Beth Main's blog

How to avoid ADHD-Christmas overload

(This blog post originally appeared on my ADDitude Magazine blog.  Seems like a great time to run it again!

My childhood Christmas memories include cookie baking, tree decorating, and carol singing. Yes, really — it was perfect. I remember all seven of us signing the dozens of cards sent to friends and family, and taking turns opening each day on the advent calendar. The presents were always highly anticipated — and usually perfect. My godmother hummed Christmas songs, and always had a hug or a kind word to share. She never once lost her temper.

Maybe the pace was slower then – one wage earner, one car, us kids entertained ourselves all day – or maybe I’m just remembering it wrong. Either way, for many years I invested too much time and anxiety in trying to reproduce that holiday magic for my own family.

I kept shopping-list spreadsheets (with more than 100 gifts). I fretted over paying the credit card bills. I baked cookies after work, trying hard not to throw anything when they came out burnt. I scribbled our names onto Christmas cards for people I didn’t make time to talk to during the year. I woke up in a panic some nights, worrying about what I’d forgotten.

I grew to dread the entire month of December. The holidays were way too much for my already-overloaded ADHD brain. I considered prescription medicine for seasonal anxiety related to my ADHD, and self-medicated with eggnog.

Then one year, something magical happened. A co-worker sheepishly asked if we could stop exchanging gifts. I was elated! It got me thinking: How many other people would be relieved to lessen their holiday burden? The following year, I broached the idea with several enlightened relatives. Yes, they said, they too found gift giving to be stressful. “Thank you for asking!”

Today, I’m a minimalist when it comes to celebrating the yule. I do only the holiday things that truly bring me joy.

I don’t decorate for the neighbors, I don’t send cards, and I don’t mind that I don’t get many either. I don’t bake (it sabotages my efforts to stick to an ADHD-friendly diet of protein, vegetables and whole grains anyway). Not even a Christmas tree (ick, those needles!), although I do have a lovely pink poinsettia on the dining room table. My gift exchange list is manageable: one person. He’s fun to shop for, so I’ll keep him on the list.

The point of all of this? We all have ideas of how the holidays should be celebrated, based on our childhoods, what we see on TV, and what our friends and neighbors do. But how much of it do we really enjoy? How much of it do our families enjoy? They probably do NOT enjoy being the recipients of our increased frustration level, that’s for sure. It’s hard enough to deal with the stress of daily living with ADHD. Do you know anyone who feels less stress during the holidays? I didn’t think so.

So If we aren’t enjoying it, why the heck are we doing it?

I invite you to consider your own traditions next year. What seems obligatory? What seems like madness? What would you rather do without? What can you reasonably do and still feel good about? That’s what you should do. Give yourself permission to drop the rest. Then, you’ll know the feeling of joy during the holiday season. And that, I believe, is the whole idea.

"I'm Too Ashamed To Clean My House"

The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for ADDitude Magazine. It was published in the Summer 2018 issue.

An ADDitude reader recently wrote: “I am a mother and wife diagnosed with ADHD at 35. I have been struggling with organization challenges since I was a teen, and I see myself — thanks to my parents’ and friends’ constant reminders — as a messy person. On top of that, I have no idea how to neaten up our home! My challenge is equal parts shame and ignorance about how to begin my organizational journey. Can you help?”

Shame can keep you stuck. It’s hard to move forward on anything when you’re feeling bad about yourself. But this is not something you chose, nor is it a character defect. ADHD is neurobiological, which means it’s a brain chemistry issue. So let’s start by removing the judgment. Here are six strategies for feeling less ashamed about your mess:

