I have to admit, I feel like summer has hardly begun. Where I live, it's been cool and rainy, but here I am, being blasted with "Back to School" ads and threats of pumpkin spice lattes. I haven't even had the chance to turn the sweet shade of pink that often haunts me in the middle of summer. But it got me thinking about fall and the often related difficulties that come with longer nights and gloomier days. I know that I am often affected by the darkness of autumn and winter, I can dip into depression, or feel less productive, but how would it effect my ADHD? And were the mood disorders and feelings acquired during the cooler seasons related? How do the seasons affect my ADHD?
A quick search later, and I found many articles that relate Seasonal Affective Disorder with ADHD, including a PubMed article that states that "both seasonal and circadium rhythm disturbances are significantly associated with ADHD symptoms."
I don't know about you, but I felt like a balloon popped one thousand synapses in my brain. Why haven't I heard of this before? I had been diagnosed with ADHD, I had been diagnosed with Season Affective Disorder, among all the mental health professionals I've seen (I wearily admit, there has been a lot), why the BLEEP have none of them let me know that the two go hand in hand? According to the PubMed study, kids and their larger counterparts, are 3 times more susceptible to seasonal mood disorders than neurotypical people. Another study found that a major contributor to people with ADHD experiencing difficult symptoms throughout January and February are a direct cause of delayed sleep onset times (ie going to bed and falling asleep later than most, which is something that is an effect of ADHD). Is this sounding any alarms? Are you also making any connections here?
For myself, Pandora's box has just exploded. My sleep is a mess, I cry lots in the winter, I have a harder time doing my work. It might be obvious to some of you, but that is ADHD, and it's SAD (pun was not intended but man that was good). And as sad as it has made me feel in the past, in this moment I feel somewhat relieved of the burden of being "depressed". My new found understanding is that my ADHD is being triggered in to high drive with the shorter days. With that knowledge, I have been able to look at my existing tools in different ways. How do I already ease my symptoms of ADHD, and how can I support myself more now that I know that there will be times when everything feels more intense, like the upcoming seasons.
Here is a short list of some things that provide me with relief heading into the fall and when the symptoms get a little bigger than I expected;
I avoid sleep aids, including melatonin. Melatonin, if used incorrectly, can add to symptoms of depression and anxiety, and in my personal experience, other sleep aids have become addictive and have also altered my mood. Instead I opt for a nightly ritual with tea, and mood lighting. I try to keep all stimulation at a minimum and spend the time being mindful, possibly even in a meditation practice.
I do take other supplements that aid with brain health and hormone regulation. I will not list them because, we are all so individual. It is so important that I stress that you do your research and connect with a health professional, and perhaps a holistic health care professional, to get some suggestions and recommendations you may not have considered beforehand, and that suit your personal needs best.
I limit my alcohol intake. This one is especially important throughout the holiday season. With so many festivities, it can be easy to indulge and let loose, but alcohol can severely impact your ADHD symptoms in conjunction with the additional symptoms that come on with SAD. It can stimulate impulsiveness and contribute to being distracted and unfocused more easily, which during a busy time, can certainly make you feel even more overwhelmed.
The other thing I try to do is to exercise in daylight. What I mean is, I make sure to move my body outside, everyday for at least 20 minutes. And if I am being completely honest, sometimes I just sit on a bench outside and breathe intentionally, the important part is moving to a place outside, ideally near some grass or in a park, and completely disconnecting from your phone or any electronics. Between the strain of artificial lighting and stuffy air, taking some time to be outside will refresh your mind, aid your circadian rhythm and so much more that will ease symptoms of ADHD.
And my favourite tip, which is more of a ritual for me, is savouring and really enjoying my cup of coffee. There have been numerous studies that have found caffeine to be aidful to those with ADHD, and that state that caffeine mimics the positive effects of many pharmaceuticals often used to aid with ADHD. It may not work for everyone, and it is always important to check and make sure that it will not interfere with any medication you may be taking, but for me, in a world that demonizes coffee, I relish my moments with my favourite pick me up, and use it as a boost when I need to push through the tasks I have a harder time completing.