Adult ADD/ADHD comes with a myriad of challenging symptoms, ranging from extreme procrastination to impulsive behaviour, all of which can have a devastating impact on the person’s life and relationships.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom – there are skills a person can learn which can go a long way to helping curb the symptoms and negative impact of ADD/ADHD.
Myths about Self-Help for Adult ADD/ADHD
Myth: Medication is the only way to solve ADD/ADHD
Fact: Medication can help some people manage the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, it is not a cure, nor the only solution. If used at all, medication should be taken in combination with other treatments or self-help strategies.
Myth: Having ADD/ADHD means you are lazy or unintelligent, so you won’t be able to help yourself
Fact: The effects of ADD/ADHD may result in you and others labelling you as “lazy” or “unintelligent”, but this is not at all true. Essentially what you have is a chemical problem which effects the management systems of your brain, thus making it difficult for you to function normally.
Myth: A doctor can solve all my ADD/ADHD problems
Fact: Doctors can help you manage the symptoms of your ADD/ADHD but there is no “cure” and there is only so much a doctor and medication can do. Because you are the one living with the problems brought on by the condition, it is largely up to you to work at and find ways of overcoming them.
Segal, R. & Smith, M. (2014). Help for Adult ADD/ADHD – Tips for Managing Symptoms and Getting Focused. Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/add-adhd/adult-adhd-attention-deficit-disorder-self-help.htm [Accessed on: 25 February 2015].
Self-Help Tips for Adults with ADD/ADHD
Getting Organised & Controlling Clutter
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges faced by adults with ADD/ADHD is getting their inattention and distractibility under control. The mere thought of getting organised, be it at home, college or work, can be overwhelming.
However, by learning to break tasks down into small, manageable steps and following a systematic approach, organisation can be achieved.
1. Develop & maintain structure & neat habits
- Create space – ask yourself what you need on a daily basis, and then pack away all the things you don’t need either in a cupboard or storage area. Designate specific areas for specific things e.g. a hook next to the front door for your keys, a specific drawer just for bills etc.
- Use a daily planner or calendar app – the proper and diligent use of a daily planner, desk calendar or calendar app on your smart phone / tablet can be a great help with remembering appointments, lecture times, assessment due dates etc.
- “To Do” lists – drawing up “to do” lists is a useful way of keeping track of things including regular tasks, appointments, deadlines etc. for a particular day or week. If you are already making use of a daily planner either add a “to do” list column to each day or keep your “to do” list in the planner. There are also a variety of free “to do” apps available for both Android and Apple devices.
- Do it now – one way of avoiding forgetfulness, clutter, and procrastination is by doing things right away rather than leaving them for “later”. If a task can be done in two minutes or less (making a phone call, answering an e-mail, putting a load of washing in, packing away stuff) then do it now, instead of putting it off.
2. Get your paperwork under control
- Set up filing system – use colour coded dividers or separate files for different document i.e. your lecture notes. By labelling and using a colour coding system you will be able to find what you are looking for easily.
- Get filing – set aside a few minutes each day (or if that is asking too much, half an hour once a week) and sort out your filing.
Managing your Time & Staying on Schedule
Poor time management is a common symptom of adult ADD/ADHD. This includes losing track of time, missing due dates and deadlines, procrastinating, underestimating the amount of time needed for a task, or doing things in the wrong order. Another common problem for many ADD/ADHD sufferes is spending too much time on a single task (hyper-focusing) to the extent that nothing else gets done.
Below are some tips to help with managing your time and prioritising what needs to get done first.
1. Time Management Tips
- Become a clock watcher – use a wrist watch, cell phone clock, desk clock or any highly visible clock to help you keep track of time. When starting task, make a note of the time by writing it down somewhere you can see it.
- Use timers – allocate yourself a limited amount of time for each task you need to attend to and use a timer or alarm to alert you when your time is up. For longer tasks, set an alarm that goes off at regular intervals so as to help keep you productive and aware of how much time you have left.