  1. Put things into perspective. You had undiagnosed ADHD for 35 years. Your brain is wired for chaos, not organization. Blaming yourself for your executive functioning challenges is like blaming a dog for chasing a cat. It’s how you are programmed.
  2. Stop perpetuating the shame. Challenge it in yourself and others. Are you shaming yourself by continuing to replay those tapes from your childhood? Be kind with your self-talk. When others try to shame you, set them straight.
  3. Don’t attach deeper meaning to your messiness. When we’re criticized about something for years, we believe that there’s something wrong with us — that we’re undesirable, unlovable, unwanted. Challenge these thoughts. What good things have people said to you? What do you know to be good about yourself? Dig deep to get in touch with your highest and best self. Counseling might be needed, particularly if the negative beliefs are firmly entrenched.
  4. Tap on it. Emotional Freedom Techniques, also known as tapping, use the body’s energy system to release powerful negative emotions, such as shame. You tap on 12 of the body’s meridian points while focusing on the feeling you’d like to neutralize. Read about tapping online.
  5. Think about your talents. Not everyone has talent in math or languages, or being neat. But everyone has talent in something. What’s yours? Think about this instead of your weaknesses when you start feeling down on yourself. Think about what you do well now, and what you did well as a child that perhaps wasn’t noticed.
  6. Recognize that organization can be a talent, a skill, or both. Some people are naturally organized. For others, it is a learned skill. People with ADHD do not have a lot of talent in the organization department. You don’t either, but you can certainly develop those skills.

Your natural tendency is to focus on things other than neatness. But I hear you, that’s not how you want things to be. The good news is that you now have a diagnosis. You know what’s going on, so you can begin to change things.

How Can I Change My Messy Habits?

Change begins with awareness. You’re already aware that you’re not as organized as you would like. But do you know the causes of it? Are you moving too fast to stop and put things away? Do you get distracted before getting to the cleanup phase of a project? Do you not notice the clutter? How you approach de-cluttering depends on where you are now.

  • Lighten your load. Many times we’re in a hurry to get to the next thing, and we leave a trail of destruction behind. Sometimes, there is not enough time to put bags or clothing away because we’re running late. Try to add more time between events, or wrap up what you’re doing 10 minutes before you have to go somewhere. Then you will have enough time to put things away.
  • Slow down. Most of us with ADHD live at warp speed, at least in our mind. Our perception is that there’s no time to put things away, but it probably won’t take as long as you think it will. Do you truly not have 30 seconds to put your coat away? Or does it just feel that way? Practice slowing down.
  • Watch out for rabbit holes. Our attention takes us in many directions, usually before we finish the task we’re working on. If you say, “Let me just…,” it’s a sign that you’re about to go down a rabbit hole. Be aware of when ADHD is redirecting you away from a task.

How Can I Neaten Up My House NOW?

These strategies will help you keep things neater as you move forward. But how do you tackle the mess that’s already there?

  1. Break it up. Trying to organize your house all at once is a lost cause. Better to do a little bit at a time. Decide how long you will spend, when you will do it, and which part of the house you plan to work on. Clearing one end table is better than avoiding the entire project because it’s too overwhelming.
  2. Don’t go to OHIO. Some organization and time management experts advise us to Only Handle It Once (OHIO). That’s great if you don’t have ADHD. But our brain wiring does much better with yes/no type decisions. Is it trash — yes or no? Can I sell it on eBay — yes or no? Whittle down your piles in multiple passes and you’ll be done sooner than you think.
  3. Get the right stuff. The easier it is to put things away, the more likely it is that you’ll do it. Antique furniture is nice, but if the drawers don’t open smoothly, you’ll be reluctant to open them. Even better than smooth-opening drawers are open shelves. Three-ring binders? Avoid them — too many steps. When it’s time to store all that stuff, get clear plastic bins that you can see inside of.

You will get your home straightened up, and you will love its neatness. But the trick is maintaining it. Keep practicing your strategies. Things will get better over time. Who knows? Maybe your friends will start calling you a neat freak!

Emotional Freedom Techniques / EFT Tapping

When you have ADHD, all kinds of things keep you from getting the important stuff done: Procrastination, distractions, going down a rabbit hole. Sometimes we get sidelined by negative emotions. Feelings of shame, sadness, frustration, or anger make it impossible to focus on the right thing.

Emotional Freedom Techniques, also known as EFT or Tapping, is a self-help technique that can neutralize negative emotions and free you to move ahead with your life. What you do is identify the negative emotion you’re feeling and a specific event that brings up that emotion. For example, maybe you feel angry when you think of the nasty comment your partner hurled at you this morning that you’ve been replaying over and over in your head. Then you tap on a series of acupressure points with your fingertips while focusing on that event.   EFT is based on the premise that negative emotion is caused by a blockage in the body's energy system. Tapping on the meridian endpoints clears the blockage and restores balance so you can focus.

You can do EFT with a practitioner or on your own. Starting out with a practitioner is a good idea because although it’s simple, it can be hard to zero in on precisely the right thing at first. I’ve been seeing great results with the clients I’ve been doing it with.

