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 2023, November 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2018/7/adhd-and-transitions-change-is-tough-how-to-deal-with-it
Author: Noelle Matteson
When it comes to anticipating the upcoming activity, especially if I'm in hyperfocus mode and need to shift, I often think about what it is I am about to do (like going home to be with kids from work) I'll think about things that make me feel motivated that I want to do when I get home. My brain shifts to where it is that I'm going and starts pulling all of the tasks/things I enjoy completing to the for front. Then I transition much easier.
I fine change very hard. My ADHD has a mix of OCD in it and it used to be quite severe but as of lately due to change of jobs and change in general, I tend to overstimulate and try to avoid the emotions of change. This could be me trying to find a person that makes me feel comfortable like my partner or me doing something on my phone beforehand so it calms me down. But having ADHD is hard and I think it’s harder for people without ADHD to understand, especially when we hyper fixate on the small things which seem silly to others
I often feel overwhelmed by a change in plans, for example, another person joining a trip when I had planned on only two of us or a sudden unexpected change at my job when I was mentally preparing for something else.
I was today years old when I learned this is a symptom of ADHD. I really like change. I just tend to freak out at first.
What helps me is, voicing my frustration and contradicting feelings "I know this is a good thing, but I was mentally preparing for something else and I am feeling overwhelmed. I'll be okay. Please don't take it personally." Also, reminding myself that things usually work out for the best.
Thank you for this comment.
I am feeling overwhelmed at the moment with someone close to me moving away. Although this was planned I still have to remind myself that it is a good thing and everything will work out for the best.
Is there a summary of the video I don’t have the ability to watch it all?
This article has provided me with a new perspective on this lifelong struggle. AI encountered a devastating change several years,ago. I am still pushing through. A dream shattered after a significant loss of stature, income, etc. Thank you.
I can't stand massive changes. I lash out because of confusion. People especially online judge me and say I'm a horrible person. I know I'm not
Anyway, ADHD disorder complicates daily life functioning, including any change during global psychosocial activities. So, it is advisable to take in consideration that dealing with psycho-emotional strength presents hard life experience. Your three preventive undertakings indicate helpful tool to overcome numerous unpleasant emotional turmoils. However, real life is encompassed with different and unexpected personal and social challenges that render more difficult the accomplishment of personal, professional, interpersonal, social and others life demands and obligations, as well, In this perplex circumstances we ought to find out some prompt and efficient moves, which ones should soften unendurable sufferings of persons with ADHD psychiatric. entity. Among them are meditation, exercises,, deep breathing, writing, reading, play the game and so on. It is of significant meaning to overlap psycho-emotional turmoil with pleasant and relax drills.
Yes, it is definitely true that a lot of changes are out of our control and difficult to prepare for. Also, it is a great idea to have regular relaxation practices and to turn to those during difficult times. Thank you for sharing, Dr. Ferati.