Self-Education Tips and Strategies
The more you know about adult ADHD and the more tools and strategies you have at your disposal, the better you'll be able to manage the various mental, emotional, physical, and lifestyle challenges, setbacks, and detours arising from living with the disorder. Here are ten easy things you can do yourself to minimize the symptoms of adult ADHD.
Get to the root of things. If you or someone you love has been feeling out of sorts or showing signs of depression for two weeks or longer, it's important to get to the root of the problem. Adults with ADHD can suffer from primary or secondary depression, or both.
While primary depression is largely inherited and not triggered by life problems like job loss or relationship problems, secondary depression usually results from the accumulated frustrations and disappointments of living with undiagnosed or untreated adult ADHD. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you feel like your life is spiraling out of control because of disruptive thoughts or behaviors.
Find ways to minimize distractions. If you have adult ADHD, you already have trouble maintaining focus and shifting attention to something else when it's necessary. Find ways to reduce distractions. To avoid being distracted by loud music or television, turn down the volume, turn it off altogether, or use ear plugs or white noise machines to block or camouflage the noise. If you work in a noisy, distracting environment, ask your boss if you can move to an office or cubicle that's quieter and has fewer distractions. Find or create a quiet corner at home where you can catch up on household bills and problems without being interrupted by children or spouses. If you live in a noisy city, drown out traffic and street noise with a white-noise machine that emits soothing nature sounds, such as falling rain, waterfalls, crashing waves, thunderstorms, and chirping crickets.
Improve your quality of life. Don't assume that having adult ADHD means you have to put up with depression and anxiety. If you're on ADHD medication and still suffer from mild to moderate depression, ask your doctor about prescribing an antidepressant. Antidepressants boost levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepineph-rine, and will help you maintain feelings of well-being and happiness.
Easy does it on carbohydrates and caffeine. Adults with ADHD often resort to high-carbohydrate snacks or frequent consumption of caffeine to elevate their mood or increase alertness and energy. Unfortunately, the “fix” doesn't last long. Overdoing carbohydrates can lead to weight gain and fatigue, while too much caffeine can make you feel nervous and jittery and lead to insomnia. It's better to stick with a low-carb, protein-rich breakfast and to snack on fruits and nuts instead of sugar and starch.
To maintain a healthy low-carb, high-protein diet, invest in cookbooks like The South Beach Diet or The Zone, both of which have low-carb meal plans, recipes, and lists of good versus bad carbohydrates. To keep track of how much coffee you drink, keep a small chart by the coffee pot, or make a deal with yourself to make just one small pot of coffee each morning, and then switch to noncaf-feinated teas in the afternoon and evening, particularly if you are having trouble sleeping.
Ward off the blues by creating an “anti-boredom” closet. Studies show that many adults with ADHD get depressed when they have nothing to do. Adults with ADHD sometimes have more nervous energy than others, and this hyperactivity needs to have an outlet of some sort. To prevent idleness or boredom from tanking your mood, create an anti-boredom closet and stock it with books, games, arts or crafts supplies, sports equipment, and projects that absolutely fascinate you but you can't find time for in your everyday life. The next time you find yourself facing an unexpected block of free time, instead of fretting or panicking, head to your anti-boredom closet and find something to capture your imagination.
Chart your sleep. Many adults with ADHD have trouble falling asleep, which can worsen symptoms of inattention and focus. To get a handle on your sleep habits, keep a chart of when you go to bed every night, how much sleep you get, how often you get up at night, and when you wake up in the morning. For a good night's sleep, go to bed at the same time every night; get up at the same time every morning; avoid exercise, TV, and other stimulating activities for at least an hour before going to bed; and limit caffeine consumption to the morning hours. You may also want to avoid eating a heavy meal right before bedtime. If you have trouble falling asleep, or you find yourself waking up several times during the night, you may want to ask your physician about sleep medications. Remember that worrying about whether you will be able to sleep is in itself a contributor to insomnia.
Zone in on stress triggers. If you feel overwhelmed by stress, don't shut down — write it down. List the biggest stresses in your day on a piece of paper, and then start looking for ways to reduce or eliminate them. If you can't eliminate the source of stress from your life, such as a hectoring boss or demanding child, try to change the way you react to it.
Charting your progress can also help you move toward action. A few tools and strategies can go a long way toward keeping your treatment progress and everyday life in order.
Find new ways to calm your body and soul. Sit quietly with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing to meditate. Each time you exhale, silently repeat a one-syllable word — “one” or “peace” or “ohm.” Experts suggest trying for a few minutes or even for a few seconds every time you find yourself in a panic or funk. If you can't sit still long enough to meditate, try walking meditation or tai chi, a type of “moving” yoga.
Keep a lid on impulsive behavior. If you have a tendency to do things you later regret, such as interrupting or getting angry at others, keep your impulses in check by counting to ten while breathing slowly instead of acting out. You'll be surprised to find that most of your impulses evaporate as quickly as they appeared.
Find constructive outlets for excess energy. People with ADHD sometimes seem to have more nervous energy than others, and this hyperactivity needs to have an outlet of some sort. A hobby or other pastime can be helpful.
These ten strategies are just a starter list. Brainstorm for additional ways to keep adult ADHD symptoms in check with members of your support group, or get an “adult ADHD buddy” and develop strategies together to solve problems as they arise. Experts' estimates suggest that depression is 2.7 times more prevalent in ADHD adults than it is in the general adult population. By using these remedies and strategies, you can fend off depression and be in the best physical shape of your life.
The Power of Support Groups
You already know how and why adult ADHD can leave you feeling lonely and isolated. One of the easiest and fastest ways to make connections with other adults struggling with ADHD is to join a support group in your area.
As well as providing a way to make new friends, share your experiences and problems, and offer moral support, your support group can also keep you informed on the best medical resources, special services, disability experts, and colleges and universities that cater to adults with ADHD. To find a support group near you, check with local colleges, universities, churches and synagogues, community hospitals and clinics, senior citizen centers, and the local chapter of CHADD, an organization for children and adults with ADHD. If you can't find a support group in your community, you can always start one of your own.
Keeping Up with ADHD Research
Research on adult ADHD is ongoing. Nearly every month scientists uncover new findings about possible causes of the disorder and new treatments to help alleviate symptoms. To stay up with the latest and greatest research findings, check out professional magazines in the field of psychology and psychiatry.
Start with The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuro-sciences, the American Journal of Psychiatry, and Neuropsychology. You can also find breaking news on the latest studies and research in consumer magazines like Science and Psychology, newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, and in hundreds of other publications.
Medical search databases are another way to find a wealth of information on adult ADHD research and studies. By simply typing in “adult ADHD,” you'll get instant access to articles and abstracts from a variety of magazines and newspapers.
Some of the best medical website databases include the U.S. National Library of Medicine (