Here’s an article I wrote for ADDitude Magazine that explains in more depth what EFT is all about and how it can be used to help with ADHD:

And here’s a website that explains it a different way and has a video of how to do it:

EFT provides rapid and lasting results for a wide variety of issues. It's a great tool to help you put negative emotions aside so you can focus. Why not give it a try?

The link between ADHD and trauma

I used to think my professional interests - adult ADHD and complex trauma - were an odd combination. Would I have to give up my work with ADHD adults in order to pursue my new(er) passion? Do these two issues have enough commonality to make sense for me to specialize in both?  Would people get it?

Over time I've noticed that many of my ADHD clients are also struggling to heal from neglect or abuse sustained during childhood. This is actually a big part of the reason I decided in 2013 to get my master's in counseling - so I could help them with both. Conversely, one of my internship supervisors shared her belief that all clients with trauma histories will also have ADHD symptoms.  This has been echoed by multiple professionals in the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) field during my various trainings.

Why is this? 

ADHD is characterized by inattention and / or impulsivity and hyperactivity. It is diagnosed via a symptom checklist rather than blood work or scans. Medical professionals often don't ask about trauma histories when responding to a request to identify "why is my kid so out of control" or "why isn't he doing better in school". If ADHD is suspected, the checklists are administered and the diagnosis is made. If trauma is asked about, it isn't always disclosed, or is considered secondary.

Hypervigilance (constantly scanning for threats) and dissociation (checking out) can look a lot like inattention.

Impulsivity can be a response to unmanageable stress.

It's hard to sit still when you don't feel safe.

Neural pathways are created in the brain that entrench these behaviors over time until they become the norm. The trauma is pushed to the back of the mind and not talked about. After enough time passes, the two feel more and more separate. But they aren't.

I've concluded that my specialization doesn't have to be - indeed it can't be - one or the other.  If you're looking at ADHD, you could also be looking at trauma and vice versa. It can be extremely helpful to work with a professional who deeply understands both.

To be clear, I'm not saying that ADHD is always caused by trauma. The current working theory is that it's a genetic condition. Scientists generally agree that there could also be other causes, and trauma could be one of them. I'm just saying we need to correctly identify the underlying cause, so we can treat it appropriately and effectively. 

Check out this article for more details on how childhood trauma could be mistaken for ADHD.

Where to have lunch if you take food quality seriously

ADHD is neurobiological. So it makes sense that we need to feed our brains. That means clean, healthy eating.

At home, I eat local pasture-raised meats from animals that are humanely raised. I eat lots of organic fruits and vegetables. No refined simple carbs. It's been challenging but I have finally acquired sources and recipes for everything I want and need.

Eating out is another story. I bring my lunch to work most days, but I end up eating out about once a week (nobody's perfect).  I try to make good choices but really, there's not much around here that I can get to and back in the short amount of time I have for lunch.

Enter Little Bird.

I just had the best lunch ever, at a little place called Little Bird.  It's just a window inside the Ever Grain Brewing Company, at 4444 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsburg. The phrase "best kept secret" is a cliche, but in this case, it's utterly true. There isn't even a sign on the road for it. You almost have to know about it to find it. From their website: 

Our food is crafted with real ingredients, sourced locally whenever possible, and never overly processed.  We use whole grains, real butter, real olive oil, and make our own stocks and sauces.  We bake our breads, ferment our kimchi, and cure our bacon for three weeks before it goes in the smoker.  When our farmers plan for the season, they call our Chef to find out what they should grow.  When our foragers (sometimes our Chef) find a honey hole of chanterelle mushrooms, they call us first.  Spent grain in our recipers comes straight from our Lauter Tun.  Our micro greens, leafy greens, and edible flowers come from an aquaponics system in New Cumberland, PA.  We support youth programs like L.E.A.F. Project and Jumpstreet.  We promote sustainable, biodiverse agriculture in all forms. 

All this in a craft brewery?  Yes. This is no ABC.

