How to manage ADHD
by Sarah Klein
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be incredibly disruptive in everyday adult life.
Most people with ADHD respond well to medication, although there are other, nondrug options that may help too.
“Start with treatments we know are effective,” says Ari Tuckman, PsyD, the vice president of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association “Then, if you’re interested, try some of the alternatives to see if it has any additional benefit.”
Here are 10 behavioral interventions and lifestyle changes that won’t necessarily eliminate ADHD but can help you feel more in control.
Stimulant drugs such as Adderall, Dexedrine, Ritalin, Concerta, and Vyvanse affect key brain chemicals to calm and focus people who have ADHD.
They are the most widely prescribed ADHD medications, and can have side effects such as appetite suppression, insomnia, headaches, dry mouth, and nausea.
A non-stimulant drug calledStrattera may be a better fit for people who have ADHD and who also suffer from anxiety, insomnia, or substance abuse. (However, the drug can cause nausea, dry mouth, and insomnia.)
Discuss your treatment options with your doctor to determine if you really need medication.
Think about therapy
If you’re not thrilled about the idea of taking medication, you may want to consider cognitive behavioral therapy.
This type of therapy aims to help patients change their behavior by focusing on self-image and thought patterns, as well as overcoming obstacles in daily life (and negative thinking as well).
Don’t expect cognitive behavioral therapy to take the place of medication or even help reduce the dosage, but it can help you modify your behavior, and may be more effective than using medication alone.
The more you learn about ADHD, the more aware you will be of your symptoms, and the more information you’ll have about managing them.
“Learning about ADHD helps you know a little better what strategies tend to work,” says Tuckman. It can also reduce feelings of shame or blame, he adds, as patients begin to realize that treating the disease is not as simple as trying harder to pay attention or caring more about school or work.
Visit the websites of national organizations, read blogs written by people with ADHD, check out books about the condition, or ask a doctor for additional information sources.
Family members, close friends, and romantic partners should also educate themselves about ADHD, says Tuckman.
But for ADHD patients to more easily relate to these important people, some therapy or counseling may also be necessary.
Focusing on social skills training can greatly benefit professional relationships and friendships. And marriage counseling or family therapy can ease symptoms at home.
If you find yourself feeling scatterbrained or forgetful, try writing daily reminders for appointments, meetings, or other responsibilities in a planner or organizer. And get specific about misplaced things, says Tuckman.
“It’s not just simple advice, like find a place to put your keys, wallet, and cell phone when you come in the house, but specifically, where do you put them? And once you walk in the door, how many steps do you need to take before you get to [that] designated place?”
Set yourself up for success when it comes to paying attention by limiting the distractions around.
Try noise-canceling headphones for some peace and quiet if you work in a rowdy office. When you need to focus at home, turn off the TV and leave the cell phone in another room.
Think before you act
Many adults with ADHD struggle with impulsive speech and actions.
Try to teach yourself to take a minute to stop and think before you overreact emotionally, blurt out something, or act out inappropriately.
It might help to write down your first reaction instead of sharing it.
Got a long meeting you know will make you feel on edge?
Plan ahead for situations that might test your patience, and keep yourself moving in ways that won’t bother others, like taking notes instead of fidgeting. Or try fidgeting more covertly; many people find that spinning a pen in their hands under a table can help, says Tuckman. Better yet, he adds, come clean.
“Perhaps just tell people, ‘I get antsy during these long meetings, so sometimes I need to move around a bit,’” he says. “Explain how this makes [you] a better employee or team member so it becomes appealing to the other persons involved.”
“Who in the world would you not recommend exercise for?” says Tuckman. “There’s no harm in it; there’s only good!” Cardiovascular-health benefits aside, exercise seems to be helpful for attention, concentration, and learning as well, he says.
Studies show that if you engage in a physical activity that also involves the brain, such as karate, dance, or yoga, you’re likely to see even better results. Martial arts have been shown to increase homework completion, academic performance, and classroom preparation in boys with ADHD.
Train your brain
While research supporting the claim is sparse, there are theories that exercising the mind—with tools like crossword puzzles or Sudoku-type games—can improve ADHD symptoms such as poor concentration because it stimulates the creation of new brain cells.
One brand of computer software that does stand the test of science is Cogmed’s working memory training, says Tuckman, but little else shows much promise in improving concentration or attention.
Can’t concentrate? Answer these six questions (adding up your score as you go along) to find out if you might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A score of 11 or higher indicates that your symptoms might be consistent with adult ADHD.