- Give yourself more time than you need – adults with ADD/ADHD often have difficulty with estimating how much time they will need to complete a task. For every thirty minutes you think it will take to get somewhere or to complete a task, add an additional ten minutes.
- Plan to be early – write down appointments for 15 minutes earlier than they are i.e. if you have an appointment for 09h30, put it in your diary for 09h15. Set alarms / reminders to ensure that you leave on time and prepare everything you need to take with you ahead of time (books, keys, notes etc.) so that you don’t waste time getting your stuff together when you should already be on your way.
2. Prioritising Tips
Adults with ADD/ADHD often struggle with impulse control (impulsivity) and are prone to jumping from one task or idea to another, without completing what they were originally working on. Completing tasks, especially large projects, can be challenging.
- Decide on what needs to be done first – ask yourself: “what is the most important task that needs to be completed?” (note: the question is: “What is important” not “What is the easiest / more fun to do“). Rank your tasks in order of importance and then set up a schedule whereby you address them in order, from most down to least important.
- Do things one step at a time – big tasks can be overwhelming, break them down into smaller, manageable steps.
- Don’t get sidetracked – stick to your schedule and use your timers to keep you focused and on task.
3. Learn to say “No”
Because adults with ADD/ADHD tend to be impulsive, they often end up agreeing to too many things resulting in their schedule overflowing with work and social commitments. This in turn leads to them feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with everything that is being asked of them.
Turning things down and saying “no” will help you to improve your ability to complete tasks on time, keep your social life alive, and live a healthier (and hopefully less stressed) lifestyle. Before responding to an invitation or committing to a new project, check your schedule first.
Staying Focused & Productive
1. Get rid of distractions
- Where you study / work matters – if you don’t have your own room, consider making use of an empty lecture room or the library to get your work done during the day, while you are on campus. When attending lectures, sit close to the lecturer and away from people / friends who chat and distract you.
- Minimize external distractions – face your desk against a wall and keep it free of clutter or anything that may distract you. If necessary, keep your door closed and place a “do not disturb” sign on it. You may also want to consider putting your phone on silent so that you cannot be disturbed by incoming calls / SMS’s / Whatsapp etc. If you like to listen to music while you work opt for music with no singing or words – it will help keep you focused on what you are doing, rather than singing along to your favourite song.
2. Stretch your attention span
- Take notes – during lectures, this will help you focus on what the lecturer is saying.
- Repeat directions – if you are given verbal instructions or directions, repeat them out aloud to make sure you got them right.
- Move – to deal with restlessness and fidgeting, move around – obviously don’t do this unless the timing and place is appropriate and you are not disturbing those around you e.g. between lectures, if the lecturer gives you 5 minute comfort break during a 2 hour session etc.
Symptoms such as: lack of attention, being easily distracted and hyperactivity are often made worse by lack of sleep, unhealthy eating habits and inactivity (too little exercise). The following tips are aimed at helping you set up regular routines which will aid in keeping you calm, reduce anxiety and avoid mood swings.
Exercise is the healthiest and easiest way of addressing hyperactivity and inattentiveness. Exercise relieves stress, calms the mind and boosts your mood.
- exercise daily
- choose something vigorous and that interests you
- exercise outdoors whenever possible – this will feed your need for visual stimulation and thus help keep you focused on what you are doing
- consider relaxation exercises such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, which will teach you greater self-control and concentration
2. Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation can aggravate ADD/ADHD symptoms, thus reducing your ability to focus and cope during the day.
- avoid caffeine after 3pm
- exercise regularly and vigorously but not one hour before going to bed
- create a predictable and calming bed time routine
- take a warm shower or bath before going to bed
- stick to a regular sleeping and waking schedule
3. Watch what you eat
- eat small, healthy meals throughout the day
- avoid sugar as much as possible
- eat fewer carbohydrates and increase your protein intake
*The information contained in this post is for informative purposes only and is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
Segal, R. & Smith, M. (2014). Help for Adult ADD/ADHD – Tips for Management Symptoms and Getting Focused. Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/add-adhd/adult-adhd-attention-deficit-disorder-self-help.htm [Accessed on: 25 February 2015].