ADHD Stresspectations

We’re stressed! Clients are stressed. Kids are stressed. We’re all stressed. Why? Because when you’re living with ADHD, you’re getting more negative messages thrown at you like so many darts than those without. And because we set such high expectations for ourselves, those negative messages leave us feeling so much more deflated!

This week on the show, we’re talking all about the expectations we set for ourselves that cause us nothing but stress, and how we can work toward emotional freedom in spite of our ADHD symptoms!


Episode Transcript

Brought to you by The ADHD Podcast Community on Patreon

Pete Wright:
Hello, everybody. And welcome to Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast on True Story FM. I’m Pete Wright, and I am right here with Nikki Kinzer.

Nikki Kinzer:
Hello, Pete Wright. Hello, everyone. Welcome.

Pete Wright:
How are you doing, Nikki Kinzer?

Nikki Kinzer:
Stressed out, Pete Wright.

Pete Wright:
Why are you stressed out Nikki Kinzer?

Nikki Kinzer:
Well, who isn’t stressed out right now? I think I’m stressed.

Pete Wright:
[crosstalk 00:00:26].

Nikki Kinzer:
My clients are stressed. My kids are stressed. Online school, no social life. All of that stuff. World is stressed.

Pete Wright:
So, how does that manifest when you’ve got stress in your house? Because now you’ve got, like the rest of us, four people, and you’re all kind of in the mode of work and projects. And what does stress look like? Where does stress meet in your house?

Nikki Kinzer:
Everywhere. I mean, it’s just stressful. A few weeks ago, we had the fires and they were getting really close to us. And so there was a lot of stress with that and sadness about what was happening to the Oregon forests, and California and everywhere else that it was burning, Washington. And so that was probably one of the most stressful times I’ve had in a long time. And I really felt it in my body, it was so stressful. I could see it in my kids, especially my daughter, because she’s just so sensitive to things that you could see how it was affecting her.

Nikki Kinzer:
But it’s not just the fires. It’s everything. It’s, COVID, my husband’s a high risk person. So it’s always this concern of COVID and everything. I mean, everything is just stressful and it’s such a unusual time, but yet I think that people forget that it’s such an unusual time and want to keep up with what they were doing before.

Nikki Kinzer:
And I think with ADHD, it’s not even what they were doing before. It’s just these high expectations that they have of themselves that are just so unrealistic, but even more unrealistic under these circumstances. And I mean, one of the examples I will tell you, just in our home to answer your question directly, is eating, like dinner, making dinner, it becomes such a chore and I hate it. And it’s one of those things that we have just taken out, we had just done Grubhub and have eaten a lot of food from restaurants. And there’s definitely this guilt about that.

Nikki Kinzer:
But then at the same time, I’m like, “Okay, well, it’s not a normal time.” I mean. So, am I setting myself up for unrealistic expectations? And should I give myself a little bit of a break? Well, I think so. And I think all of our listeners need to too.

Pete Wright:
I think so too. Though, I think it is complicated and I’m excited we’re talking about this because I think it’s going to, I think there are things we have to embrace and give ourselves grace. And there are things that we risk normalizing too quickly. And that has impacted me certainly directly. So we’re going to talk all about that today, as we have coined in the great annals of ADHD language, the lexicon of ADHD terminology, we’ve just made up, ADHD [stresspectations 00:03:32].

Pete Wright:
What happens when you are setting yourselves expectations that are too high, realistic expectations. That’s what we’re talking about today. But before we do that head over to TakeControlADHD.tom, Tom’s there.

Nikki Kinzer:
Hi, Tom.

Pete Wright:
Head over to TakeControlADHD.com. Get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website or subscribe to the mailing list. And we’ll send you an email each time a new episode is released. Connect with us on Twitter or Facebook @takecontrolADHD. And if this show has ever touched you head over to patreon.com/theADHDpodcast, Patreon is listener supported podcasting, and it is awesome, mostly because what it allows us to do, it allows us to focus more on the show, on the kinds of guests that we’re able to bring into the show, on the kinds of resources we’re able to put toward the show. All because of the listeners who have decided to support the show with a few dollars each month.

