide accountability and structure that help many people remain productive throughout the workday. Focusing on routine work tasks can become more challenging while sitting at a laptop with all the distractions of home. Offices can also provide the socially dynamic environment that can satisfy the need for more frequent social interactions. People who could previously rely on external forces and cues to help manage their time and productivity are now struggling to provide that structure for themselves – often while balancing their family and other responsibilities at the same time. For additional information about common symptoms of ADHD in adults – see the adult ADHD page here.
The changes required by COVID guidelines around our social engagements has likely been just as significant as well. As people with ADHD typically have at least some inattentive symptoms, COVID restrictions may place additional challenges in cultivating and maintaining family and peer relationships while being unable to be physically present. The adage “out of sight, out of mind” may become painfully prominent in many of our relationships.
Since there is a strong genetic factor with ADHD, many adults struggling with ADHD may also have children with similar attention issues. Just as many adults rely on the structure and accountability of workplace environments, children and adolescents rely on the structure of a classroom and schools to keep progressing in their lessons and adhering to deadlines for assignments and test preparation. Shifting the responsibility of ensuring adherence to lessons from teachers to parents also places additional stressors on parents who are already struggling with their own challenges at work.
Compliance with Safety Recommendations
A recent study in the Leumit Health Services system published in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggested that untreated ADHD may contribute to behaviors that increase the risk of contracting COVID. The authors suggest that the inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive characteristics of ADHD could make it more difficult to be adherent to the safety recommendations of public health organizations. In this study, those with untreated ADHD were more likely to have positive COVID tests than the general population. In contrast, elevated positive COVID test rates were not found for other major mental health concerns such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, or schizophrenia.
So how can those with ADHD better cope with the challenges of COVID?
Here are some brief recommendations for starters:
- Follow a regular schedule: Try to maintain a schedule as close to your normal work and life routines as possible. Resist the temptation to allow work and life to become too enmeshed. Try going for a brief walk or quick drive before or after your workday so you can “arrive at work” or “come home from the office.” Continue to maintain the same professional dress that you would if going into the office and be diligent about tending to your normal sleep/wake cycle as well.
- Use timers, lists, and reminders to your advantage: There are many digital apps available to help you utilize timers, lists, and schedules to aid adherence to your work and life commitments. The brief time invested in learning a new piece of technology can pay large dividends in the long run. One such example is the “Pomodoro” technique.
- Optimize physical spaces for productivity: Try to create a pleasant and clutter-free space that is dedicated to your work. Have everything you need for the day at hand, and very little else that you don’t. We may shape our environments, but then our environments shape us as well.
- Tend to physical health, exercise, and diet: Maintain a healthy diet and regular physical exercise. Some advance meal prep may go a long way in maintaining a healthy diet and reduce the tendency to snack throughout the day. Exercise and physical activity provide an important emotional boost as well.
- Schedule regular, socially distanced or digital social encounters: Try setting up a regular, recurring virtual coffee date with a friend or virtually invite friends or family to dinner or dessert. Sharing a meal has always been an important social event – Who says you need to be in the same physical space to share a meal?
- Keep multiple face masks and hand sanitizers near the doorways: Keep these in plain view as important reminders to maintain social distancing, wash your hands frequently (soap and water is best), and disinfect other frequently touched surfaces in the home. For the most up-to-date recommendations from the CDC – see this link: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
- Medication Management: If you are currently using medications to help manage your ADHD symptoms, it may be helpful to check in with your medication provider to see if an adjustment may be appropriate.
Please remember that all medical information provided in this post must be considered educational only. This blog should not be relied upon as a medical judgement and does not replace a medical professional’s judgement about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure or condition for a given patient. We will do our best to provide you with information that may help you make your own health care decisions. Please do not follow any instructions or information without first consulting with your physician or mental health provider.
For additional information about mental health and COVID, see NAMI’s guide at https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/NAMI-HelpLine/COVID-19-Information-and-Resources