There is a movement on to encourage kids and adults alike to incorporate more play in their day—whether it is being in nature, connecting with your kids, having fun at work, or just taking a break once in a while. But if you are an adult with ADHD, you may struggle to find the time to have fun. With the seemingly endless list of projects to complete and never having enough time to “do it all,” taking a break and having fun always make their way off the list of things we intend to do each day.
In recent years researchers have been investigating the impact that “all work and no play” can have on our health, productivity, and happiness. Shawn Achor of Harvard gave a TED Talk on research findings that have led to a new way of thinking about the relationship between success and happiness. He postulates that it is not success that leads to happiness, but rather happiness that leads to success. By engaging in activities that increase our optimism and focus our brain on positive experiences in our days, we activate the dopamine pathway and light up our frontal cortex, thus increasing our potential for learning, creativity, and a sense of well-being. The frontal cortex is also the region that is most closely associated with ADHD. And dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is targeted in medications used to treat ADHD.
Taken together, the above information might suggest that focusing on habits that improve happiness is the path to success for people with ADHD. But most strategies that are suggested for adults with ADHD target the goals of being more productive, efficient, and focused on work. When the time comes for a break, the time when habits to promote happiness might occur, many adults with ADHD find themselves at a loss for exactly what to do. As a result the break time passes without any joy, fun, or increase in happiness.
In order to get started, stay focused, and be productive, individuals with ADHD often use to-do lists, reminder apps, calendars, and alarms. We leave our free time to chance. While it’s great to be spontaneous and free time might be the perfect time to be impulsive, when you are starting to develop a habit to build happiness, it is not the time to leave things to chance. Why not have a plan to play? A standing menu of options that you change up on a regular basis or add to depending on the day. A starting point so when the time comes for a break or down time you know what you can do to get the dopamine flowing to your frontal cortex. Think about the things that “get you going.” What would be on your list?
Kirsten Milliken, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, a certified ADHD coach, and the founder of PlayDHD. She lives in Portland, Maine, with her two amazing children and two really freaky dogs. Dr. Milliken is passionate about helping those with ADHD communicate about the ways that ADHD affects them and coaches them to develop skill sets that build on their strengths in order to manage the day-to-day challenges of ADHD. She created PLAYDHD to create a specific awareness of the connection between ADHD and the value of play. Her website, playdhd.com, is dedicated to the art of using play in managing symptoms of ADHD, achieving goals, and enjoying life. She is an active member in the ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO), CHADD, Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), International Coaches Federation (ICF), and a graduate of the ADD Coaches Academy (ADDCA). She regularly presents at ADHD conferences on the subject of play. She also hosts the PlayDHD podcast, is a frequent guest and former co-host on Attention Talk Radio, and contributes to various other websites serving the ADHD community.