Pete Wright:
We have a number of tiers over there. At each tier, you get a little bit more access, a little bit more stuff. And so check it out. Patreon.com/theADHDpodcast. And now, effective as you are listening to this, most likely, you can now subscribe both for monthly support or annual support, which is very exciting for us and hopefully easy to budget for you. So thank you everybody who has supported so far and thanks to those of you who are still considering it.

Pete Wright:
So, setting unrealistic expectations, Nikki, here’s the thing I’m running into. Which is that I’m a creature of habit. And I went ahead and normalized to new behaviors, because early on, I thought, “Surely this won’t last two weeks. Surely this won’t last a month. Surely my kids won’t be out of school through the end of the year. Surely it’s not now through February. Surely, surely, surely.” And in my head, I gave myself permission to do some things, to treat myself in ways that I normally don’t and that behavior stuck.

Pete Wright:
And now I’m six months down the road, I’m many pounds overweight. I haven’t been exercising at all. I got very sick, obviously, that was definitely a part of it. But part of that recuperation was thinking, “Oh my God, I am unwell.” And not just physically, I’m unwell partially because I think I gave myself too much grace in times of stress and let go of that sense of normalcy that came from constraint, that came from, you know what, I’m not going to eat a half a cake before bed. That might be a little bit extreme. But part of it was, also, we were eating a lot of food out, delivery food, and it gets very expensive and those kinds of things-

Nikki Kinzer:
Expensive, and not real healthy. Yeah.

Pete Wright:
Right. I just start to notice those. And I’m like, okay, I get setting expectations and being reasonable for myself. But also there is a certain set of behaviors that allow me to maintain my health and wellbeing. And if anything, I need that now more than ever. So that’s why, as a framework for where my head is in this conversation, that’s why it’s, for lack of a better term, it kind of stresses me out.

Nikki Kinzer:
Right. Well, of course. And what you’re saying, I think a lot of people relate to, because it’s true. I mean, especially with food, being able to go to that for comfort. Right.

Pete Wright:
And it’s so easy to ignore-

Nikki Kinzer:
It’s so easy. Right.

Pete Wright:
… the positive signals. It’s so easy to ignore the hard stuff and go for the easy stuff.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yeah, absolutely. So, I think there is a balance. And so for today’s conversation, a couple of ways that… or sort of the direction that I was heading, is I want to first educate people around why ADHDers specifically will set higher expectations for themselves. And we’re going to take COVID out of it. And just give you some information around why this happens in the first place.

Nikki Kinzer:
So, we had this great doctor on, Dr. William Dodson on a few months ago, talking about RSD. And he also talks about a lot of other things too. And he says, “It is estimated that those with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages by age 12 than those without the condition.” So, shame causes many people with ADHD to try to be perfect. “If I just do XYZ perfectly, then I can avoid feeling shame.”

Nikki Kinzer:
So, as we know, at least I see this a lot with my clients, is there’s a people pleasing type of a thing that happens where they want to really go out of their way to help someone or to make sure this is perfect, or to make sure that themselves are doing what they can. And so they put these expectations really high. Something that Tamara, how would you say that, Rosier?

Pete Wright:
Tamara Rosier.

Nikki Kinzer:
Rosier.

Pete Wright:
Or Rosier. Yeah.

Nikki Kinzer:
I’ll just reference to ADDitude Magazine. There were a couple other quotes from doctors from ADDitude Magazine. That says many individuals with ADHD, having limited access to their prefrontal cortex, rely on their emotions to make decisions and to motivate themselves. Shame provides a well of negative emotions from which they can draw, which really goes back to what you were saying and I was saying about the food. We’re making emotional decisions because we feel bad and that feels good at the moment. But then feels bad again when you know that you’re not helping yourself.

