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10 ways to improve your symptoms if you’re an adult with ADHD

Medically reviewed by C. Fookes, BPharm Last updated on Apr 26, 2019.

1. What works for one person may not work for all

There are a number of different medicines used to treat ADHD but what works for another person may not work as well for you. It can take your doctor some time to find the right medication for you, so its important you feedback to them how you are feeling on the medicine that they have prescribed.

There are two main types of medicine used to treat ADHD; stimulants and non-stimulants.

Stimulants include:

Non-stimulants include atomoxetine (Strattera).

Talk to your doctor about the possibility of switching medicines if you think your medicine has not improved your symptoms or you are experiencing intolerable side effects. 1

2. Medication is just one tool used in the treatment of ADHD

Medication tends to only help symptoms like attention, concentration and focus. Which leaves symptoms such as disorganization, procrastination, or impulsiveness untreated.

There’s a lot you can do to help yourself. Filing cabinets can help you to be more organized by providing a way to sort out paper clutter. Calming yoga or meditation classes can improve your concentration and focus and lead to less procrastinating. Ensure you schedule in regular meal-times and eat plenty of vegetables and fiber. Cut down on sugar and ensure water is your main drink. Exercise every day and consider budgeting advice if you have difficulty managing your money. 2

3. Long-acting medication may control symptoms better than short-acting medication

Levels of a medicine in your body can be likened to a wave. Just before your next dose, the wave is at its lowest point (this means that the medicine is at its lowest level in your body). Two to four hours after taking a short-acting medicine, the wave has peaked, corresponding to the highest amount of medicine in your body.

Long acting forms of ADHD medication use special coatings or matrix-like cores to slowly release the drug they contain over 24 hours. This evens out the peaks and troughs associated with taking a drug two or three times a day. Many patients report improvements in mental focus and hyperactivity with 24-hour release medication when compared with taking multiple daily doses of a short-acting medicine.

Ask your doctor if taking a more slowly releasing version of your medication would benefit you. 3

4. Create lists to keep you on task

It can be a real challenge to stay focused and complete tasks when you have a disorder that gets in the way.

Download a “Things to do” app on your phone or tablet or carry a notebook and pen in your pocket and document everything you need to do that day. Prioritize tasks and aim to get through a certain number each day. If a task can be done in two minutes or less then do it at that moment, rather than leaving it for later. 4

5. Sunlight and fresh air helps boost your mood

Getting outside and exercising every day can be a real mood lifter. Even in winter if you dress warmly there is nothing quite like a walk in the crisp air on a sunny day. As well as lifting your mood, exercise also helps reduce hyperactivity and inattention.

Choose an activity that you really like doing and consider asking a friend to join you. The more vigorous and fun the activity, the more effective it is at burning up excess energy and feelings of aggression. Exercise also helps relieve stress and sleeplessness as well as being good for your overall health. 4

6. Erratic eating makes you more distracted and less focused

Don’t wait until you are starving to eat. Schedule regular meal times and keep healthy easy snacks within reach to avoid running to the nearest vending machine.

Healthy meals that include lots of vegetables and complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread provide long lasting energy and more stable sugar levels in the blood which improves your emotional health and decreases hyperactivity. 4

7. Too much sugar and deficiencies in iron and zinc may increase hyperactivity

It’s not only how you eat it’s what you eat. A diet high in processed foods and soft drinks may cause peaks and troughs in blood sugar, and trigger periods of hyperactivity.

Deficiencies in some vitamins such as iron, and zinc may increase levels of apathy and tiredness. Many studies have attempted to investigate the possible link between artificial flavoring and coloring and ADHD. Unfortunately, most of these studies were flawed in their design or of poor quality, so it has been difficult to draw firm conclusions from them. However, it does appear that artificial coloring is more of a general public health problem, having a negative effect on most children's' behavior that is not confined to those actually diagnosed with ADHD. Artificial flavorings and coloring should be avoided wherever possible.

Promising effects have also been noted with magnesium, vitamin B6, and L-carnitine supplementation; however, more research is needed. Talk to your doctor about which dose is best for you if you wish to take supplements. 1,5

8. Fish oil supplements may help you focus

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve behavior and academic performance in some people with ADHD.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, walnuts, flax seeds and canola oil. Fish oil supplements are an easy way to boost your intake of omega-3’s but check what dosage is best for you with your doctor first. 6

9. Valerian, roman chamomile, lemon balm and passionflower are all herbs with calming properties

A nice hot cup of calming herbal tea can be a good way to wind down at night after a stressful day.

Several herbs have calming properties and may help relieve stress and improve sleep. Herbs still have side effects and the potential to interact with some medicines so always ask your doctor before taking herbal supplements. 7

10. A good nights’ sleep can vastly improve ADHD symptoms

You may have already found out the hard way that staying up all night isn’t helpful if you have ADHD. Sleep deprivation can reduce your ability to cope with stress or maintain focus during the day.

Research has shown that inattention scores in people with ADHD correlate with excessive daytime sleepiness. To improve your sleep, exercise daily (but not within an hour of bedtime); avoid caffeine at night; create a predictable bedtime routine (such as having a shower or bath, listening to some quiet, soothing music); and stick to a regular sleep and wake-up time, even in the weekends. 8

11. CBD oil and ADHD

Cannabidiol (CBD) is obtained from hemp which is almost devoid of THC, which is the chemical in marijuana that gives you a high. In fact, by law, hemp must contain no more than 0.3 percent THC to be considered hemp, otherwise, growers are at risk of prosecution under federal law.

This means that CBD does not have any psychoactive properties. Small studies have shown a beneficial effect for CBD for relieving anxiety, inflammation, insomnia, and pain; however, there is not enough evidence to recommend CBD as a treatment for ADHD. Most of the trials that have been done used the whole cannabis plant, with mixed results.

12. Other options to consider

There are many other non-pharmacological treatments that may prove helpful for adults with ADHD.

Weighted blankets (such as SensaCalm) are heavier than normal blankets because they are filled with items such as beads, millet, or rice. These provide deep-touch pressure stimulation that can help people with ADHD focus better when using them. Vests are also available but the same effect may be achieved by filling a backpack with heavy cans or books.

Many people with ADHD can benefit from music or sound therapy because a piece of music is written in a structured and organized way that helps regulate brain pathways. When we listen to music, our brain releases chemicals that help with regulation, memory, and motivation, which is also beneficial.

Sources

  1. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, University of Maryland Medical Center - https://www.umms.org/ummc/health-services/psychiatry/services/child-adolescent/outpatient/adhd-treatment
  2. Short-acting versus Long-acting Medications for the Treatment of ADHD, US NLM NIH - https://misuse.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/error/abuse.shtml
  3. Managing ADHD with Diet, PsychCentral - https://psychcentral.com/lib/managing-adhd-with-diet/
  4. Omega-3 fatty acid treatment of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, US NLM NIH - https://misuse.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/error/abuse.shtml
  5. ADHD and Sleep, National Sleep Foundation - https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/adhd-and-sleep

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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