Focusing with Progressive Metal

by | Sep 29, 2017

When I was 26 years old, my doctor diagnosed me with ADHD. I’d been in and out of her office for well over the course of a decade with the same complaints, and we had tried everything: anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, sleep meds, everything. I even went on a gluten-free diet for a while with no luck. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t remember, and everyone was losing their patience with me. I felt so utterly overwhelmed by life. It was a feeling I always remember having. My parents were constantly after me as a kid about “conveniently” forgetting chores, but I really did forget!

As I finished college and entered the workforce, everything felt amplified. Demand for my time and attention increased but I felt like I’d never really learned how to “adult.” Finally, when I was beginning to accept that I was just bad at everything, my doctor suggested it could be ADHD and asked me to go see a psychiatrist for an official diagnosis. The psychiatrist agreed and seemed amazed I’d made it 26 years without a diagnosis.

A handful of years later, I’ve gotten better at working with my ADHD brain instead of struggling to overcome it. I write everything down because otherwise, I retain nothing. I stick to a pretty routine schedule, even if I don’t need to. I sleep with white noise. I leave the TV on while I cook or clean. But the most important thing I’ve done is embrace the music that helps me focus.

It is not a secret that music can be life-changing for those with ADHD. (So can fidget spinners!)  My biggest struggle when working on a task is everything happening around me. My brain wants to listen to my coworker, or the mysterious sound coming from the other side of the building, or notice the birds outside, or literally any other thing it can find to do besides whatever it is I’m actually trying to work on.

My youngest brother, who most likely also has ADHD, figured out how to put music to work for him when he was much younger. He’d come home from school and retreat to his room to do homework, and the classical music would start. As he got older, classical music turned into metal. Everyone was annoyed by it, but it worked for him. Over the years, he’d send me songs from his metal collection and insist that I just give it a chance, and I’d listen for about 10 seconds before deciding that it was most definitely not for me. He kept telling me I’d come around one day.

And then I started to struggle with work again. I was back in an office environment after a few years of running my own business and having the flexibility to get work done whenever it worked for me. Now I found myself back on a schedule with timelines and deadlines, and it wasn’t working for me.

So I started listening to progressive metal, and it changed everything. The part of my brain that wanted to be distracted by every little thing happening around me was perfectly content to soak in the music I was listening to, allowing me to zone in on my work and get things done again. Music as a way of treating ADHD isn’t for everyone, especially not metal, but it works for me, and there’s science to back it up.

Music provides structure for an ADHD brain that is struggling to stay on track. “Research shows that pleasurable music increases dopamine levels in the brain. This neurotransmitter — responsible for regulating attention, working memory, and motivation — is in low supply in ADHD brains.” Will Henshall, a rock musician from England, created the company focus@will. Together with a team of “sound scientists”, they’ve created music designed to help you enter a focused state – something I need to truly get work done.

Follow the link below to preview focus@will, and take the test to see what’s recommended for you! My test results recommended “ADHD Type 1” which shares a lot of similarities to the progressive metal I’ve introduced into my day. [You can check out my current ‘Focus’ playlist on Apple Music]


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Sarah recently relocated to Grand Rapids from metro Detroit, by way of Southern Indiana. She stumbled into a career in marketing accidentally with a focus on the outdoor industry and hunting. She has never been hunting, and her worst memories as a kid are of attempted camping trips. Her hobbies and interests include binge-watching sitcoms, teaching herself WordPress and Adobe Creative Suite, and playing Dungeons and Dragons. She is obsessed with understanding BitCoin, even though she knows she never will.