Who Needs Coping Strategies?
If you do have a neurodiverse difference or similarly hidden impairment you will probably benefit from using coping strategies and techniques to help you manage your differences.
It is common for people with neurodiverse differences like dyspraxia, to need lots of strategies to help manage everyday tasks. Some strategies may have been taught to them but most will have just developed their own coping strategies naturally.
They will have created strategies for overcoming hurdles and barriers. The strategy may have worked in the past but it might not always be the most effective one for them.
I hope through this blog to help those of you who need to rely on strategies, to learn to work out when a strategy is not working and give to give you ideas on ways to fix it.
Are Your Current Strategies Working For You?
How Can You tell What Is Working?
I figure I'm not the only one out there that has this problem. I think the only reason I'd never realised before was because I didn't know what to look for and hadn't analysed what was working for me.
I hope that by using one of my own faulty strategies I will be able to show you what to look for in order to identify yours.
Identify Your Coping Strategies
Coping strategies don't have to be 'strategies' per say, they can also be using things like apps to help you remember to do things, learning to use a Sat Nav or even getting direct help from other people to achieve your goals or overcome barriers. They are whatever you rely on to help you cope with a situation.
We all have coping strategies which we've at some point tried and found effective. Some we learned to do from childhood whereas others will have been developed and perfected over years. Some will even have become habitual responses that you might not even recognise yourself as having.
Can Using The Right Strategies Really Make A Difference?
I am definitely an advocate of using strategies. After all, I've seen first hand how putting strategies in place in my own life has totally turned it around and freed up so much time that I am now able to run my own company!
Why I Am Writing These Blogs
It is not just neurodiverse thinkers that benefit from using strategies, many high performance professionals also use the same strategies to help them manage their performance. I also use them to manage my differences and if more people had the knowledge of how to use them they would probably also want to put strategies in place to help them achieve better outcomes in their lives. As I have dyspraxia and other related differences the blog is written from a neurodiverse perspective so it is mainly those who have similar differences to me that will relate the most but anyone can benefit from putting strategies in place.
Over the coming weeks and months I will be writing more top tip blogs and giving general coaching advice for people who want to help manage their differences whether they be due to underlying differences like dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, Autism or whether it be for people who struggle with problems relating to short term/working memory, sequencing, planning, coordination, posture, social interaction, relaxation, de-stressing or whatever else my readers ask for.
If I know of tools or techniques which could help others with differences like mine I'll be writing about them in the hope that some people will find easier ways to manage their perceived difficulties.
Strategies Are Working For Me
The strategies I have put in place over the years have helped me to take a huge leap forward. They have allowed me to study effectively and gain further qualifications, to voluntarily come off sickness benefit, to start my own business, to make new contacts all over the UK and to speak at Conferences in front of professionals working in the field of Neurodiversity and BEd students (our future teachers). Without effective strategies I could not have achieved the above because of the many difficulties I have with daily living brought on by my dyspraxia and other overlapping differences.
The many strategies I have learned through my study of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Life Coaching and Hypnotherapy have enabled me to achieve all of the above and so much more because they helped me to take responsibility for my actions and achieve better outcomes for me.
I might tell you what life was like before I developed the specialised strategies but it won't be in this blog because it would take too long. All you need to know is that in order for me to manage my neurodiverse differences I need to use strategies and sometimes it feels as though I have to devote more energy to managing my differences than most people devote to full time jobs. I know that before I actively put strategies in place I experienced a constant sense of frustration, anxiety, stress and depression. I didn't know how to manage my differences so I just kept on going, doing the same things day after day.
As a result of studying the above subjects I discovered simple techniques and strategies that helped me bring my life back into focus.
We Create Our Own Coping Strategies As We Grow
These are all strategies and as we grow we find new ones to replace the ones that are ineffective, outdated, or counterproductive. Otherwise we'd all still be crying for our supper!
Unfortunately sometimes we get stuck with strategies that we really should have grown out of or stopped using a long time ago but we're so used to using them that they have become almost like our default setting.
