Art for ADHDers

Art for ADHDers

Exploring the Therapeutic Potential of Art for ADHDers

Let’s dive into the dynamic world where ADHD and art intersect, exploring how creative pursuits can offer unique benefits and strategies for managing ADHD symptoms…

For those navigating the challenges of ADHD, expressing thoughts and emotions can sometimes feel like trying to untangle headphone wires. Art steps in as a liberating alternative, offering a canvas where words are optional!! Through colours, shapes, and textures, we can communicate with depth and nuance, bypassing the limitations of verbal expression which we sometimes get stuck on. 

Life with ADHD can often resemble a rollercoaster ride with twists and turns. In the midst of this chaos, art becomes a calming escape. Engaging in creative activities acts as a soothing balm for the restless mind, providing a much-needed break from the whirlwind of daily stressors. Whether it’s the rhythmic strokes of a paintbrush or the meditative process of collage-making, art offers a “serenity” where individuals can find peace amidst the storm.

But it’s not all about serenity; there’s a healthy dose of triumph too! Completing an art project isn’t just about making something pretty; it’s a testament to resilience and creativity. For individuals with ADHD, each finished masterpiece is a confidence (dopamine) boost, a reminder of their capabilities and potential for growth.

The benefits of art extend far beyond the realm of creativity. Engaging in artistic pursuits hone essential skills like organization, time management, and attention to detail—skills that are often challenging for ADHDers. By flexing these cognitive muscles through art, individuals can enhance their ability to navigate daily tasks and responsibilities with greater ease and efficiency.

It is clear that creativity offers a myriad of benefits for individuals seeking to manage their symptoms and thrive in their daily lives. By embracing creative expression, individuals can tap into a wellspring of self-discovery, resilience, and personal growth. Grab your paintbrushes, unleash your imagination, and let the artistic journey begin!

Unlocking Productivity: The Power of Body Doubling

In the realm of productivity hacks, one lesser-known yet highly effective technique has been gaining traction: body doubling. Rooted in psychological and behavioral principles, this method offers promising benefits, particularly for individuals grappling with ADHD or executive functioning challenges. Let’s delve into why this approach works and how it can transform the productivity game.

Social Facilitation
Ever noticed how having someone around can spur you to perform better? That’s the magic of social facilitation. Research underscores that the mere presence of others can amp up our performance, especially on tasks we’re familiar with. Body doubling capitalizes on this phenomenon by providing a supportive environment for task completion. Whether it’s tackling projects requiring sustained attention or sheer effort, having a companion in the room can make all the difference.

External Accountability
Accountability serves as a potent catalyst for behaviour change and task accomplishment. With a body double by your side, there’s a palpable sense of external accountability, even if they’re not actively involved in the task. This external presence can help individuals with ADHD stay anchored and focused, knowing that someone else is privy to their efforts. It’s a subtle yet powerful motivator that can nudge you toward your goals.

Reduced Feelings of Isolation
The journey of battling ADHD often feels solitary, with waves of isolation and loneliness crashing in, especially during challenging tasks. Enter the body double, offering companionship and social support. Their presence not only alleviates feelings of isolation but also uplifts mood and motivation. It’s like having a silent cheerleader by your side, making the arduous journey seem less daunting.

Accountability and Feedback
While your body double may not be actively engaged in the task, their presence serves as a beacon of accountability and feedback. They offer words of encouragement, praise, or gentle reminders, steering you back on track when distractions loom large. Their silent yet supportive role can be instrumental in maintaining focus and productivity.

At its core, body doubling taps into the power of social support, external accountability, and modeling to bolster focus, motivation, and productivity, particularly for individuals navigating ADHD or executive functioning hurdles. While further research on body doubling itself could be illuminating, its underlying principles find firm footing in empirical evidence from related fields of psychology and behavioral science.

In a world brimming with productivity hacks, body doubling stands out as a beacon of simplicity and effectiveness—a testament to the profound impact of human connection on our ability to thrive in the face of challenges.

By Kaleigh Smith, RP

Embracing your ADHD

As a clinician, much of my work surrounds helping clients improve their functioning and treating their obstructive ADHD symptoms. My work also includes shifting away from the negative and embracing some of the neuro-differences we experience.