I had the Best Damn Chicken Sandwich ever. That's the name of it. And it really was the best damn chicken sandwich ever.  It looked and tasted like something that my husband or I would make at home. Probably because it is - the chicken came from Foxwood Run Farm in York County, which is coincidentally (or not) where we get our chicken when we run out of what we've raised ourselves on our farmette. The birds are sustainably and humanely raised on fresh pasture and sunlight, which is in keeping with my personal values. Anyway, back to the sandwich. It looked healthy and tasted amazing. It was served with hopped remoulade, wallaby cheese, and yucca fries, which are a delicious and nutritious alternative to potatoes (which are no good for you so don't eat them).

If you're a foodie, this is your place.

If you have ADHD and are trying to figure out how to eat more nutritiously when you go out, this is your place.

If you just want real food that tastes amazing, this is your place.


Here's the address again: Ever Grain Brewing Co., 4444 Carlisle Pike, Camp Hill PA. Call 717.525.9772 for takeout.

Are you more like a boa constrictor or a cat?

Marketing experts say consistency is the key to building a successful business.  Apparently it’s best to regularly engage in marketing activities instead of only doing big productions when business is slow.  This prevents the “feast or famine” cycle, they say.  My marketing strategy calls for two blog posts a month and two Facebook posts per week. But as you can see from my blog history, that’s not really the way I operate.

House cats eat a little bit at a time throughout the day, no matter how much is in their bowl. If I give my cat any more than half a cup of food, it will still be there the next morning. The marketing experts would be pleased with her consistent approach.

Boa constrictors are different.  They will swallow a whole rat (or oh look! a squirrel) and do absolutely nothing else while they’re digesting it for the next 4-6 days. They might not eat again for months.  Marketing experts agree:  NOT COOL.

I’m more like a boa constrictor. In marketing and in life.  No, I’m not cold blooded, and I certainly don’t squeeze my food to death before I eat it.  It’s more my way of taking on projects.  When I do something, I jump in and do it in a big way.  Then I’m like, “OMG I’m so overwhelmed my head is going to explode”.  Who can write when her head is exploding? 

Things inevitably calm down after a while.  The problem is that until this happens, it feels like I’m going to be overwhelmed – or worse – forever.  It’s the ADHD tendency to perceive that the way things are right now is the way they’ve always been, and always will be.  We tend to not remember that things change.  Life ebbs and flows.
I really like this boa constrictor metaphor. Just like the snake always digests the rat, I too always get hungry again for a new project. Then I take on too much once again and can’t even move.  But you know what? I’m not going to try to change this.  Not only is it the way I’m wired, but I actually think it’s more productive. I’m guessing that many people with ADHD are like this.  I just have to remind myself that this is a CYCLE, like the boa constrictor’s eating habits. Then I can trust that things will eventually calm down. Most of the time I can even predict when digestion will be complete, if I think about it.  Knowing that things will eventually calm down is what keeps my head from actually exploding.  

Don’t get me wrong, consistency is important for a lot of things, like diet, sleep, and studying.  Maybe marketing, too. But projects? I’d rather be a boa constrictor than a cat. How about you?

The Full Moon Lunch

I had lunch with a good friend yesterday.  We both have ADHD, so we don't get together as much as we'd like. This seems to be a common problem amongst the ADHD set: the weeks slip into months and next thing you know it's been half a year (or more) since you talked to each other.  You're busy, you forget... you know how it is.  We have no sense of time and often aren't aware of just how much time has gone by.

That's how friendships deteriorate.  I don't want that to happen.  

My grandfather and I were very close.  We had a standing "phone date" every Thursday evening from when I started college in 1983 (yes I'm that old) until he passed away in 2011.  That worked out great.  I only forgot to call him a few times in all those years.  Much as I'd love to, it isn't practical to do that with everyone I want to keep in touch with (although I do have recurring calls set up with a few people).  Mathematically, there just aren't enough hours in the day for a weekly chat with everyone I want to stay close to.  Plus, some people think Facebook is an adequate substitute for actual human contact.  But that's another issue...

My friend had a brilliant solution.  How about a lunch every full moon, he asked?  Perfect, I replied. So that's what we're going to do.  Now we have a naturally-occurring event that we can use to mark the passage of time.  

See you on the next full moon, G!

