Tag Archive for: Stress

broken window to illustrate Capacity

Capacity and neurodiversity

Our capacity to manage and thrive with neurodivergent traits is vital, and this is often the difference between being able to lean into our strengths and being overwhelmed by what we find difficult.

I’ve noticed lately the impact that capacity can have on our ability to move forward, especially when dealing with particular stressors or situations that challenge change.

Picture of a window with arrows to show how this window is opened and closed based on the amount of dysregulation we are experiencing

The Stress window

Looking at this from an ADHD perspective, if your emotions are high, your capacity can be removed or decreased significantly, meaning you can’t move forward. Similarly, this can have the same impact if you’re sad or uninspired. Getting the systems and processes in place to support good capacity is essential. These might look like some of the examples below:

Controlling negative thoughts

This sounds much easier than it is and is about your self-talk; for example, if you tell yourself, “I’m going to fail, I can never do much of anything, or I’m useless”. This attitude and the language that you use can impact your stress. Switching from “I’m going to fail” to “I’m going to give this my best shot” can shift your focus and allow you to move forward effectively.

To freeze, flee or fight?

It’s the old amygdala hijacking when our essential primitive brain kicks in and takes over how our bodies respond. Now, this part of our brain is brilliant. When we’re in an emergency, we must decide rapidly, but sometimes, this can kick in at the wrong time. When we feel overwhelmed, we have choices about what we can do. This can also be a call to procrastinate because our amygdala overrides our willpower, which decides how we will respond next. Relaxing and moving away from this can be helpful.

Stop the stress

Noticing when you’re getting stressed can be helpful. By removing or moving away from stress, you can make decisions that effectively override your amygdala; for example, tapping and affirmative statements can be helpful. Also, removing yourself from the situation for a short period can be hugely beneficial, as it will allow you to take a step back to gain perspective and work out what to do next.

Keeping it simple

Often, when approaching tasks and activities, you can overcomplicate what you need to do; for example, you might have a ton of tasks to complete on your to-do list, which is overwhelming. There’s a good argument for recording what needs to be done, but is it helpful to keep looking at your to-do list, which can make you feel stressed? Reducing your list’s visibility once compiled may be more effective. Focus on one thing at a time, keeping it simple and moving forward. As a side note, simple is often not easy, so don’t beat yourself up if you’ve decided simple is best.  It’s probably been a long journey to get there!

Make a manageable plan

It’s easy to overcomplicate planning because we can all overthink. This can be debilitating. What is often better is to create a plan for the short term and then work out what to do next. For example, I will do this for thirty minutes and then review my progress. What went well, and what would improve the next thirty minutes? It’s also helpful to do short tasks to get yourself moving forward. It’s like a workout at the gym; start with something easy to warm up before you move on to heavier weights or chunkier tasks. In the same way, it’s a good idea to do some more manageable functions at the end of the day when you’re winding down. Keep your plan simple and treat your body with respect.

Create time to think

For example, if you’re caught in a conversation pressuring you to make a decision you are not confident about, it’s pushing you into a place where you’re feeling overwhelmed. It can often be helpful to acknowledge the importance of what’s going on and then say, “I need to take a moment to think about that”. That way, you create time to make high-quality decisions and help yourself manage any anxiety.

Get some accountability

There are loads of ways to do this. It might be talking to someone you know or a work colleague. Being accountable for what you’re doing, maybe even doing some work together can be helpful when managing stress. It enables you to partner with someone, which is essential because you can manage your stress together. Sometimes, this is called body doubling, but that term sounds strange to me.

Recognise it’s okay not to finish a task in one go

Allowing yourself not to finish a task is OK. I’d go as far as to say it’s a good habit to break tasks into smaller chunks. Then, you can make a start, reflect on your progress and complete the next section, often making the finished product far better. You’ll finish the beginning, the middle, and the end and reap the benefits of three finishes for the price of one.

Make a plan in the diary

If things need to be done and they need to be done at a particular time, why try to hold that information in your short-term memory? Often, this can be a real challenge, so having a diary can help, especially if it’s a recurring event. Then you don’t need to think about it anymore. You need to turn up and follow your diary. When you’re looking at diary management, I would also recommend that you factor in times for reflection and downtime. If you don’t, you can fill every moment without considering your energy levels.

As you can see, there are several steps to manage your capacity. What’s important is to recognise what’s good enough for now. Then, you can determine which step you want to tackle next. You don’t need to do it all in one go, and if you’re working or supporting someone struggling with some of these areas, I’d always encourage you to take it gently and progress one step at a time.

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aesthetics

Why aesthetics matter to neurodivergent people

How does your workplace feel?