As a clinician with ADHD, I have had to learn to embrace my own symptoms (the good the bad and the ugly) and adapt my mindset to say fuck it. I am the way I am, and I like the way I am. I want the same adoption of mindset for my readers.

As someone who wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until my late 20’s, undoing the years of shame I felt throughout my life took time. And patience. Patience was something my ADHD brain really fought against. I wanted resolve now, and only now. I want immediate change, immediate fixes and future rewards aren’t nearly as enticing as right now ones.

Having ADHD for me, is like driving a Ferrari with bicycle breaks. I am moving at an exhilarating speed, but when I need to slow down, I either can’t, or I crash.

I remember being a kid and feeling I was different, but I never knew why. I didn’t want to sit still, and I couldn’t understand why I had to. I liked learning, but I didn’t like that I had to learn at such a slow pace. I wanted to understand concepts in detail, I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on to know everything about everything. My imagination was vivid, complex and full of ideas and wonder. I built an entire internal world full of dialogue, characters and escape from the mundane expectations I felt forced to fulfill in my real life.

If I fell behind in something or didn’t understand how to do it, I would feel so overwhelmed at trying to figure out how to keep up with my work I would give up entirely.

I got bored, I got frustrated and I got quiet. I did not play well with others (and arguably still don’t).

I was smart though. I learned that sitting still, being the “good girl” who was quiet, caring and got good grades is what I would be praised for. I created such a rigid routine and role for myself that I kept criticism and ridicule at bay. For the most part.

When I was a kid, I would forget to brush my teeth, have a shower, eat, remember due dates, pack my backpack, and the list goes on. After getting in trouble enough times my brain switched itself onto autopilot. I began brushing my teeth too often, showering too many times a day, checking that I locked the door three times before I left the house, never unpacking my backpack and constantly living in a state of self-doubt and fear that I would forget something I needed. My apology tour for forgotten birthdays, anniversaries and important events lived on.

I wonder what my life could have been like if someone had noticed I used to be talkative, lively, funny, and carefree. I wonder what my life would have been like if someone had told me it was okay that I forgot some things, because the other parts of me that loved so fiercely, that wanted to move and learn and create spectacular things were so much more important than the parts that didn’t fit in with what other kids my age were doing. I wonder what my life would have been like if I didn’t expect myself to be perfect.

I want to be that person for my clients. I want you to step into our sessions and feel understood and heard and noticed for the amazing traits you have that are underlying the ones you’ve been told you need to change.

I say that ADHD is a superpower because learning to mask your symptoms and play the role of being “normal” takes such dedication and ingenuity. And even after losing so much of your energy just trying to fit in and scape by, you’re still able to dive into new pursuits and continuously evolve? Damn, no wonder you’re tired. What if we take some of the pressure to mask these parts of you away? You might start noticing you function better than you have before.

After chipping away at years of messages I had received that “good” meant being smart (but not too smart), being caring, being helpful, anticipating everyone else’s needs, not interrupting, being creative (but not too creative or different), being rigid, sitting still, staying quiet and shutting down my impulses… I finally starting to find some peace and freedom from the constraints my mind had adapted.

So what if I forget to close the cupboards after I make dinner? So what if I can’t sit still for more than an hour at a time? So what if I want to change my hobbies every few months? So what if I start a project, then find something that’s so much cooler and want to start a new project? So what if I occasionally interrupt someone? So what? Fuck it. I am the way I am, and I like me.

Part of the reason I became a therapist is that I finally found a career where my day looks different every day. I get to meet new people, hear new stories, help people in different ways. My days are unique, exciting, interesting, and there is always something to learn. I can schedule my day the way I want to, not the way I’m told I have to. If I need to take a break every few hours to move my body, I can do that. If I want to dive into a new theory, or hyperfixate on cool new research, I can do that. If I want to implement training programs, teach, spend time writing, master new techniques, or even create my own… then I do that. Allowing natural dopamine into my brain feels way better than forcing it out.