Pete Wright:
Right. Right. Side question?

Nikki Kinzer:
Yeah.

Pete Wright:
How does your anxiety feed this?

Nikki Kinzer:
Oh, it does what we’re talking about.

Pete Wright:
We’re talking about it in the context of ADHD, but ADHD and anxiety and depression, they’re all sort of fueled by this behavior.

Nikki Kinzer:
Oh, for sure. Right. Yeah. So I know from speaking from an anxiety point of view, it’s definitely that shame spiral. “Well, this is going to make me feel better, but then now I feel bad.” I mean, even like, I know that there’s been times where I know I don’t respond well to dairy, but I will still have a bowl of ice cream and then I feel bad afterwards. And then I wonder, “Why did I do that?” But yet I will do it again.

Pete Wright:
Yeah. It’s a script that you’ve written so many times, right?

Nikki Kinzer:
Yeah. Yeah. yeah, at the moment, that’s what, it feels good. I think that just to add to this, perfectionists with ADHD will often dismiss their achievements. So to motivate themselves to complete more tasks. And what we’re saying here is that people feel like their worth is almost tied to how much they could get done in a day. And if they don’t get that done, then they feel like they have failed. But it wouldn’t matter if we gave you more than 24 hours a day, you probably wouldn’t have gotten those things done because the expectations are so high.

Nikki Kinzer:
And so how does this relate to COVID, looping all this around, is we have these expectations for our to-do lists and everything when we’re under a great deal of stress and not normal stress. And so, if we don’t change our expectations or change our behavior, we’re going to keep going into this cycle of just shame and more stress and more anxiety and more feeling bad because we can’t reach what we think we should be able to reach under this stress.

Nikki Kinzer:
And I think what you were talking about before and what we’re talking about with food, it’s a little different than what I’m talking about here. I mean, we definitely need to have our self-care and we’ll talk about that. I mean, I think self-care is a huge piece of dealing with stress and when we let that go more stress happens. So, does that make sense of where the ADHD is coming from when it comes to expectations?

Pete Wright:
Well, yeah, I think the food… Yeah. I mean, my only comment was on food and using food as an agent for making yourself feel better, allowing yourself to feel better. And my only issue with that, in my experience, is that because I already have an issue with food. I already have constantly playing tapes about my relationship with food and have for years. And my experience with ADHD exacerbates those, the focus on those kind of negative signals. So when we’re talking about that. And I think the experience of the pandemic being completely novel for so many of us-

Nikki Kinzer:
Oh, for everyone, yeah.

Pete Wright:
… right, is one that I don’t think I expected how much I would count, or I would need to count on, being more or less a stoic around some of those old behaviors, such that when I let myself go, it stopped feeling good anymore. It stopped feeling good so quickly. It’s a pandemic, let’s make some more lemon bars. It’s a pandemic, I’m going to make cookies every Sunday. It’s a pandemic-

Nikki Kinzer:
This will go away soon. It’s not, yeah.

Pete Wright:
It’s okay, it’s going to go away, and then I’ll get back to normal. Yeah, that went from [inaudible 00:13:53] for stress to, “Oh, wow. This is a habit now. I’m the guy who makes cookies every Sunday and I no longer feel good about it.” And it turns out, I was counting on my ability to stay strong in those scenarios to keep my health up, my heart strong, feeling good so that I could handle the stress that was being thrown at me that I’d never experienced before.

Nikki Kinzer:
Right. Right. But the thing I have to say is that there’s now some awareness around that.

Pete Wright:
Yeah, totally.

Nikki Kinzer:
So now we have some awareness around, okay, maybe these weren’t… These are the habits that we don’t need to continue, or we need to switch our thinking because it isn’t going away anytime soon that we know of. And so, it is something that we have to take a deep look and see, “Okay, what’s going on? And how do we want to deal with this? How do we really want to deal with the stress?”