We all use strategies everyday but many of us aren't even aware that we are we just go on doing the same thing over and over again, despite always getting the same negative outcomes.
As adults we are able to analyse what we do that is effective and what is not but when it comes to our own coping strategies we often don't know where to start.
Look For Red Flags
My Red Flags:
As I sit here and look around me trying to write about successful strategies it is worth noting that I am in an incredibly touchy mood, I have felt like this all week! My family have had to put up with my stress which has not only affected my ability to be happy but has also affected my ability to function at all efficiently at times.
My stress and mood has affected me so much so that the last time I tried to cook we ended up having a take out. Despite spending over four hours in the kitchen preparing food I was still not able to present my family with a meal at dinner time.
These kinds of difficulties really frustrate me as I know there is so much I could have achieved in those four hours but instead I wasted all that time and had nothing but messy kitchen to show at the end of it.
I also can't help but note that my entire house is at this moment in time a real mess, I'm sitting in front of a desk with so many papers and forms on it that I cannot see the keyboard. My hair feels greasy and has probably not been brushed in days. It has already gone 10:00 AM and I'm still in my PJs and I have no idea whether or not I've even brushed my teeth yet.
I feel lethargic, I lack motivation, I'm easily irritated and my general anxiety levels are up.
I have dyspraxia, I cannot function effectively unless I put a lot of time and effort into managing my differences. By the time I notice that all of the above is being made worse by my own actions I have already impacted on everyone around me.
My poor husband has been run off his feet as he picks up on all my slack. Because of my difficulties my husband is already doing more than his fair share, he already does most of the laundry, all the shopping, almost all the cooking and is even responsible for ensuring I take the right medication. This past week he has had no help from me at all as the things I have tried to do I have messed up and not actually achieved. It is obvious that I am not able to work effectively while in this state.
Once I notice the effect I'm having on those around me I have two options.
1. I can allow my emotions to take hold, I can feel sorry for myself because I can't help the problems I have with working memory, organisation, coordination and so on and I can feel guilty about my burdening those around me.
2. I can stop everything I'm doing straight away and take action.
Now that I am used to working with strategies I know there is no point in feeling sorry for myself, the only thing that will achieve positive results is stopping everything I'm doing and taking action.
Stop Everything And Take Action Straight Away!
Once those around you know that you are trying to put something in place so it doesn't happen again they will most likely be supportive of your efforts. So always tell the people you love what you are feeling and what you are trying to achieve as their support can really make a difference.
Question What You Are Doing If Something Feels Like It Has Gone Wrong!
I forgot to check whether my existing strategies were working!
It's exhausting having to follow schedules & plans every day of my life so I slipped. I felt stressed and just put an old go-to strategy in place without checking if it was effective first. I didn't even mean to use it but I guess it's an old default setting and I let it just slip in.
I only need to look around my house to question the effectiveness of my current strategies because one of them is obviously faulty at best and down right detrimental at worst.
Ask Yourself: What Was It Like When Everything Was Working?
I was at that point using all the right strategies to help me manage my differences I guess but then a relatively minor disruption happened and it somehow collapsed all my successful strategies.
The Minor Disruption To Routine
A Bit Of History
Over the years I have instinctively learned to dread certain envelopes and requests for information landing on my doorstep.
Added to this, I have severe difficulty understanding written requests for information. I find writing by hand incredibly difficult and stressful and I make loads of mistakes copying information down, I guess many dyslexics will recognise these difficulties in themselves too.
Now for my business and my blogs I have tools and techniques to help me manage all these difficulties.
Unfortunately these forms require me to complete them by hand and collate evidence. Even if I end up ringing the organisation to update the changes I still need all the data they require written out clearly in front of me or I won't be able to find the right figures and facts as they ask for them and one of the forms has to be completed by hand entirely, signed and returned.
The forms are probably very straight forward but I am already in a nervous state when I open the envelopes so I am never able to understand what they are asking for at first read through.
How I Handled The Minor Disruption
* These mails are a top priority.
* They will go on my desk so that I tackle them before doing anything else.
* I will update all to-do lists with this as the number one priority.