I want that freedom for my clients. I want people to understand that just because you’ve been told you should go to work Monday-Friday from 9-5 and focus on data, spreadsheets, or paperwork, doesn’t mean you have to. Unless that’s your thing. If it is, awesome. If it isn’t then what is your thing? Do you need change? Different work hours? New projects to dig into? A job that stimulates your mind and challenges you? A career that is hands-on? That sounds way more awesome to me than feeling stuck, unpassionate, and unexcited.

You might not be able to change what the world thinks of you, or of your ADHD brain. But you do have control over how you want to live your life. You do have the ability to let go of some of the messages you internalized and work on your gifts. It does take patience, but that freedom is worth something. Instead of changing all these parts of you to fit into the world, maybe it’s time you try letting the world adapt to your parts?

Optimizing Functioning with ADHD: Targeting 5 Foundational Areas

In my work with clients, I find such similarities in what people with ADHD struggle with day-to-day. “I just can’t seem to focus”, “I can’t motivate myself to start”, “My mind wanders away”, “I am so overwhelmed”, “I lose track of time” and “I just forgot”.

I want to break down some of these commonalities and address that focus, motivation and attention can be improved with organizational systems, but this is only one part of the five main areas that need to be addressed to improve ADHD functioning. 5 parts you say? What are these five fundamentals?

Sleep, nutrition, exercise, a support system, and organizational skills.

Within the context of counselling, I can help clients integrate more adaptive strategies to manage time, motivation, their schedule etc. (which all fall under organization). But before we can get to the higher-level functioning stuff, we need to make sure that the four other conditions are in place so when it comes to integrating organizational skills, you will see a benefit.

Our brains cannot function without ensuring our whole system is being taken care of. In our world today it seems we are fed a narrative that we can just use our brains and find a way out of the place we’re in, which is not true. We need to integrate caring for our bodies at a physiological level, so our brain can do the work it needs to.

Sleep: How many hours of sleep are you getting nightly? Is there a way to maximize this? Ensuring that you are winding down before bed without the negative impacts of blue light (screens), caffeine or other distractions that will make sleep harder is very important. Noticing whether you are using your dopamine window in a functional way is also part of sleep hygiene. If you get a burst of energy or inspiration later in the evening, then try using that window in a productive way for you. If you can shift your sleep window to later in the day to adapt to your natural circadian rhythm, then try it and see how you feel after a few weeks. Not everyone is meant to be an early bird, it’s okay to be a night owl.

Nutrition: ADHD is an impairment of dopamine (needed for motivation and pleasure) and norepinephrine (a stress hormone) production. When your system isn’t naturally producing these two critical neurochemicals, it becomes important to implement foods that can increase amino acids that will then facilitate as much natural production of them. What types of foods have these molecules that produce amino acids needed to build these neurotransmitters?

Protein, protein, protein! When we are burnt out, scattered or in a pinch for time, our brains try to find the easiest thing to satisfy our hunger. Often that ends up being snacks that are high in sugar or carbohydrates. If you can implement one small change into your nutrition, try making your go-to snacks high in protein instead. Hard-boiled eggs, cheese slices, yogurt or trail mix are my go-to packable snacks. If you can buy snacks that are pre-portioned or easy to prepare and take them with you to work/ school, it can make integrating healthier snack options more feasible for your day-to-day life.

Exercise: suggesting exercise can feel like a double-edged sword to some people who have struggled with their body image or disordered eating. I don’t suggest exercise in the context of weight loss, or even setting other bodily-related fitness goals. I suggest re-framing exercise purely for focus goals. Exercise for your brain. Research shows that exercising for 20 minutes a day will increase natural dopamine production, which helps improve focus and attention. I suggest starting small with walking or stretching to see if you can sustain better attention overall. Then build from there if you see improvements.

Supports: Who is on your team? Does your parent, partner or friends understand ADHD and are they able to support you with it? Creating a support system is vital. Your team can span as far as your doctor who monitors your medication. An accountant that takes care of organizing your expenses, so you don’t have to. A trainer at the gym that builds your exercise routine, so you don’t have to. A meal-prep service that prepares your food or sends you the ingredients you need to implement healthy nutrition into your life. A partner who can work with your strengths and help support you in daily living. If you can build a support system to help you manage your “not so favourite” things, it will give you time and energy back to do all the other things you have to (or want to do!)