Pete Wright:
Well, I think, and I know we’re to talk about this in a minute, but I think I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation about consequences versus punishment. And in that context, we’re talking about parents and kids, but you know what? I need to have that conversation with myself too. Because it’s very easy for me to allow my ADHD to be a hammer and use those behaviors to punish myself. Versus understanding the if, then statement. If I’m a guy who makes chocolate chip cookies for the family every Sunday and eats them, then I know what those consequences are going to be. I know how that’s going to make me feel.

Pete Wright:
And the same thing goes for like, “Oh, yeah. We can be the family that sits down and every night watch television,” even though we know that the kids are of focused on their homework, they’re not going to be able to get their stuff done, everybody’s here trying to get the same amount of stuff done. So, we can let things slide a little bit in that area, but you know the consequences for that? They become a parent too.

Nikki Kinzer:
A lot of layers to un-layer here for sure. One thing that I do want to talk about too is just giving people a little bit of understanding why it’s difficult to set up realistic expectations with ADHD. And it really comes back to executive functions and some of the challenges that we have with ADHD in general. Time blindness, we think you can do, or you think that you can do more than you can. That’s a huge piece of setting expectations really high is you don’t know how long something’s going to take you and you think you can get it all done. And so, you’re in your mind at the beginning of the day, you really think you can do this.

Nikki Kinzer:
Planning is very difficult. There’s no buffer time. There’s no taking into account transition time from one thing to another, or even really thinking about your energy. It’s really, again, easy at the beginning of the day to say, “I’m going to get this done, this done and this done.” But then by 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, you’re wiped out and you just don’t have the energy to do it.

Nikki Kinzer:
And then going back to that perfectionism that I want to please others. And it’s really hard to set boundaries for yourself when you want to almost prove yourself to other people or feel like you’re able to do more. And you want to avoid the negative attention. So if we go back to Dr. Dodson about RSD, we don’t want that attention on us of not doing well. And so we want to do overcompensate for that.

Nikki Kinzer:
Overwhelm, of course, you don’t know where to start. You don’t know what to do. So what happens? People shut down and you avoid, you wait until the last minute to complete things. And when we’re talking about consequences and punishments, what are the consequences if we are doing this to ourselves? And I think the first, I think, biggest consequence emotionally and mentally, it’s just that shame that you’re putting on yourself that has no grace to what is going on and what the situation is.

Nikki Kinzer:
Of course, there’s other things that can happen, missing deadlines, things like that. But I really think, not giving yourself that grace, suffering from burnout, because you’re just not taking care of yourself, is a big deal.

Pete Wright:
There is a certain amount of ADHD empathy at work here that we are, at least I’m noticing, more contagious. If you’re living in a home with other people, trying to go to school, trying to go to work, to remember that our behaviors have a direct and sometimes deeply tangible effect on others. So, if you are feeling like… Sure you have some time to watch a show at night and other people are sort of dragged into that experience. Then suddenly you’re helping, you’re enabling others to be time blind and them for you too.

Pete Wright:
I notice that a lot in my house where it’s just so easy for us collectively to make decisions that directly fit this model, because there are many of us in the house that are dealing with ADHD behaviors. And so, when one of us is overwhelmed, we tend to be overwhelmed as a unit. When one of us is running behind and going crazy because we’re missing a deadline, we tend to start running around crazy as a unit.

Pete Wright:
And so I just think that’s a thing maybe to keep in the back of your head, how do your behaviors and experiences, how are they actually impacting others around you? Because it may be something that you notice and it may help you. The same way the accountability buddy model works. Like when you go into a study hall and you’re counting on somebody else to be contagious for you to help you stay on target. The same thing happens the other way too.

Nikki Kinzer:
Right. Yes. Yes. Well, and that really is interesting because when you were asking very beginning of the conversation, how is your family impacted? I think that that’s a great example of how. Also, depending on what kind of mood you’re in or what you’re feeling at the time. And I remember at one moment just telling my husband, and this is really unusual for me, I have to say, because I’m pretty low key for the most part. But I was in a bad mood. And I’m like, “I’m just going to tell you, I’m sorry if I offend you or if I’m short with you. I’m just in a bad mood.”

