Flexibility and adaptation concept. Arrows on cubes following a flexible path.Transitions can be challenging for many humans, but for adults with ADHD, these periods of change can pose extra challenges.

Whether it’s a shift in routine or a major life change, a transition can feel overwhelming and stressful.

Understanding the connection between ADHD and transitions can make a big difference in how you navigate them. This article explains the different types of transitions and practical strategies to help you move through them smoothly!

The definition of transition is a “Passage from one form, state, style, or place to another”.

Classic ADHD traits like hyperfocus, challenges with organization, time management, and shifting focus all make transitions hard.

7 types of transitions 

1. Environmental Transitions.

Moving from one physical location to another, for example, leaving home to go to work.

2. Task Transitions.

Switching between different tasks or activities, especially ones that require a shift in focus or attention.

3. Routine Transitions.

Changes in routines, such as starting a new job, going on vacation, or spending time with family during the holidays, can all be challenging for people with ADHD who do well with routines and structure.

4. Emotional Transitions.

Practical transitions are often accompanied by emotions like frustration, excitement, and anxiety, which can be challenging for people with ADHD who struggle with emotional regulation. 

For example, if you need to transition abruptly, perhaps because the phone rings, plans change, or a loved one needs you, you might feel grumpy and annoyed.

5. Cognitive Transitions.

Switching between different modes of thinking or cognitive processes, like shifting from creative brainstorming to writing a detailed work report.

6. Social Transitions.

Moving between social situations and interacting with different types of people, for example, co-workers at work to friends at your book club. Or shifting from being alone to being with people and vice versa.

7. Life Transitions.

These can include moving from high school to university, starting a new job, getting married, becoming a parent, the loss of a loved one (human or pet).

Although transitions can be challenging, they can also be helpful. For example, your commute from work to home (environment transition) can give you time to decompress and switch to home mode. During the pandemic, lots of ADHDers started to work from home and discovered they missed this transition time.

The Anatomy of a transition.

Each transition has three phases. 

Phase One.

Stopping the first activity.

Stopping doing something might sound easy, but if you are enjoying the task, if it’s connected to an urgent deadline, or if it’s one of your hyperfocus activities, it can be hard to disconnect.

There can also be a fear that now you have started it, you don’t want to stop because you don’t know when you’ll be able to ‘get into it’ again.

Phase Two.

Moving from the first activity to the second.

This can feel like a danger zone because you could get distracted en route, either physically if you are changing locations or mentally if you are staying in the same spot, switching from one focus task to another.

Phase Three.

Starting the second task.

Starting the second task can feel challenging for a variety of reasons, including because your mind is still connected to the first task. You don’t know ‘how’ the second task or it feels big and overwhelming, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy entry point.

Adults with ADHD find it takes a large amount of energy and effort to disengage from one activity and move attention to the next. Changing gears and shifting focus can leave you feeling tired, irritated, or scattered.

Is task switching and transitions the same?

Task switching and transitions are similar but different.

Task switching is when you shift from one task to another. 

For example, if you are working on a report and suddenly switch to checking your email when a new message notification pops up. This shift requires changing your focus and mental context from the report to the email.

Transitions are broader and include various types of changes, not just tasks.

An example of a transition is finishing work and transitioning into your evening routine. This transition could include changing your physical environment, such as leaving your office, and mentally shifting from work mode to relaxation mode.

In summary, transitions can include changes in environments, roles, or phases of an activity. 

Task switching is a type of transition, but not all transitions involve switching tasks.

Transitions When You Have ADHDHere are 12 Tips For Smooth Transitions.

1. Review Your Calendar

Review your calendar daily to stay informed about today’s events and those in the coming weeks. This will help you feel prepared and prevent future events from catching you off guard.

2. Plan Your Day

Your calendar helps provide a long-range view of upcoming events in your life. Now, it’s time to plan for today. This morning routine helps you mentally prepare for the day ahead, including the transitions between activities, and reduces the chances of unexpected surprises.