And finally, organization: After going back and re-adjusting these first four fundamental areas needed for optimal functioning you can begin organizing yourself in a different way. That is where an ADHD-friendly therapist or coach can step in to help you build the executive functioning skills you need (this would also fall under creating a support system). Integrating calendars, goal-setting and strategic planning alongside education on ADHD is part of what I do with clients, and what I want to help teach you to do independent of counselling. Please reach out if you have any questions or are looking for support or additional resources!

What is attachment and why is it important in relationships?

If you’ve been struggling with relationships, there may be a few reasons why. Getting to know what attachment means is an important starting point if you’re looking to find a safe and long-lasting relationship. As you read… remember that although your attachment style is typically stable, it can be plastic. It can change for the better!

Attachment theory is focused on relationships and how we bond to one another. Everyone has an attachment system, and this system develops throughout your life, beginning at an early age with how your needs were met by your primary caregivers. This continues to develop throughout your life and generally falls into two categories. A secure or insecure attachment system. Insecure attachment can further be broken up into either an anxious or avoidant attachment style. If you are having a hard time in relationships, you may be insecurely attaching to others.

So, what do each of these three styles look like?

A secure attachment is a comfortable relationship style that is consistent and trustworthy. People with secure attachment often have little drama in relationships. Secure attachment doesn’t typically get “riled up” or “shut down” the way an insecure attachment style might. Effective, assertive communication is the pinnacle of moving towards a secure attachment.

Anxious attachment is classified as living in the sixth sense of danger. If you have an anxious attachment style you may preoccupied with your partners behaviour, feel insecure or uncertain of your own needs. You likely begin using protest behaviours such as picking fights, threatening to leave, or having inconsistent expectations of your partner. When you use protest behaviour you continue the cycle of anxiety, because you never know whether your partner is responding to your needs or your protest behaviours. Of the clients I work with, anxious attachment seems to be the most common I see. So, remember you’re not alone.

Avoidant attachment can be categorized as keeping love at an arm’s length. You may feel emotionally unavailable, shut down in conflict or avoid deep connections altogether.

Now that you know some of the basics… how can you move from an insecure attachment style to a secure one?

Becoming emotionally brave by figuring out what your needs are in a relationship is the first step. Focus on your needs by using effective communication with others in a very specific way. For example: “I want __”, “I need __” and “I feel __”. Learning to be non-apologetic for your needs, and assertive with them takes some learning and practice. Understanding how to not place blame on your partner and avoid accusations by centering communication around your needs is equally important. Once you learn what you need in a relationship, you become better able to set boundaries for yourself and can then filter out partners who can or can’t meet your needs. This will save you from wasting time or energy on relationships that don’t serve a purpose for you.

If you want to learn more about attachment theory and how your attachment style may have developed reach out to myself (or another professional) who can help you with this in the context of therapy. There are several resources you can find outside of counselling as well, any of which I am happy to recommend to anyone reading!

How can you work with your ADHD? Give these acronyms a try.

Befriending your brain isn’t always an easy thing to do… especially if you’ve been subjected to the narrative that there’s something wrong with the way yours works. I’m not here to minimize the struggles that an ADHDer has to go through to adapt to a typical normative world. But what I want this post to do is offer two simple tools that can help. I incorporate both acronyms into my day-to-day life to help me stay in a positive headspace and I use them when I feel stuck, unmotivated, or uninterested in something.

Ready? Let’s go.

NICE. This stands for novel (new), of interest, challenging (or competitive) and engaging (or exciting). Every time I am faced with a task that I really don’t want to do; I try to see how I can make it fit into these categories. This could be changing the format of a mundane task to make it feel new. I try to remind myself of how I can make something relatable or interesting to me. I challenge myself with timers, visually checking things off my to-do list or even coming up with competitive games to complete tasks with others. And I find ways to make mundane stuff engaging or exciting.

