Today I’m talking directly to the niche group of people who have ADHD and care about the environment – hey there! Same! I wanted to address some ways to be sustainable that may work specifically for folks with ADHD. Although being neurodivergent may make some aspects of sustainability more challenging, folks with ADHD tend to have the creativity and energy to be very capable stewards of the environment. These are some simple ways to adjust your lifestyle to benefit the earth and work in conjunction with ADHD.
Focus is always in flux for someone with ADHD, and often the things we enjoy can become hyperfixations. Hobbies and activities that we consider fun or pleasurable may help us produce the dopamine that is deficient in our brains, and we may feel more “like ourselves” when we engage in them. I love buying plants because caring for them, arranging them in my home, and propagating them brings me so much joy. But the downside of these hyperfixations is that we might find ourselves spending money to fuel our new hobby or buying things from sources that aren’t so sustainable.
If you want to make your hyperfixation more sustainable, check local thrift stores for supplies before going to a superstore or ordering online: the more local the better. Besides the well-known Goodwill, Salvation Army and Value Village, there are many specialty chain resale stores, such as the Habitat for Humanity Restore for furniture and homeware, Play It Again for sportswear and outdoor gear, and many clothing resale and consignment stores. Facebook Marketplace, Buy Nothing and Craigslist are also fantastic online listing sites for previously owned goods, from furniture to plant cuttings to vintage clothes. Make and Mend is a great source for recycled and reused craft supplies. Reducing the amount of new materials you buy will lower your contribution to harmful production practices and new waste created.
Plastic bags are one of the greatest plagues to the health of the environment in the United States: in addition to producing hundreds of thousands of tons of waste per year, they take hundreds of years to biodegrade. However, forgetfulness is a common symptom of ADHD, and sometimes the last thing we think about on our way out the door is grabbing reusable bags for our after-work shopping trip. Those of us with ADHD can forgive ourselves for forgetting bags every once in a while: we can acknowledge that it’s okay and move on: 4 plastic bags aren’t going to mean the death of the planet.
That being said, if you want to help your future self, stick reusable bags in several places: in your car, your work bag, gym bag, on your front door handle… I even stuff one in my purse for those last-minute impulse trips. Remember to “restock” the bags every once in a while and you’ll greatly reduce the number of single-use plastic bags you use – even one makes a difference!
Exercise can be extremely helpful in managing some of the more challenging symptoms of ADHD (check out this post for more tips on managing the symptoms of ADHD). Exercise increases the levels of dopamine and other helpful neurotransmitters and can help regulate anxiety, reduce stress, reduce impulsive behavior, and improve executive function and memory. In addition, being outside has been linked with improved attention, decreased stress and a myriad of other mental health benefits. A walk, run, or bike ride outside is one of the best things you can do for yourself if you have ADHD.
In most cases, the outdoors are easily accessible and free to enjoy for everybody. Using your local parks, greenways, trails and other public outdoor areas will benefit you, and in many cases, the very paths you walk! Take the extra step to leave reviews on Google for these public areas or contact your local government to let them know your support of them: the more people use and love our public outdoor spaces, the more they will be honored and cared for.
The Pomodoro method is a tried-and-true strategy for those of us who struggle with executive function: set a 20-minute timer (or whatever interval works for you) and work until it goes off, then take a break before repeating the process. These bite-sized working sessions help folks with ADHD tackle work in a way that’s easy and manageable.
The Forest app brings the Pomodoro method to your phone or desktop. In addition to being a valuable work tool, Forest has planted over 1.3 million trees. They partner with Trees for the Future to plant real trees when users spend the “coins” they accumulate while using the app. You can get the Forest app for $4 on the Apple app store or Google Play.
Buying products in bulk is a sure-fire way to reduce waste. Many foods and household products come in packaging that’s difficult to recycle or repurpose. In fact, 45% of the trash put into landfills in the United States is food packaging/waste. By thoughtfully buying in bulk, you can reduce the amount of packing produced and put into the environment. In addition, the brain is nourished by a diet full of fruits and vegetables, and buying these in frozen bulk can help set us up for healthy meals. In most cases frozen produce does not lose any of its nutritional value and can be preserved much longer than fresh produce. Buying bulk products may help folks with ADHD plan nutritious meals better, avoid impulse spending, and make fewer trips to the store, saving time and money for other activities.
Prescription medications are a common treatment for ADHD. In addition, over half of adults with ADHD identify as having another mental illness such as anxiety or depression, which can also be treated with prescription drugs. As someone who has had an ADHD diagnosis for over 10 years, I have had many medication trials that have left unused pill bottles scattered throughout my belongings.
Unused medications can be misused or accidentally ingested by kids or pets. People who hold onto old medications may also mistakenly take incorrect doses or expired medications. The effect of unused medications on the environment is equally as important. Drugs flushed down the toilet or poured into the sink cannot be properly filtered by our sewage system and can end up in our drinking water. These drugs may also enter our rivers and lakes, posing unknown threats to ecosystems. Luckily, there are many alternative options: take your unused drugs to your local pharmacy, government office, or designated location on National Prescription Drug Takeback Day.
It can be more difficult for people with ADHD to form habits when emotions are not involved. Instead, those with ADHD must rely on emotional cues to make decisions and often turn to shame and self-criticism to motivate themselves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called myself “stupid” or “worthless” because I simply forgot my reusable grocery bags or accidentally left my bedroom light on all day.
I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to get takeout if you’ve had a long day and don’t feel like cooking. You’re allowed to buy single-use plastics if it’s what gets you through the day easier. The environment will not collapse if you’re excited about a project and want to buy the materials brand new. Creating shame and guilt around a practice is never helpful. Forgive yourself for the things you can’t do and focus on making a change in the way that works best for you.