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Here’s How to Manage Your ADHD with Behavior Strategies
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, think that’s what’s going on for you, or you have another issue with similar challenges, the symptoms can be overwhelming and medication, though helpful, isn’t a cure. For me, there’s been a gap between the effect of the meds and what I need in order to be functional.
I still struggle with getting big projects done–procrastinate starting them, can’t get myself to finish the annoying little details once most of the project is completed. I still forget things–like accidentally leaving my husband’s lunch out on the counter overnight instead of in the fridge where it belongs. Yeah, that happened last night.
When it comes to managing your symptoms, behavioral strategies become really important, or so I’ve learned for myself. I’ve discovered some practical tips to help bridge the gap.
Practical Health Strategies for ADHD
Exercise is Your Trump Card
Exercise is good for many things; it’s only to be expected that it’s one of the most helpful things you can do to naturally or behaviorally work with your ADHD. Regular exercise can help you improve focus and memory, calm impulses and reduce hyperactivity. It also helps improve sleep. Daily exercise is the goal but for many people that may not be realistic. Set your sights on exercising more days that not. More vigorous exercise may be most helpful but moving your body more in general is really what we are going for.
Mind Your Diet
Whether you are on stimulants or not on stimulants, your diet is a really important factor in ADHD management. It’s been said that many ADHDers (myself included) tend to crave carbs and sugar but all the simple sugars really mess with your attention, focus, impulse control, and hyperactivity. That’s not to say you have to cut out carbs entirely, just that focusing your diet on protein and fiber and choosing complex carbs like brown rice over pasta and pastries is most helpful.
Eat regular. Eat balanced. If you are on stimulants, it’s easy to forget to eat. Don’t fall into that trap. Set a timer if you have to but not eating regularly can decrease the effect of your medication and hurt your body in the process, making you feel weak and dizzy (guilty on that one, but I’ve learned my lesson).
Sleep. Like, good sleep.
Sleep is another one of those things that can help your medication be most effective or hurt it’s impact. If you aren’t on medication, it’s still going to have a significant impact on your ADHD symptoms. We’re fighting an uphill battle as most ADHDers have trouble sleeping according to research. Lucky for you, I wrote an entire post on how to get good sleep. All strategies tested by your’s truly 😉 You can find it here.
How to Use Your ADHD Mind to Your Advantage
The Big, Important Question to Get Things Done
Using this question for myself as been a HUGE help in motivating myself to get things done that I need to get done. Sitting still for long periods of time is hard for me, as you can imagine, and even though I love writing, I don’t always love the process of writing. That’s where I developed this strategy. Let’s say I have to sit down and write my notes (THE WORST! I hate doing notes with a passion but they are an absolutely necessary evil). I have never experienced wanting to do my notes because they are the worst and most of the time I dread them and put off doing them and experience anxiety even at the thought of sitting down to do them.
One day I started asking myself, “what do I need in order to want to do this?”
I couldn’t think of something that would excite me about them but I thought of a few things that you make me dread it less and tolerate it better. I have to ask myself this question every time I have to write notes. Sometimes it’s a trip to the coffee shop to do them in a different environment. Sometimes it’s on my couch with a cup of hot cocoa, a warm blanket and a delicious smelling candle burning. I still didn’t want to do them, but I did want the coffee and the environment and that helped me tolerate the notes.
When my doctor told me I had to start exercising to help with my ADHD symptoms, I was kinda dreading that mostly because I find the gym boring and I don’t run. I asked myself this question and found that it doesn’t feel like exercising when I’m teaching myself gymnastics. Now it’s really easy to get myself to exercise and sometimes it’s actually hard to get myself to stop exercising because it’s something I actually enjoy. I found a way to want to exercise.
This question has been a game changer for me.
Meditate with self compassion
Meditation is a funny topic when it comes to ADHD. It’s one of the most effective strategies for managing ADHD symptoms and yet it’s also harder for ADHDers to meditate than it is for other people. Why? Duh, our attention likes to wander! I have found a few strategies helpful. One, I tend to do better meditating when I’m listening to a meditation and especially when I’m listening to one that is guiding me through imagery. The combination of auditory and imaginary imagery is enough to help me stay *mostly* on track. When my attention wanders, I just gently bring it back knowing that’s just par for the course and I keep going.