By this point I usually realise that my hands are shaking, I have sweaty palms, my heart is racing and my tolerance for any noise has completely dropped. I feel anxious.
I realise that whilst I'm in this state I cannot possibly fill in the forms so I walk away from my desk and try to relax myself. I then reassure myself that it's okay I can still add them to all my to-do lists so I don't forget them.
I need to relax and de-stress so I shut my office door, walk away and try to forget about it.
Did You Spot My Mistake?
In fact it's best to bear in mind that I probably don't want to be talked to at all because by now I've totally lost my ability to interpret people's tones and facial expressions and the last thing I want to do is end up in an argument with my loved ones. No, what I want is for them to be psychic and just know how bad I feel so that they don't accidentally prod or poke the bear.
Where Exactly Did I Go Wrong?
The thing I did wrong was allocating something as a top priority, as my next item on all my to-do lists, when there was a risk I wouldn't be able to do it. By putting it as the number one item on all my lists, then closing the door and walking away meant I had also closed the door on all my current coping strategies which up until then had been working effectively.
I now realise that what I've actually done is to create a situation where my old AVOIDANCE strategy has kicked off all by itself.
As a strategy avoidance has its place. If you have a fear of clowns you might want to avoid going to the circus but it is of limited use. Avoidance doesn't resolve anything other than stopping you from experiencing certain things. There were times just avoiding doing something saved me from having to endure embarrassment, high stress levels and unnecessary anxiety but as I've now found out, is not always an effective coping strategy for me.
Plus, every single time I remember the forms need doing I am having the same physical reactions. That in itself is not constructive but add to it the fact that I put it on all my to-do lists, on my computer desk, on my diary so everywhere I look I'm reminded that the task is outstanding. I was so scared to forget to do them in time that I accounted for them everywhere and said I must do this first.
Someone without my difficulties may be able to tackle those forms in an hour or two but for me it's going to be more like two full days work which I will have to find extra time for so every time I remember them I feel physically stressed, I look no further on any lists and the cycle starts all over again.
The Underlying Issue
Problem is with every passing day the deadline gets closer, I get more stressed as I have even less time, my daily chores and other tasks aren't getting done because I'm not checking any lists. I'm not even using my cooking strategy lists because I'm not even opening them.
Why Use A Strategy That's Not Working?
On the down side, I am using it incorrectly and it's impacting on other areas in my life. When I stand back and look at the impact it has on my ability to manage my other difficulties it is definitely having a counter-productive and detrimental affect on my mental health and physical Well-being.
How Do Others See Me?
How Do I Fix The Faulty Strategy?
So these are the steps I'm putting in place.
1. Ring the organisations and ask for a longer deadline. Take the pressure off of the main catalyst.
2. Prioritise forms by when they are due in.
3. Select date to start working on them no later than two days away and avoid thinking about them at all other times.
4. Update ALL to do lists with broken down form related tasks. EG, day one - read through the top priority form so that I understand what they're asking for... day two make list of all evidence requested.
5. Schedule only 30 minutes to one hour each day towards form work and set it for my after lunch task.
6. Ask someone I trust to help me complete the actual form or schedule an extra three hours for completing the form. If necessary on different days.
7. Repeat process for second form.
Will This New Adapted Strategy Work?
If it does work I will implement it into my weekly planner. It should be easy enough to schedule in a few half hours a week where I can either do form filling or research, it should mean that next time forms arrive I can follow the above steps without having to rearrange my planner.
This should allow me to tackle forms when they come without having to sacrifice work or family time to it and I can actively avoid thinking about them for the majority of the day.
By breaking it into smaller tasks I can handle the thought of tackling the individual bitesize chunks a lot more than I could by looking at the bigger picture.
If it doesn't help me to better manage the way I react to unexpected demands on my time then not a problem, I have still learned not to prioritise something I struggle with and may avoid doing. At the very least it's helped me focus on getting my life back on track for now. Next time I know what to look out for and will be more able to handle a minor disruption.
Now it's time to go have a bath and start seeing to all the areas I accidentally neglected. Then I will clear my desk and actually start to look forward to the week ahead.