Nikki Kinzer:
And he’s like, “I get it. It’s okay. You don’t have to worry about it.” But that is just again how stress can come out and you’re not your same personality necessarily.

Pete Wright:
Totally.

Nikki Kinzer:
But here are a few key points that I think might help people remember what they want to do when they’re setting up more realistic expectations. And I think one of the words we definitely want to watch out for is the should, I should be doing this. And really ask yourself like, “Okay, who’s telling me that I should do this? Where is this coming from?” Because it is some expectation that you are putting on yourself, because this is what you think you have to do, or you’re trying to compare yourself to somebody else. I just would really think about where the should is. It just sounds [crosstalk 00:21:25].

Pete Wright:
Gross.

Nikki Kinzer:
Where’s the should?

Pete Wright:
God, see, you’re just going through your day and you’re feeling fine and then suddenly you step in should, and then you’re like-

Nikki Kinzer:
I know, right?

Pete Wright:
… “Oh, I got to clean.” It’s going to be with you all day. You’re going to smell a little bit like should all day long.

Nikki Kinzer:
Exactly. And that’s just not what you want to do.

Pete Wright:
Oh, goodness.

Nikki Kinzer:
That was a good laugh. The second thing here to do is reduce the tasks on your daily to-do list.

Pete Wright:
So big.

Nikki Kinzer:
It sounds so simple.

Pete Wright:
It’s not simple.

Nikki Kinzer:
I know. But if you’re looking at one big list of things to do, it is going to be overwhelming and it’s going to be too much. And so, we’ve talked about this before and it’s worth repeating. If you have this big, huge list, you’ve got to zero in on just three things, just three things. And if you don’t know how to prioritize those three things, because I know that is so difficult with people with ADHD, ask for help, ask for help, please. Because once you start talking to somebody about it and you start processing it, you’ll realize that not everything does have the same importance and you’ll be able to really figure out what is important. And then just focus on those three things until they’re done. And then you can pick three more. But really get that list down and only focus on those important things.

Pete Wright:
This is why all the great worksheets, including our great daily schedule worksheet, it has three big top priorities. You put them right in the corner there and say, “These are the three things I’m going to focus on.” And there’s a chance I won’t even get through these because of the way days go. But if your list includes 15 things, it’s a guarantee you won’t get through those things.

Nikki Kinzer:
Exactly. Exactly. The third point here is schedule your downtime, schedule your rest time, block it out. Don’t let it compete with other things, no exceptions. And don’t feel guilty about it. So, I’ve had so many conversations over the past years with clients saying, “You’ve got to carve some time out on the weekend, or whenever your day off is, and not feel like you have to have it filled with every single hour.” It’s really important for our mental health, our energy, everything, that you have some downtime and not feel guilty about it. It’s that whole thing where they talk about putting the oxygen mask-

Pete Wright:
Yeah, before your kids.

Nikki Kinzer:
… before helping others, yeah, on the airplane. It’s the same thing here. You have to get that rest, whatever that looks like for you. And it may be that you add extra help. You ask for extra help. You don’t have to do everything on your own. I think that that’s something that a lot of people feel like is that, “Well, I should be able to do this on my own.” So not only do we have a should, but you’re assuming that you should be doing everything on your own. And that’s just not the case.

Nikki Kinzer:
There’s lots of resources out there that can help you. And it’s not even necessarily… Yeah, I always go back to the housekeeper, that’s an accommodation, not a luxury. But if you don’t have the funds for that, maybe you can do some switch where you take care of somebody’s kids and they come in and help you with the laundry or whatever. I mean, there’s ways you can be creative, especially if you have a circle of friends, having that support is wonderful. So, I would definitely look at those things.

