Hurricanes! This is the season for them. Here in Virginia we are under a State of Emergency ordered by the governor. Hurricane Florence is expected to be a huge storm, possibly historic. It’s now looking like the path will be to the south of those of us in Northern Virginia. If you happen to be in the path, please take care!
So, why mention a hurricane in a HINT about ADHD? To most people with ADHD, avoiding boredom is essential. Jacqueline Sinfeld has written: “Boredom is one of the things people with ADHD fear the most and will go to great lengths to avoid it.” A hurricane with its accompanying preparations, alerts, announcements, etc., is anything but boring!

Let’s think about the characteristics of a hurricane: It is a unique event with potentially huge impact on individuals and property. From the first moment it appears on the radar, it has a name and a history and a predicted future, all of which can impress our senses and feelings and imaginations! A hurricane is potentially dangerous, and yet something about it is also exciting. The normal (sometimes boring) routines of life may be thrown off to varying degrees if a hurricane develops and has a significant impact. Because something interesting will be happening in the near future, life will definitely not be boring! For some folks with ADHD, danger and risk are greatly preferred over boredom.

ADHD brains are under-stimulated. They need more stimulation than neurotypical brains to function at their best, to feel “normal.” People with ADHD are able to engage more fully when things are more “sparkly” or more intensely interesting. When ADHD brains engage with something that grabs their interest, they are able to focus, pay attention, and function better.

Dr. Dale Archer wrote in an ADDITUDE magazine article:  “People with ADHD are remarkably calm in the middle of a maelstrom. That’s when they are in their element. High-stress situations get the dopamine pumping in the brain, which is why adults with ADHD tend to make great firefighters and ER doctors, as well as brilliant stock-traders and entrepreneurs. The world seems to slow down, as they get into laser-sharp focus, remaining cool, clear-headed, and effective. It’s why I often advise patients with ADHD to set a false deadline for themselves to ratchet up the pressure and get into the zone.”

While some neurotypical people panic in the face of a crisis, people with ADHD often remain calm, see the situation clearly, and do what is needed. The extra stimulation of the crisis actually makes their brains feel more normal, even calm.I have known people with ADHD who notice their excitement and energy when they are involved with extreme events and wonder whether there’s something wrong with them. Why, they ask, are they feeling a thrill of excitement when there is so much danger expected and so many are at risk – even themselves?

Understanding the way an ADHD brain works can put those feelings of excitement into perspective. Understanding the way an ADHD brain works can also help us maintain our own safety, especially in situations in which we might impulsively put ourselves in danger because danger seems more attractive than boredom. Noticing our tendency to rush into dangerous situation or engage in risky behavior can help us take a moment to pause and choose how to act.

If we know that our brains are drawn to the stimulation of risky events that may cause harm to ourselves or others, we can practice pausing, breathing, and giving ourselves a moment to choose before acting impulsively. We can also help our children understand their apparent needs to get involved in risky behavior and try to find safer behaviors that are also highly interesting. That may be a challenge, but we’re fortunate that most individuals with ADHD are also highly creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who might happily take on the challenge of finding relatively safe activities to keep themselves stimulated!

It is always a good idea to take several deep breaths before choosing a course of action, especially in a crisis. In the book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Chapman, Dethmer, and Klemp, there’s this advice: “Four conscious breaths with a four second inhale and a four second exhale deep into our belly literally shift our blood chemistry and breathing pattern.” That shift in blood chemistry moves us from the fight/flight/freeze/faint mode in which our ability to clearly think is greatly impaired back into a mode in which our higher brain functions are available to us. We’ll make better choices in that frame of mind, whatever the excitement around us!So we usually can choose safer stimulations and don’t need to rely on being blown around by a hurricane to get our brains engaged and comfortable.

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