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So far, 2020 has been a bit of a bust for many teens and young adults with (and without) ADHD. Facing an unclear fall semester, everything continues to look upside down. Will there be in-person classes? Will your campus be open for any type of normal activities? How will you be able to cope with online classes once again? With new, unforeseen issues about COVID and policies about school changing daily, it’s natural to worry and feel overwhelmed. But it appears that we are in this for the long haul. Since it’s a marathon, not a sprint, how can you stay centered and make a plan for success this year amidst these shifting sands?
In the spring, educators and students across the world were forced to suddenly shift to virtual classrooms. Frankly, nobody was prepared for this and many folks scrambled to make this transition. For alternative learners, students like you with ADHD, learning disabilities or high functioning Autism, online learning may have offered relief from social pressures but brought along its own set of attention, organization and motivation challenges. When classes ended, you, like many of your peers, probably breathed a sigh of relief.
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It’s always tough to stand in uncertainty, hold your breath and wait for whatever unfolds. But with the health stakes so high and the very real depression you may have experienced from sheltering-in-place and being socially disconnected, this can feel impossible. All of this business of not knowing what to expect just fuels our natural anxiety. It’s how humans are wired. But instead of persistent worried thoughts, you can control and lower the volume on your anxiety by shifting to curiosity. While anxiety shuts you down and predicts negative outcomes, curiosity opens you to possibilities and helps you rely on your resilience.
Here are four key tips for making this shift:
1. Accept and evaluate your reality: You are living with insecurity and it’s no fun. Your high school or college is making its own unique choice about instruction this fall and you don’t have a say in that. But you can approach your studies in a different, more thoughtful way than you did in the spring. A common thread for education this fall seems to be hybrid learning. This mix of online and in-person instruction may work well for some students and be difficult for others. Begin by assessing what will help you learn in this environment based on your experience in the spring and what won’t. You’ll need this information to make a workable plan for this semester and relieve some of your current anxiety. Start by asking yourself these questions and write your answers down:
**What did I like about online learning? What did I dislike about online learning?
**How did it help me express my academic strengths? What did I dislike about online learning?
**What specific supports did I use that were helpful? What specific supports did I need that I didn’t have or didn’t ask for?
2. Set appropriate goals and a do-able routine: You may not be able to concentrate this semester as well as you have in the past. Keeping that in mind, try to sign up for classes that really interest you. People living with ADHD have naturally lower amounts of dopamine in their brains and more impatience with monotony, so doing things that are compelling is more important than ever. Take as many classes as you can that float your boat and consider altering your academic plan if needed to make that happen. Maybe that boring required class can wait until you can take it in person. Create a daily schedule that includes exercise, physical distance socializing and screen-free times. Having a reliable routine will keep you grounded and on track.
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3. Create an arrangement that suits your particular learning style: Hybrid learning affects different people in different ways. If online college education is challenging for you or you really dislike it, consider taking fewer classes or a semester off from school if you can. If you’re still in high school, talk with your parents and your school counselor about the struggles you had in the spring and make sure they set up appropriate supports for you. Either way, If you don’t have a 504 or some other accommodation plan, this may be the time to ask for one. Accommodations aren’t cheating: they help you get stuff done while acknowledging your very real executive functioning challenges.
4. Wonder about what’s going to happen instead of worrying about it: When you don’t know what to expect, you’re likely to want predictability to calm your fears. Without that certainty, your anxiety naturally increases. Being curious instead of worrying means wondering about possible outcomes from a place of confidence that you can handle whatever arises. I’ll bet that you’ve already overcome challenges in your life. Take a minute and jot down a few tough moments and how you successfully dealt with them. Believing that you can apply the skills that you used in the past to the unknown situations in the future is what resilience is all about.
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