Nikki Kinzer:
Grace, we have talked about it over and over again. Grace, you’ve got to give it to yourself the same way that you would give it to your neighbor, your sister, your friend, your family member who’s struggling. You’ve got to give it to yourself. And number six, Pete, practice healthy living.

Pete Wright:
You see what I mean? It’s right here.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yeah. It’s right here. Things like eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep each night so your body can react better when stressors come up. I’m very transparent about how I feel about exercise. I don’t like it. But I will tell you, I have gotten to the point now where it doesn’t even feel like it’s a choice. It almost feels like it has to happen because I need to have that stress release. I need to be able to exercise and move so that I can just get the stress out and get more dopamine.

Nikki Kinzer:
So that’s definitely something to look at. And if you don’t want to exercise, because like for you, Pete, and everybody else who’s recovering from COVID, you might not be able to, you can start small with little things like your diet. Just changing your breakfast. We’ve always talked about just little tiny habits that that can be tweaked. So, that would be something I would encourage you to do.

Pete Wright:
Yeah. I actually found myself really relieved because just last week I got word from my doctor saying, “Okay, I think we’re done. Your lung volume is testing fine. And I think we’re done. I think it’s time for you to go out into your neighborhood and find some hills and it’s going to hurt and you should just start getting in some miles every day, walking until you can start pushing yourself a little bit more.” And that was, I found, “Wow, what a relief.” That I didn’t know until that moment that I was missing something that I don’t even like to do in practice, but I was missing it. And it turns out I like having done it. I like it. I don’t like it while I’m in action, but I do like having done it. It is good for the soul. [crosstalk 00:00:27:14].

Nikki Kinzer:
Absolutely. And then the last point here is find a support group. There’s definitely a strength in numbers and that connection and talking to other people who get you and you don’t have to explain. That’s one of the biggest things I see with my groups in Discord is you don’t have to go into this huge explanation. People just get it right away. And if you haven’t checked out our Patreon, I hope you do. Or the community itself, it’s a wonderful community. And definitely a lot of people there, are there to support you and, and talk to you and just have that connection.

Pete Wright:
Be a part of it.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yes.

Pete Wright:
Excellent.

Nikki Kinzer:
There we go. Stress [inaudible 00:27:58].

Pete Wright:
Well, I feel like I was a real downer this time. Was I so much of a downer?

Nikki Kinzer:
No, you’re not a downer.

Pete Wright:
I think I was a little bit of a downer. So I’m sorry if I was a downer.

Nikki Kinzer:
I think people are going to definitely relate to both of our stories. I’m sure. At least I hope. Because I don’t think we’re unusual by any means. And no, it’s all stuff we have to talk about. Because it’s all new for everyone.

Pete Wright:
Well, it is. And this goes back to what I was saying early on. If you go through our list of seven things that we talk about, it’s not the first time we’ve talked about them, but it is one of those things that we forget. We forget that we have these resources inside of us and outside of us to help us because the world we’re living in is so unusual. And I think just count on some of the basic skills that you’ve been practicing. And I know, in my case, I got to rein it in. I got to rein it in on the cakes.

Nikki Kinzer:
Well, and I think the message too, on the cakes, I think the message here too is that, from an educational standpoint, I want people to understand that your ADHD is going to already set you up for high expectations in a normal world. And then you put all of these stressors in it and you can expect that the same expectations, if they didn’t work in the normal world, they’re not going to work in this world. And so being able to really maybe take this time to practice that grace and these tools and resources, so that when things do get back to somewhat, whatever they will be, you’ve practiced. That’s the optimistic part of me saying… This is actually, now that I think about it, silver lining-

Pete Wright:
Look, you found one.

Nikki Kinzer:
… you have the perfect opportunity. You have the perfect opportunity right now to say, “I’m not doing all those things.” Because Pete, Nikki said I didn’t have to.

Pete Wright:
Pete, Nikki told you, it’s okay. I love it.

Nikki Kinzer:
There you go.

Pete Wright:
Well, thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We so appreciate your time and your attention on behalf of Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you next week right here on Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.