Task-Switching with ADHD: is THAT why showers are so hard?

Sam Spadafore | November 5, 2021


"Adult ADHD is like wading against the stream through waist-deep water and realizing everyone else has a raft and paddle going the opposite direction."


I was browsing TikTok one day and came across an ADHD video that resonated with my entire being. I've noticed that the ADHD TikToks, tweets, and comics that seem to hit me the hardest are the ones that point out a challenging ADHD symptom that I didn't even realize was a common struggle among ADHDers.


Previously, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was thought to be a condition specific to kids. Because of that, many ADHD adults don't receive their official diagnosis until adulthood. A majority of the Late ADHD Diagnosis Experience is like wading against a stream through waist-deep water and realizing everyone else has a raft and paddle going the opposite direction. But when we express our frustration with the unfairness of it all, we’re told that everyone struggles with certain things because that’s just a part of life!


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#ADHDLife



But - what if you struggle with things like personal hygiene?



ADHD and The Struggle with Hygiene


Now, listen - when I found this TikTok by @feezy.pdf about transitions and why they're so difficult for people with ADHD... I was shook.


She said something like, "we're not great at switching gears to tackle a new task. For example, getting in the shower is a TON of work for us... but getting out of the shower is even worse for me, personally. Undressing to get in the shower is a hassle, but once you’re finally in there and enjoying it, you don't want to leave! Like - you're telling me I have to turn off the water and be all cold, then dry off and get dressed again - and what? Just restart your entire day?? Whose idea was this?? Anyway, that’s why I take 45 minute showers.”


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Whoops.



Seriously - I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about stepping out of my soothing hot shower in the middle of a cold winter day in Maine. Brrr.


Personally, I love showering because I feel like my ADHD brain really lets me indulge in all of that steamy goodness. Let me explain - people with ADHD commonly have sensory processing impairments that cause us to perceive senses (light, sound, touch, etc.) differently than neurotypicals. While some ADHDers have less sensitivity, others (myself included) have senses that are so much more attuned to stimuli on our skin - temperature, texture, etc. With all of that in mind, why would we want to get out of the shower? Why would I get in the shower in the first place just to get out and feel a chill down my spine? No thanks.

But why are some of us like this? It has a lot to do with our executive functions and control processes - or lack thereof.



Executive Functions


Generally, neurotypicals have fewer difficulties with switching from Task A to Task B. However, ADHD children and adults often lack the executive control that's needed for transitioning from one thing to the next.


Executive Functions are a set of skills your brain uses to organize memories, thoughts, emotional responses, and more. When there's a deficit in this skill-set, that organization turns to chaos. For example, let’s say you’re doom-scrolling through Instagram or playing a game, and you check the time. You know you need to start getting ready to meet a friend, but instead your thumb keeps scrolling or smashing the B button. A voice in your head says, “Hey! It’s time to get ready! Maybe we should put the phone and video games down now?!”


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That voice in your head.


If your executive functioning is actually functioning the way it's "supposed to", you’d get up and start getting ready to go as soon as that voice scolded you. But if you have Executive Dysfunction, you probably tend to wait until the last possible moment to start getting ready. And then of course you'll have that sweet rush of anxiety, panic, and guilt all mixed into a lovely concoction for you to take on the road.


Executive Dysfunction, while not technically a separate disorder according to the DSM-V, is a common struggle among many humans, but it especially burdens the ADHD community. It's strongly correlated with more well-known ADHD symptoms such as inattention, forgetfulness, organizing tasks, time-management, and critical and creative thinking.


So, if you struggle with things like...

  • Getting out of bed in the morning

  • Taking care of personal hygiene

  • Getting out of your car after parking

  • Moving onto the next chore or task on your list

... I just want you to know that you’re not alone and that not all hope is lost.


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Just chillin' in a public lot - don't mind me.


Tips and Tricks for Managing Transitions


1. Set a timer.

This can be really helpful if you’re prone to losing track of how long you’ve been doing something (ie "time blindness"). Set an alarm before you start a task, pencil-in time for a break, and make sure you actually take it. Sometimes that isn’t enough, but remember: an object set in motion stays in motion. Getting up and forcing your body to begin moving can get you out of your trance and onto the next task.


2. Apply new settings on your phone.

If you have trouble with stopping your late night Twitter doom-scrolling, there are settings on most modern smartphones that limit the amount of time spent on an app or the time of day you can use the app. Give yourself a reasonable limit so you don’t have to make the decision about when to stop - it’s just set for you. (Pro-Tip: don't make it unreasonably strict, either, because you'll just end up disabling the setting and then you're back to Square One.)


3. Find an accountability buddy.

This is more or less like a Body Double. This could be a technique to try if it's hard for you to get things done at work because your brain won't let you switch between multiple important tasks. Ask a co-worker if they'd help you set intermittent deadlines for when certain project segments should be done. Write down what you need to do to start and finish a task, then find that person who will check in with you on your progress.


4. If all else fails, give yourself a buffer.

If you know you’re still struggling to stop or start tasks, this is the first line of defense you should set up for yourself. For example, I know I need 30 minutes each morning before getting out of bed, so now I take that into account for when I set alarms and plan my day. You can do that with any task. You want to give yourself time in your busy schedule to make those transitions happen. Then, if (and when) you struggle with a transition, you’ve already built in the time.



Final Thoughts

Listen - it’s not easy for us ADHDers. The world wasn’t set up to let us hyperfocus on one thing for hours until we get burnt out. Even though navigating all of this can be difficult, you are definitely not alone.

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ADHD doesn’t have to ruin your life. In fact, being a neurodiverse human is something that makes you unique, and you’re allowed to be proud of the beautiful way your mind works...


...even if that means you’re taking 45 minute showers.




Sam Spadafore (He/Him; They/Them) is a white, queer, nonbinary trans man currently living on settled Wabanaki tribal land known as Portland, Maine. Sam writes poetry and articles focusing on Mental Health, Queer & Trans Issues, and Sex & Sexuality. They are also a consent educator, actor, activist, and steering committee member at MaineTransNet. Check out more of what Sam’s been up to at samspadaforeofficial.com.


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