I remember walking into a large London charity for my first day at work after being interviewed in a beautiful glass-fronted office. My actual office was a complete mess of papers, out of date banners, marathon running kits, damaged chairs and what felt like total chaos. This destroyed how I felt about that place and as a result put me in a completely negative position about that workplace, breaking the mystique of what I had been expecting.

This was my first job out of corporate life where everything was pristine, and I had certain expectations about what the aesthetics of the workplace would be like. Reflecting on this I recognise that when I saw the office, I was going to be working in that I felt my personal value had been reduced and so had myself esteem.

When we talk about aesthetics in the workplace, we mean how our five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch (plus our gut feeling) are influenced by our environment.

Here are some things that I think are important to consider that can help make workplaces more aesthetically pleasing:

Organised spaces

Though the very nature of work dictates there can be some untidiness from time-to-time, it can be incredibly distracting and sometimes tormenting if workspaces are not kept tidy periodically. For example, some individuals with dyslexic traits find having things in a mess often causes them stress and anxiety and takes the focus away from what they want to be doing.

Lighting

Studies have shown the amount of natural light in an office has a direct impact on employee productivity attention and alertness. This is also true for many neurodivergent individuals as natural light helps the brain work better.

Variability in lighting

In addition to natural light, it is also important to be able to vary the amount of light in your working space. For example, task lighting is essential when working on detailed pieces of work. What is also useful is the ability to change the intensity of the lighting based on your mood and the type of activity you are undertaking. What can often be difficult to deal with is intense lighting that cannot be changed, think back to those classic 1970s offices with intense strip lighting – not great!

Seating

Materials are key in terms of things that don’t make you sweat or squeak when you move the seat. It is also important that seats work for the individual in terms of providing them support and avoidance of pain and long-term injuries. Changing seating position is also critical as studies have shown being able to stand up for example when performing certain tasks really enhances the quality of thinking in addition to movement.

Add plants that grow

Plants add life to the office, though they may not be everybody’s first choice they do also have some important health benefits, including giving you a focus away from your immediate work tasks. This can often create a much healthier and calmer work environment.

Colour

For some individuals, colour is incredibly important in terms of the impact it has on their social and mental well-being. For example, some extremely bright vibrant colours can cause migraines and other neurological responses in the workplace. When this becomes particularly tricky is when brand colours are very strong and the organisations that we are working in use these brand colours in particular areas. An example is a cafeteria in a large bread manufacturer that has strong brand colours used in this space, and as a result, an area designed for relaxation and recovery is now for some a high-stress environment.

Allowing personalisation

It is important individuals are allowed to make their workplaces their own, this can be achieved by having things that help motivate them and stay on task during their workday. This will often include items like family photos if appropriate, or other reminders and tools like whiteboards that they can use to help plan and deliver their day. For some individuals, this can also involve the use of fiddle toys that allow them to do other activities that do not inhibit their processing to stay focused on what they are doing. For example, some individuals with ADHD traits find it incredibly helpful to be able to doodle or fiddle with a piece of blue tack during conference calls and conversations as it helps them to stay focused on what is happening and not get distracted.

To open plan or not to open plan – that is a very big question

Many of us are not currently back in the office, when we do return this question is not going to go away.

When it comes to aesthetics, there is a lot to be said for open plan working in the benefits that it can give in terms of collaboration, but unfortunately for some neurodivergent individuals, it can often be incredibly distracting and debilitating. I would argue that this far outweighs any benefit that is potentially gained by the organisation by having a continuous open collaborative space. What I believe is a far better approach is to have zones within the work environment where it is possible to have collaboration when needed, but then an individual can retire to a quieter more personal space, and they do not need to collaborate in such an open way.

With aesthetics, choice matters

With all the senses constantly in play, updating us on the environment and giving us feedback on what is going on, for some individuals with neurodivergent conditions, this feedback can be heightened to the point of being uncomfortable. For example a chair fabric may make your skin feel spiky or a particular colour scheme may give you a headache or disorientate you. The position of your desk may expose you to excessive noise and distractions or make you feel that everyone is looking over your shoulder. I believe with simple changes and common sense thinking many of these issues can be avoided.

There is a perception that when you need to change the aesthetics of an office environment that there would need to be a huge financial investment, and this can put organisations off . I would argue that the biggest investment is talking to your people to understand their needs and preferences. I’m not suggesting for a minute you will be able to meet everyone’s individual unique preferences but as with all these things, there is a compromise to be had, as with sensible planning and thinking we can all make office environments better for everyone.

Here is to a neuroinclusive workplace!

If you would like to know more about how to make your workplace more neuroinclusive and how to implement these aesthetics changes effectively please get in contact.