3. Prepare

Before starting a task, gather everything you will need. This is helpful for 2 reasons:

Physically, because you have everything at hand and don’t have to keep hunting for items,

Mentally, because in order to prepare you have to think about the task and visualize the steps etc. This primes your brain for the task ahead and is the perfect transitional activity.

4. Getting into Gear Ritual

Sitting down to work on a task that involves focus and concentration can be challenging for a person living with ADHD. It can cause a lot of resistance and procrastination.

Creating a “getting into gear” ritual helps because it sends a signal to your brain that you are about to use it.

A ritual might look like this:

  • Make a cup of tea, and take it to your desk.
  • Put on your noise-cancelling headphones.
  • Write down the do-able steps of the task
  • Set your timer for 30 minutes.
  • Begin!

5. Batching

Because switching from one task to the next can be challenging, batching similar tasks, like phone calls, can be helpful. That way, although you are making different phone calls you are in ‘phone call’ mode, rather than making a phone call then switching and sending an email.

6. Countdown

Abruptly stopping an activity is difficult and jarring. A countdown is helpful, as it gives you advance warning that it’s time to wind down.

Set a timer to let you know when you have 15 minutes left, then 5, and then zero.

If you have a tendency to hyperfocus, you might not hear the timer, which is where plan B comes in! Use the loudest alarm you have and put it in a place where you will have to physically get up to switch it off. Once you are up, moving on to your next task will be easier.

7. Buffer Time

Schedule at least 15 minutes in between appointments or activities. This gives you the chance to reflect on what you have just done and mentally prepare for the next task.

For bigger events like a vacation, schedule a transition day. It’s like buffer time, but it’s longer!

When you return from vacation, schedule a transition day before going back to work. Use this day to ease yourself back into your normal life. Unpack, buy groceries, do your laundry, nap, etc.

If you are used to flying home at 10pm and getting up for work at 7am the next day, spending one of your vacation days as a transition day might feel like a ‘wasted’ day. However, it will help you feel organized and ahead of the game.

8. Train the People in Your Life

Train the people in your life not to interrupt you. It is easier than it might seem.

Tell your family or co-workers that you will be working on X for the next 3 hours. Ask them if there is anything they need to tell you before you start. Then, tell them what time you will be available again.

9. Limit ‘Surprises’

Some people with ADHD love surprises and impromptu events. Other ADHDers are the opposite and find them unpleasant and not in the least bit enjoyable. If you don’t like surprises it could be transition related.

Your partner might say, ‘Let’s go to the movies,’ when you were expecting to stay home, or friends drop by as a surprise, or your boss asks you to do an urgent task, etc.

It’s not that you don’t want to embrace life, do fun things, and be good at your job; it’s just that you need some prep time.

There are a couple of solutions.

  • Train the people in your life to give you heads up. You can do it in a friendly way, without offending anyone.
  • If you are invited to something, it’s okay to say, ‘Thanks so much for the invitation. I can’t make it tonight. Could we make a plan for next week instead?’
  • If there really is no way out of the unexpected event, take yourself to a quiet place for a few minutes (the bathroom is always a reliable option). Then, paint a picture in your mind of what the new plans will look like. I will take a shower and put on my suit. Then we will call a taxi and arrive at 7:30 p.m. Picture who will be there and how they might be feeling. Walk yourself through the plans with as much information as you have. This will help prepare you and also soothe you so that you can enjoy the experience as much as possible.

10. Use Checklists

Write checklists and use them! They guide you through all the actions you need to do without having to think too much. It saves time, mental energy, and the possibility of getting lost in no man’s land between ending one task and starting the next.

For example, a morning routine checklist can smoothly guide you from waking up in bed to starting your day’s activities.

11. Structure

Create structures and routines so your body gets used to doing things at certain times. For example, you can have a morning and a bedtime routine and do your weekly groceries at the same time. You might resist it at first; however, these habits make transitions almost effortless.

12.Talk Kindly to Yourself

No matter how much you plan, organize and structure your life to help make transitions seamless, unexpected things do happen. When they do, acknowledge that transitions are hard but that you are doing your best. Don’t say mean things to yourself or compare yourself to others.

What helps you with transitions?

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