How to deal with ADHD (or ADD)

If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), previously known as ADD, everything from paying the bills on time to keeping up with work, family, and social demands can seem overwhelming. ADHD can present challenges across all areas of life and can be tough on your health and both your personal and on-the-job relationships. Your symptoms may lead to extreme procrastination, trouble meeting deadlines, and impulsive behavior. In addition, you may feel that friends and family don’t understand what you’re up against.

Fortunately, there are skills you can learn to help control your symptoms of ADHD. You can improve your daily habits, learn to recognize and use your strengths, and develop techniques that help you work more efficiently, maintain organization, and interact better with others. Part of helping yourself may also include educating others to help them understand what you’re going through.

Change won’t happen overnight, though. These ADHD self-help strategies require practice, patience, and, perhaps most importantly, a positive attitude. But by taking advantage of these techniques, you can become more productive, organized, and in control of your life—and improve your sense of self-worth.

Tips for getting organized and controlling clutter

The hallmark traits of ADHD are inattention and distractibility—making organization perhaps the biggest challenge adults with the disorder face. If you have ADHD, the prospect of getting organized, whether it be at work or home, may leave you feeling overwhelmed.

However, you can learn to break tasks down into smaller steps and follow a systematic approach to organization. By implementing various structures and routines and taking advantage of tools such as daily planners and reminders, you can set yourself up to maintain organization and control clutter.

Use a calendar app or day planner

Effective use of a day planner or a calendar on your smartphone or computer can help you remember appointments and deadlines. With electronic calendars, you can also set up automatic reminders so scheduled events don’t slip your mind.

Use lists

Make use of lists and notes to keep track of regularly scheduled tasks, projects, deadlines, and appointments. If you decide to use a daily planner, keep all lists and notes inside it. You also have many options for use on your smartphone or computer. Search for “to do” apps or task managers.

Deal with it now

You can avoid forgetfulness, clutter, and procrastination by filing papers, cleaning up messes, or returning phone calls immediately, not sometime in the future. If a task can be done in two minutes or less, do it on the spot, rather than putting it off for later.

Set up a filing system

Use dividers or separate file folders for different types of documents (such as medical records, receipts, and income statements). Label and color-code your files so that you can find what you need quickly.

Tips for managing your time and staying on schedule

Trouble with time management is a common effect of ADHD. You may frequently lose track of time, miss deadlines, procrastinate, underestimate how much time you need for tasks, or find yourself doing things in the wrong order. Many adults with ADHD spend so much time on one task—known as “hyperfocusing”—that nothing else gets done. These difficulties can leave you feeling frustrated and inept and make others impatient. But there are solutions to help you better manage your time.

Become a clock-watcher

Use a wristwatch or highly visible wall or desk clock to help you keep track of time. When you start a task, make a note of the time by saying it out loud or writing it down.

Use timers

Allot yourself limited amounts of time for each task and use a timer or alarm to alert you when your time is up. For longer tasks, consider setting an alarm to go off at regular intervals to keep you productive and aware of how much time is going by.

Give yourself more time than you think you need

Adults with ADHD are notoriously bad at estimating how long it will take to do something. For every thirty minutes of time you think it will take you to get someplace or complete a task, give yourself a cushion by adding ten minutes.

Plan to be early and set up reminders

Write down appointments for fifteen minutes earlier than they really are. Set up reminders to ensure you leave on time and make sure you have everything you need ahead of time so you’re not frantically looking for your keys or phone when it’s time to go.

Because adults with ADHD often struggle with impulse control and jump from one subject to another, completing tasks can be difficult and large projects can seem overwhelming. To overcome this:

Decide what to tackle first

Ask yourself what the most important task is that you need to accomplish, and then order your other priorities after that one.

Take things one at a time

Break down large projects or jobs into smaller, manageable steps.

Stay on task

Avoid getting sidetracked by sticking to your schedule, using a timer to enforce it if necessary.

Learn to say no

Impulsiveness can lead adults with ADHD to agree to too many projects at work or make too many social engagements. But a jam-packed schedule can leave you feeling overwhelmed, overtired, and affect the quality of your work. Saying no to certain commitments may improve your ability to accomplish tasks, keep social dates, and live a healthier lifestyle. Check your schedule first before agreeing to something new.

Tips for managing stress and boosting mood

Due to the impulsivity and disorganization that often accompany ADHD, you may struggle with erratic sleep, an unhealthy diet, or the effects of too little exercise—all issues that can lead to extra stress, bad moods, and feeling out of control. The best way to stop this cycle is to take charge of your lifestyle habits and create healthy new routines.

Eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly can help you stay calm, minimize mood swings, and fight any symptoms of anxiety and depression. Healthier habits can also reduce ADHD symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, and distractibility, while regular routines can help your life feel more manageable.

Exercise and spend time outdoors

Working out is perhaps the most positive and efficient way to reduce hyperactivity and inattention from ADHD. Exercise can relieve stress, boost your mood, and calm your mind, helping work off the excess energy and aggression that can get in the way of relationships and feeling stable.

Exercise on a daily basis

Choose something vigorous and fun that you can stick with, like a team sport or working out with a friend.

Increase stress relief by exercising outdoors

People with ADHD often benefit from sunshine and green surroundings.

Try relaxing forms of exercise

Such as mindful walking, yoga, or tai chi. In addition to relieving stress, they can teach you to better control your attention and impulses.

Get plenty of sleep

Sleep deprivation can increase symptoms of adult ADHD, reducing your ability to cope with stress and maintain focus during the day. Simple changes to daytime habits go a long way toward ensuring solid nightly sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine late in the day.
  • Exercise vigorously and regularly, but not within an hour of bedtime.
  • Create a predictable and quiet “bedtime” routine, including taking a hot shower or bath just before bed.

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