MEMES. Movement, energy, motivation, experts, and systems. These are concepts I try to incorporate into my life every day.

Movement: I know that to function at my optimal level I need to move my body. Whether it’s a walk, stretching, going to the gym, or taking small breaks between times of focus to get up and move around, just try moving your body. Expending energy that feels pent up inside is important to feel grounding and focused.
Energy: use it when you have it. If you can focus better early in the morning, or late at night… go with it! We don’t all have the same internal clock so try to work with yours, instead of against it.
Motivation: what motivates you? What do you like to do? Set those things out as rewards for getting the not-so-fun stuff done.
Experts: Working with someone who understands ADHD and can help you understand your brain and behaviours better can be really helpful. This can be in therapy, or it can be through your own research, reading or community-building. If anyone here has any questions about helpful books, podcasts, worksheets or expert Tiktokers… reach out and I will help in any way I can.
Systems: What organizational system work best for you? Is it using a planner, sticky notes, alarms, reminders, lists? Try out different ones and see what sticks.

Not every ADHD brain is the same, so get to know yours and work with your strengths.

The Physiology of a Traumatized Brain

Trauma can affect every part of you. It can affect the way you think, feel, behave, and relate to others. Before I explain the physiology of it, I want you to remember a few things. Our brains are the most complex system in the Universe. THE UNIVERSE. Our brains control our entire body. When your brain has been subjected to trauma, that classifies as a psychological injury. So, shouldn’t we be treating trauma with as much care as we would a physical injury? Yes, we should. Just because we can’t see a scratch, bruise, or break does not mean an injury isn’t there. Understanding your psychological injuries is a big part of the healing journey.

To get into the science of it all… when something traumatic takes place in your life three main parts of your brain are affected. Your amygdala, your hippocampus, and your prefrontal cortex. Your amygdala is your instinct centre. This is the part that is responsible for your “fight flight or freeze” response. This part subconsciously determines whether you immediately attack, run away, or shut down in response to threats (either real or perceived).

Your hippocampus controls your memory. For those who have experienced trauma… you may notice you forget events, or details of things. You also might feel like you are reliving memories or having flashbacks. This could be because stress has been damaging this critical brain structure.

And finally, your prefrontal cortex. This is the front part of your brain which controls emotions, attention, planning and executing tasks. If you are left unhealed from a psychological injury it can be very difficult to function and find motivation to participate in daily tasks.

What kinds of trauma create a physiological injury? Trauma can fall under two main types: acute (single incident) or chronic/ complex (repeated exposure). An acute trauma is a single incident that has occurred with no residual traumas occurring. Perhaps you were exposed to a single trauma (acute) such as a car accident, but as a result your functioning was affected and you lost friends, a partner, or your job. Well, now that acute trauma becomes a complex one.

How do you know if something can be classified as trauma? A trauma is defined as anything that is deeply distressing. Anything that you were unable to prepare for, understand or control that caused you harm. There is no trauma that is greater or less than… and if you feel you have experienced a trauma then there is no further justification needed. You don’t have to be diagnosed with PTSD to begin treatment to understand and heal the residual effects it has had on you.

We can begin our work by creating awareness of which parts of your brain have been affected by trauma and how we can treat them. I want to create safety, support, and a space to share your story. Healing can take time, but I am here to walk alongside you in this journey.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please connect with me for further resources or information.

Psychotherapy for ADHD

Have you been diagnosed with ADHD… or think maybe you should be? Wondering where to start with treatment? There can be a lot of misconceptions out there about what exactly ADHD is. So, I want to break down some of that information to make it a bit easier to understand. I also want to touch on what therapy can do to help you manage your symptoms.

You don’t have to be diagnosed as a child, to be diagnosed as an adult. In fact, I talk to more and more people every day who are curious about whether they have ADHD as an adult, even though this went undetected throughout their life. ADHD can be developed by different biopsychosocial factors. In short form… this means a genetic predisposition that interacts with your social environment where symptoms begin to develop. ADHD can affect males and females differently, which can be one of the contributors to why women are under or misdiagnosed. Women generally portray less hyperactive symptoms and more inattentive ones (although this isn’t always the case). Symptoms can change throughout your lifespan, as well. ADHD can even look a bit like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder at first glance. Confusing… I know.

