Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms can easily disrupt your daily life. Fortunately, there are many ways you can successfully manage your symptoms.
Below, experts — some of whom have ADHD — share their best strategies.
1. Accept your diagnosis. ADHD is not a death sentence, said Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “It is simply a way the brain is wired.”
Accepting your diagnosis is key because it paves the way to positive action, such as learning about ADHD and finding strategies that work for you. As he said, “Acceptance does not mean that you love every aspect of something. It means that you recognize that it is what it is.”
Click through to read 11 more great tips…
2. Practice good self-care. “People with ADHD tend to become hyper-focused on tasks they really enjoy, and can forget to eat, rest and even go to the bathroom, according to Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a psychotherapist and author of 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD.
She suggested checking in with yourself throughout the day. “See if you are thirsty, hungry, tired or have a full bladder.” Be sure you’re also prepared. For instance, if you tend to forget to eat and suddenly feel ravenous, carry snacks with you, Sarkis said.
Exercise also is key for ADHD. Sarkis exercises every day because it helps her focus and get a good night’s rest.
Taking care of your health makes it easier to manage everything else. “If self-care comes first, our ability to cope with our ADHD by establishing new habits and creating more structure in our daily lives will go smoother,” said ADHD coach Sandy Maynard, MS.
3. Get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. For instance, being tired affects your attention span, memory and complex problem-solving, said Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook.
Also, when you haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep, it’s hard to determine whether your medication is working, Maynard said.
Unfortunately, people with ADHD tend to have sleep problems or sleep disorders, Olivardia said. Fortunately, sleep issues are treatable. Sometimes, all you need is to adjust your habits. (Here’s more on sleep problems and insomnia.)
4. Use pill containers. People with ADHD either tend to forget to take their medication or take it twice, Sarkis said. She suggested buying three weekly pill containers and filling them up at the same time. Not only does this keep you organized, but it also lets you know when you’re running out of medication, she added.
5. Control your impulses. According to Olivardia, people with ADHD “are at higher risk for various addictions.” He suggested “Know[ing] where your vulnerabilities lie” and “Seek[ing] forms of healthy stimulation to keep your mind’s arousal high, such as music, exercise, laughter and puzzles.”
6. Keep a “master list.” Sarkis uses a spiral notebook for her “master list,” where she lists any ideas or tasks that pop into her head. Writing down her thoughts helps her “create more brain space, and it stops the phenomenon of having a really great idea and then having it disappear.”
Psychotherapist and ADHD coach Terry Matlen, ACSW, suggested recording important phone calls or notes, and keeping your notebook in one place in your home, such as your home office. (“This way you will always have a record of phone numbers, resources…at your fingertips,” she said.)
She also suggested keeping a pad of Post-It notes and a pen by every phone. At the end of the day, just transfer the info into your notebook.
7. Keep a planner. As soon as you make an appointment, record it in your planner, Olivardia said. “End each day with looking to the next day’s schedule so you can adequately plan for it,” he said.
If you have a large to-do list and aren’t sure where to start, Matlen suggested asking yourself: “What would make me feel great or relieved right now if that chore was removed from my list?”
It’s also helpful, according to Tuckman, to schedule in “time non-specific” activities – tasks that need to get done sometime during the day or week. For instance, this might include grocery shopping or a report for work, he said. “This way your schedule becomes a hybrid to-do list and makes it more likely that you will complete all those necessary tasks,” he said.
8. Cut clutter. “Visual clutter is overwhelming to adults with ADHD,” said Matlen, also author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD. But so is organizing. That’s why she suggested doing it in spurts.
Start with one room and put everything in either bags or laundry baskets, she said. Then for the next 15 minutes – set a timer – review each bag or basket, and put possessions away, she said. After the timer dings, if you’d like to continue, set it for another 15 minutes, and keep going, she said.
A key step in cutting clutter is to purge unnecessary possessions, Tuckman said. The less you have, the easier it is to get organized – and actually locate what you need. As Tuckman said, “if you can’t find it, then there’s not much point in having it.”
9. Seek support. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get help, Olivardia said. If you’re having a tough time in math, hire a tutor, he said. If there are certain chores you hate or rarely get done, hire a housekeeper, he said.
10. Set alarms. If you tend to lose track of time, Tuckman suggested setting your phone or computer alarm or using a kitchen timer to signal that it’s time to switch tasks.
11. Keep a clock in the shower. “This way you can make sure you don’t linger too long, dreaming up the next new invention, or getting carried away with your karaoke practice,” Matlen said. Look for clocks with suction cups that adhere to tile or glass, she said.
12. Just say no. “People with ADHD tend to be people pleasers and have a tendency to take on too much,” Matlen said. For instance, if you don’t want to bake three dozen cookies for your daughter’s soccer team, tell them you’ll think about it, she said. This gives you more time to mull it over. If you’d still like to help, but baking isn’t your thing, see what else you can do, Matlen said. But if you’re too busy, just ask to be contacted next time, she added.