Self compassion specific meditation is a really effective form of mindfulness that teaches us to have a better relationship with ourselves and helps us lessen overwhelming and painful emotions and change our self talk. Those of us with ADHD are often pretty hard on ourselves when it comes to our challenges and the painful experiences we’ve had as a result. Constantly beating yourself up or shaming yourself for the challenges you face (whether ADHD or not) only makes your symptoms worse and creates new problems, too. Mindful Self Compassion has been a huge help to me personally in helping me accept myself as I am–challenges and all–improving my confidence and restoring my sense of worth while lowering anxiety. Check out this website for some beginning exercises and if you like that, check out Kristen Neff’s workbook to go deeper into the practice. I own this workbook and use it regularly.
Recognize Your Strengths
We tend to get bogged down with the challenges we experience and overemphasize the “deficit” part of ADHD. While we definitely experience challenges with the difficulty regulating our attention that sometimes cause friction and disrupt life a bit, it’s important that we don’t get fooled into thinking that these problems are all there is that matters about us and all there is to the ADHD “curse.”
The truth is that while there are some major challenges to having ADHD, there are also some strengths that we have because we aren’t neurotypical. ADHDers tend to be more creative and innovative, many of us make great entrepreneurs, we’re very empathic, tend to be passionate about justice and other things that really matter, and have the ability to learn to live fully in the moment to an extent that is harder for other people.
If you’ve experienced a lot of pain or shame as a result of having ADHD, it’s easy to look at the good things and thing that they don’t matter in comparison to the bad. Just let both be true for you. The good doesn’t cancel out the bad and the bad doesn’t cancel the good–they are both true and they are both significant to you. That subtle shift can make a huge difference in the way you see yourself and your struggles.
The big lesson here is to not let yourself get stuck in the place of only allowing shame and deficit to be valid–whether related to ADHD or not. That’s giving it a bigger place than it should be allowed to have and keeping it in a place of power that holds you hostage. Let your strengths and your abilities be true, too.
Tips For the Biggest ADHD Challenges
How to Use the Hyperfocus to Your Advantage
Hyperfocus, in my experience anyway, is both the most amazing part of ADHD and the worst part of ADHD. At the same time (letting them both be true 😉). Hyperfocus lets me get awesome things accomplished no matter what barriers stand in my way. I’m determined, slightly obsessive (understated for dramatic effect 😂), and I love the feeling of being so into what I’m doing that nothing else exists. Until is 2am and I have to be up in 4 hours. Until I’m trying to transition from what I’m doing to anything else (especially if I’m transitioning to something I really don’t want to be doing anyway). Unless I need to shift my focus and concentration to something else. Hyperfocus feels like a train barreling down a track fast and furious and trying to stop it feels like you’re trying to turn left in a car that just lost it’s power steering.
I’ve learned not to engage hyperfocus within a few hours of bed time. It’s too hard to calm my thoughts down enough to go to sleep. I’ve learned not to engage hyperfocus just before I have to do something really important or requires a ton of concentration. It’s too hard to shift my thoughts and be fully present. I have learned to engage hyperfocus when I have ample time to endulge it and then it feels like self care. I engage hyperfocus as a distraction if I’m anxious about something that I can’t control. I engage hyperfocus as a way to accomplish things that need to happen and further myself or my career. Using it to my benefit is what makes hyperfocus more of a blessing than a curse.
When used right, there is a major upside to hyperfocus.
Bounce, Fidget, and Move to Manage the Restlessness
I get too much energy a lot. Exercise really helps with that but sometimes the restlessness hits in times that I’m supposed to be productive and exercise isn’t an option. As I’m writing this post, I’m sitting on my exercise ball, bouncing when I feel like it, taking a break to balance myself for a few seconds here and there because doing so helps me work with the hyperactivity to remain productive without so much discomfort.
When bouncing isn’t an option, I twist my wedding band around my finger or play with my hair or I use squishy toys to work out some energy because doing so helps me stay focused when I’m concentrating deeply. Using a standing desk to work allows me to balance on one foot or do calf raises or take a moment to do a cartwheel to work out excess energy. I’m much more productive and less likely to get distracted by all the other things I’d rather be doing when I give myself the space to do these things.
