Reimagining Rest for ADHD Brains
Updated: Sep 26
Our tornado brains can spark innovation, but they also keep us from falling asleep at a "decent hour." If you've spent any time on social media, you've likely found some guru talking about the way to live with more peace and balance. If you're like me, you the constant reminders to put on your oxygen mask first may be triggering. Who has time to put on their oxygen mask? Where the heck is it?!
Here are a couple of things I think getting in our way from understanding what it means to rest -- knowing your limits and giving yourself permission. I'll also share some insights from our Collaborative discussion on it last night.
Knowing Your Limits
When is the last time you hit a wall? How did you respond?
Our lives are overfilled with obligations, shoulds, and the actual stuff we need to do. This is especially hard when you've got ADHD and you're moving too fast to know a wall is coming until you're flat out in front of it.
When we try to do too much or push ourselves into fight, flight, or freeze, we create more stress in the moment and in the future.
Stress is cumulative, so it can become very meta as we feel the effects in our body of being stressed about being stressed.
Remember, ADHD means we get stuck in the moment, so we have to practice thinking of our future self and plan support and recovery for her.
So, what can we do about it?
The first step is just start noticing your mood throughout the day. Start asking yourself every time you go to the bathroom or open the fridge, "What's my mood?" This can often cue you into information about your energy levels.
You don’t need to jump to an action plan with this information – just practice noticing what your body is telling you. The more this becomes habit, the more you'll find easy ways to recognize your limits and adjust things accordingly. There is no magic formula or strategy - just notice your mood more and see where it takes you.
Permission to Rest
Sadly, most women feel they need permission to take a break. The problem with that is layered, but one big issue is that our bodies and brains require rest in order to function. The ADHD brain may need more rest or recovery time, which is a cause of frustration for many. What if you could hold up that truth and accept it as part of how your body and brain operate?
Managing overwhelm is exponentially harder if our brain is not getting what it needs to keep the storms at bay. If we want to feel less shame and accomplish what we set out to do, then we must take breaks.
We need to learn to give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves in ways that work best for us.
Giving yourself permission to recharge in your own way might feel hard, risky, uncomfortable, or silly to you. Most of us did not see rest modeled and were not taught how to do it. Acknowledge the feeling that comes up, notice your mood, and make a choice to do what's best for you.
Types of Rest
Our ADHD makes it hard to remember our goal, we get stuck in transitions, or we just get the don't-want-to's. What if instead of committing to single time/place/method of self-care or rest, we just aimed to make a habit of caring for ourselves and our brains in general. Leave room for creativity and mood shifts, find the things that soothe you, and incorporate them into your life when possible.
Rest is brain care. If you’re thinking – YESSSS, I need a nap. You’re on the right track, but there’s more to it.
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith identified seven types of rest that most women she treats are lacking but need.
Spiritual (prayer, mindfulness, breath work)
If the goal is REST, check in with yourself along the way to see if it’s feeling heavy or light.
Ask yourself if the activity is giving you energy or making it harder to transition back to the next thing. Notice your mood before, during, and after - did it change? If so, what contributed to the shift?
During our Enclave discussion, we unpacked these types of rest. Many of the women could see a need for sensory rest. There is certainly a big correlation to rest and the senses, especially for ADHD brains.
Many of the things we find soothing or restorative are things others may consider childish. Things like coloring, playing with a candle flame, holding a soft pillow or stuffed animal, or sitting in a dark room with twinkle lights glowing. It requires mental flexibility to not feel odd for enjoying these things.
You are allowed to self-soothe and rest in ways that work for you.
What type of rest do you need more of?
The ADHD Enclave is for women who are ready to grow and willing to connect with others in a safe, private community outside of traditional social media. Check it out and join us! https://the-adhd-enclave.mn.co