Who among us doesn’t find themselves occasionally struggling to stay on task or remaining focused while someone is giving instructions? Being distracted is a very common human condition that can no doubt be annoying and frustrating. But when someone uses the phrase, “Oh, I am so ADHD!” it can be cringe-worthy to a mental health professional. Those who use that worn-out phrase have really no idea of how very difficult it is to live with ADHD on a day-to-day basis.
People who have been diagnosed with ADHD struggle daily to manage the unique challenges that this condition presents. Some interesting descriptions shared by people actually living with ADHD include “It feels like my brain is a browser with way too many open tabs,” “It feels like my brain is understeering,” or “It’s like having a hundred TVs on at the same time.”
For those who have been diagnosed with ADHD, quality of life depends to a great extent on learning effective strategies to help manage the symptoms. Fortunately, there are several useful strategies to help minimize the potentially debilitating effects of ADHD.
About Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can affect people of all ages. Many are first diagnosed with the disorder in early childhood, although some may live decades compensating for the frustrating symptoms before finally being formally diagnosed with ADHD as adults. The main features of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While these are not uncommon behaviors, in individuals with ADHD they are more pronounced, occur more often, and interfere with daily functioning.
Science has not yet determined what the exact cause of ADHD is. There are some identified risk factors, however, such as:
- Genetics, or family history of ADHD
- Low birth weight
- In utero exposure to alcohol, drugs, or nicotine by the pregnant mother
- Exposure to lead, pesticides, or PCBs
- Traumatic Brain injury
- Faulty signaling through neural pathways
ADHD tends to affect more males than females, and there is an increased risk of co-occurring disorders, such as depression, learning disabilities, or substance abuse, in individuals with ADHD.
How the Symptoms of ADHD Differ by Age Group
While a child with ADHD may be unable to sit still, interrupts classmates, or talks excessively, the symptoms in adolescents and adults differ. For example, teens with ADHD may experience impulsive behaviors, relationship problems, become easily bored, have difficulty completing assignments and test-taking, or engage in substance abuse. In this age group, the symptoms of ADHD tend to manifest more in social issues.
Adults with ADHD may struggle in ways that directly relate to job performance. They may forget due dates for projects or miss important meetings, become easily overwhelmed or confused, or make errors on the job due to poor listening skills or difficulty following instructions. In adults, the symptoms of ADHD may manifest in stress management challenges or difficulty finding an adequate work/life balance.
5 Ways to Manage ADHD Symptoms
There are effective complementary strategies available that can help individuals better manage their ADHD symptoms:
- Exercise.“Think of exercise as medication,” says John Ratey, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. While getting regular exercise is beneficial for everyone, movement and exercise are particularly advantageous for those with ADHD. Engaging in exercise causes the body to release endorphins, which can ignite the executive functions in the brain. This region of the brain helps regulate mood, decision-making, impulsivity, and memory. Activities that stimulate problem-solving and risk management, such as hiking and rock climbing, are especially well suited for individuals with ADHD.
- Nutrition. A healthy diet can enhance overall wellness and provide the individual with the necessary nutrients for optimum brain health and functioning. The diet should be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and legumes, whole-grain bread, pasta, and rice, and plenty of organic vegetables and fruits. Those with ADHD should avoid sugary treats, corn syrup, white flour, white rice, and potatoes without the skins. If there is a dietary sensitivity, such as to lactose, proper nutritional supplements like vitamin D and calcium should be included.
- Organizational tools. Both adolescents and adults can reduce the stress associated with organizing tasks and plotting due dates by utilizing ‘to-do’ lists or organizing tools like smartphone apps. These can be great coping techniques that help improve job or academic performance while also removing the stress of trying to remember multiple tasks. These strategies help reduce the feelings of being overwhelmed by ordering tasks according to priority, along with due dates noted.
- Manage stress. Adults with ADHD tend to experience more stress with regard to the disorder, so learning how to effectively manage anxiety and stress is a helpful coping skill. It is useful to have a couple of easily accessible stress reduction techniques handy that can be used whenever someone starts to feel overwhelmed. Examples of these might include, a) practicing mindfulness by harnessing distracting thoughts and training the mind to focus on the present moment, b) deep breathing exercises, which quickly reduce heart rate and blood pressure, and c) meditation using guided imagery available on a smartphone app.
- Avoid triggers. Teens or adults with ADHD will usually become familiar with the situations or things that may trigger the disorder. Awareness of one’s own triggers allows the individual to actively avoid them. For some, lack of sleep might be a trigger, while for others it might be excessive use of technology or overstimulation. Other triggers for ADHD might be eating a poor diet, not adequately managing stress, or having a sedentary lifestyle.
While ADHD may present certain challenges in daily life, the disorder can absolutely be managed through proactive behaviors that help minimize the symptoms.
About the Author
Blake Ruble, LPC, NCC, is the founder of Alliance Experiential, a movement-based mental health therapeutic approach serving the greater Denver metropolitan area. In addition to providing experiential therapy for ADHD, Blake also holds a CMHIMP certification for holistic and integrative treatment. For more information about the program, please reach out to Alliance Experiential today at (720) 990-5033.
By Blake Ruble, Founder, Alliance Experiential