Use Accountability and Competition to get Things Done
ADHDers are often competitive. The good news is, this can be used to your advantage to help you get things accomplished that you really don’t want to do. I mentioned that I hate note writing–one helpful strategy has been to have a race with a colleague to see who can get their notes done first. If you aren’t competitive or don’t like the feeling of being in competition, that same colleague can function more like an accountability partner who you know will be checking in with you to make sure you got it done.
This strategy is often used to help people stick with a new exercise regimen or make other difficult changes and it’s effective, which is why we still use it. Adapt it to fit what you need. Maybe have someone check in with you about that project you’ve been meaning to get to or whether you completed your to do list today. Knowing that someone else will be aware of our progress, tends to make us more efficient and effective.
Use Tiles for things commonly lost
You’ve seen these, right? The little squares you can stick on your phone, keys, wallet, or whatever else you have a tendency of losing regularly and you can use an app to make the tile start beeping and help you find what you lost? These things are awesome.
I don’t really lose my keys that much any more since I started hanging them on a hook beside the door (which is also a helpful strategy, btw), but I lose my phone generally about once a day. Once, I lost my phone and didn’t find it for 8 months! It was buried in the couch, apparently. What I would have given to have a tile that day instead of having to spend money on a new phone. Ah well, lesson learned. If you have trouble with finding important things, invest in your new best friend.
Write it Down Because You WILL Lose it
I keep a notebook just about where ever I go. When I forget my notebook, I have an app on my phone that lets me take notes. I tend to experience a lot of anxiety that I’m going to forget important things because I often forget things. I mean, today at lunch I was searching for a straw and in the middle of looking, I forgot what I was trying to find.
That kind of spacing out creates anxiety that you’ve forgotten something more important than a straw and it’s going to bite you in the butt in the near future. So I write everything down. I KNOW I’ll forget it so writing it down helps me keep track of all the important things that I have forgotten and calms the anxiety. It also helps me keep major things from falling through the cracks…most of the time. If you have trouble remembering to look at your notebook or to do list, create a daily reminder to go off a couple times a day to look at your to do list.
Planners and Bullet Journals for Organization
In addition to my to do list, I keep a planner. I have appointments scheduled for most days and I definitely don’t want to forget them. Even with the planner, I sometimes still mess up my schedule but 95% of the time, the planner keeps me on track. I’ve begun experimenting with using the planner more strategically to help me be more effective with other tasks and get less distracted. I typically go for a weekly planner with a good amount of space to write for each day. Like this one.
Let to my own devices, I started writing this post and got lost in researching therapy and coach training for ADHD, then got caught up in a brain teaser game and a show on TV. I’ve started using the planner to separate when I focus on research, when I write posts, when I work on bigger projects (like ADHD coaching), etc..so I’m less likely to get distracted doing a little bit on multiple things that are important and that I want to accomplish.
It’s a bit more organized, which helps so that when I’m writing a post and I get caught up thinking I need to do research on this big project I have, I know that I’ve already planned out time to get to that project and can pull myself back to the task at hand. I’m also experimenting with bullet journaling because it combines organization (which I’m trying to get better at) with creative expression (which I love). Seems like I win win.
Notes on Using Your Phone: Some people like me prefer a physical planner. There’s something about writing it down that helps me remember and it feels more natural to me than using my phone. For other people, using a phone is a better option. If it feels more natural to keep it on your phone or you tend to lose physical planners or need to set reminders for the events on your planner, your phone may be your best option.
Invite people over so it pushes you to clean your house
I’ve been unintentionally doing this for years. I have a hard time keeping my house clean. Partially because I hate cleaning. It’s boring, I’m impatient, and there are literally a million things I’d rather be doing. Also because cleaning involves a lot of things I’m not good at like organization, not getting distracted from one task to another, and I also really hate strong smells or getting damp or wet. Can you tell that I hate cleaning?
The made dash to get the house presentable is the one thing that focuses me enough to get the job done and ignore all the things I hate about cleaning. The time crunch is a pretty solid motivator for me. If your house is a mess, consider inviting a friend for dinner next weekend. In my experience, before she walks in the door, the house will be in pretty good shape.
Make Sure you Stick Around For More!
And there you have it, the beginning guide to managing your ADHD. There will be more coming and you don’t want to miss it, so make sure you head over the the bottom or side of this post and hit that subscribe button!
What do you do to manage your symptoms?