Sometimes ADHD makes me cry

I went to the grocery store on my way home from the gym this morning.  I had just started to pay for my groceries when a tattoo on the arm of the man behind me caught my eye. It was a beautiful tattoo, a line of soldiers in silhouette around his bicep. I wondered if he was a veteran. I thought about the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy program I want to develop for veterans, and briefly considered talking to him about it.  I thought about paying for his groceries as a token of my appreciation for his service. Then I thought that would probably be over the top, plus he was buying a lot of junk food, and decided not to. That led to thoughts of healthy eating, and... you know how it goes. Suddenly I noticed all my groceries were in bags and it seemed like it was time to go.  I pulled my card out of the card reader and started to put it away. 

Uh oh. The threatening DO NOT REMOVE CARD message was still on the screen.  What happens when you remove your card too soon? Does something explode? Do you get arrested? I was about to find out. The helpful cashier explained to me how to use the card reader, as if I had not already used it a hundred times before. The transaction had to be started over. I did it right the second time, but she didn't give me my cash back.  She said that I didn't ask for any.  I knew that I had, and I told her so.  Apparently I had asked for it during the first transaction, not the second, which the receipt confirmed. This resulted in another lesson on how to work the card reader and being called sweetie. Clearly she thought I was senile. Or stupid. I felt senile AND stupid. 

I managed to hold back the tears until I left the store.

Usually when something like this happens my husband tells me “You're not senile or stupid, you just have ADHD. You were distracted.” And he gives me a hug, and all is right in the world again. But he wasn't there. So I had to tell myself. 

I went back and reviewed the episode in my mind.  I identified the moment where I became distracted, and how things fell apart as a result.  Okay, I can understand that. I guess I'm not senile.  Stupid as I felt, it really had nothing to do with intelligence. I have ADHD, and sometimes it sucks, but usually it's not bad at all.  I have an incredibly full life.  I pursue interests that average people don't even dream of.  I’m spontaneous. For the most part I do what I want, when I want, and it works for me and my family.  I’m never bored. The to-do list is long, but the important stuff gets done.  I’m happy.  
A fellow counselor once said to me, “It’s not how smart you are, it’s how are you smart”.   Things happen that make me feel dumb. My short term memory is AWOL.  But I know I’m good at figuring stuff out, at solving problems, and I have a very high emotional IQ.  

I just need to remind myself of that every once in a while.

I got my license!! Which means...

As of today, I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)!  As I've written previously, I got my master’s degree in 2015 and have been working under supervision for the past two years in order to meet the requirements for licensure.  And now I have it!  

This is great news for you too:  If your health insurance plan offers out of network benefits, you can use them for counseling with me.  (Coaching is not covered by insurance, but there is a LOT of crossover between coaching and counseling.) I am not currently participating directly with any carriers, so I won’t be able to submit claims for you.  But I’ll give you what you need to submit to your company for reimbursement.  

I’ve been branching out into other areas besides ADHD. While I love working with Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, and intend to keep doing so for a long time, a little variety is nice.  I’ve gained experience helping people with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, life changes, relationships, recovering from childhood trauma, and more.  My new website,, goes into more detail about my counseling services.  

As always, I offer a free initial consultation to help you decide if I’m the right therapist or coach for you. So if you’ve been thinking you’d like to work with me, this is a great time to request a consultation using the link on the right side of just about every page on this site.  I’m happy to answer whatever questions you have about how I can help you.

Hope to talk with you soon!

Audio: Overcoming Analysis Paralysis - How to make effective decisions

Earlier this month I participated in Dr. Kari Miller's "Closing the Intention Gap" event, where 18 productivity experts gave talks on how to close the gap between what you intend to do and what you actually get done. My topic was "Analysis Paralysis: How to Make Decisions More Effectively".  Here's the promo copy:

You’re working on an important project.  Things are moving along and you’re in the zone. But then you have to make a decision where the best choice isn’t obvious. The whole universe opens up before you.  Now, instead of one path to follow, there are dozens. What do you do?  If you’re like many people, you become overwhelmed and go into avoidance mode. You procrastinate. Welcome to analysis paralysis.

But by using Beth’s strategies, you’ll be able to get back in control, get moving, and get stuff done. In this presentation you will learn:

  • How to recognize when you’re stuck in analysis paralysis
  • A clear cut process for making your very best decision in a reasonable amount of time
  • How to know when a decision is “good enough”
  • What to do when you’ve done all that and still can’t decide

Although the event is over, you can hear the audio from my presentation by clicking here.  It starts right after a brief (< 1 minute) introduction from Kari.  Enjoy!


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