Treating ADHD Symptoms in Therapy:

Are you struggling with time-management, ability to focus, difficulty starting tasks, irritability, emotion dysregulation, relationship conflict, lack of motivation, organization, anxiety, or stress? Then it may be time to tailor psychotherapy a bit. When someone comes to me curious about whether they have ADHD… I assume they probably do. I don’t have to see a diagnosis to start working with you as though you have ADHD. All this means to me is you have an instinct you want to follow, and I will follow that instinct with you. Outside of pharmacotherapy (medication) we can start treatment in psychotherapy.

Internal guilt and shame are two big emotions I often discuss with clients. They can feel so big because they affect every part of our functioning. And when you have a predisposition to being dysregulated, big emotions can really throw you off balance. In my work, I like to start with targeting the parts of you that are really affected by shame and guilt. Then you can start to free yourself of these emotions and align yourself with your ADHD strengths. Through focusing on your strengths, providing you some education and alternative tools to work with your gift… you can begin to understand yourself in a compassionate way.

I think it’s important to talk about the good parts of ADHD. Because it isn’t all bad, I promise. You have a superpower. If I were to guess I would say you’re probably incredibly dedicated, passionate, creative, inspiring and have a gift of “thinking outside the box”. You have made it this far even though you may have been struggling more than others around you. You have likely had to work harder, adapt your learning, fit into social norms without being detected and learned to regulate yourself daily. That takes a lot of work and you are a very strong person with the ability to do all that!

If you want to know more about how psychotherapy can help treat your ADHD symptoms send me an email or give me a call. I am happy to direct you to other resources and treatments that can work for you, even outside of counselling!

What can therapy do for me?

If you’re new to therapy, struggling with something more intensely than you have before, or trying to figure out if counselling is the right path for you to walk down… this post is for you!

Are you struggling with something right now but can’t seem to figure out how to “fix” it? Have you been struggling and think this thing might never be “fixed”? Or that you can’t be “fixed”?

I say “fixed” with quotations, because I don’t believe that “fix” is a concrete term… or one that is even relevant to human behaviour. Instead, I’d prefer to shift wording to “accept, alter, adapt or acknowledge”.

Perhaps your struggle is getting harder to fight because you are fighting alone and without the right tools.

The brain is the most complicated organ in our body. It controls every part of our system yet can be the hardest to regulate. Regulating our brain is so complex because of the way in which memory and learned responses have been developed.

A friend and fellow therapist gifted me an analogy recently, and I want to share it with you. I found it so helpful to understand why it can feel so hard to make changes on our own.

As humans we evolved more than other animals and because we have been able to evolve as a species, we have an engrained instinct that we can overcome any obstacle. If we think about something for long enough… we can change it. Humans have used their brains to make our external worlds easier for us to survive. We have created electricity, cars, the internet, ways to travel etc. We also relied on others and worked together to find creative solutions for problems. Another gift that evolution gave us: the instinct to work and be in packs.

We learned that we could change our external world and then we assumed we can do the same with internal world. But is it that easy?

Ask yourself this: How often have you thought about purple unicorns in the last month? What about now? I bet you’re thinking about them now… once something is brought into our internal world, it’s hard to ask it to leave.

What if I handed you a piece of paper and I told you that you need to get rid of it? What would you do? Throw it out… burn it, shred it, hide it? I’m sure you could come up with something creative. I’m also guessing it would be easier for you to get rid of the piece of paper, rather than never think about purple unicorns again.

We often tell ourselves we need to “think this, feel this, and don’t do this” … but it doesn’t work. A lot of us have become more anxious, sad, overwhelmed, helpless and defeated as a result.

Counselling can be a way to help you build the tools to change your internal world. Building your own “pack” to overcome a problem can start with finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with. Therapy can help you build creative solutions. And where there is no solution, it can help you feel less alone with your thoughts and normalize what you’re going through. There is no shame in asking for help… in fact it’s likely one of your biggest strengths.