ADHD symptoms affect all areas of a person’s life. But some symptoms are more intrusive or bothersome than others.
For instance, maybe your distractibility leads to discord with your spouse. Maybe your hyperfocusing leads to an incomplete to-do list. Maybe your disorganization makes it more difficult to get things done at work. Or maybe your hyperactivity keeps you tense and restless.
Below, clinicians, coaches and authors who specialize in ADHD and also have the disorder share their most troublesome symptoms — along with strategies that help.
For psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, one of the most challenging symptoms is focusing on a single task. Two strategies are particularly helpful in sharpening her attention: Taking stimulant medication and having a clean desk.
When she’s working on her computer, she also uses an add-on option for Firefox called “Leech Block,” which blocks specific sites during certain days and times. For instance, you can block a website from Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., said Sarkis, also author of several books on ADHD, including 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD.
Motivation is an issue for Andrew Pebley, M.A., a coach and consultant specializing in working professionals and executives with ADHD. “When I begin to feel unmotivated or unfocused I turn toward myself and control what I can control,” he said. He exercises and eats vitamin-filled foods that he enjoys. He also spends time with loved ones, reads and writes. “This helps me get some of those juices going again.”
“Paper is my nemesis,” said Terry Matlen, ACSW, a psychotherapist and author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD. The clutter gets overwhelming, and so does searching for phone numbers, appointment dates and other reminders, she said.
Fortunately, she’s found a method for the paper madness. Matlen keeps a pad of Post-It notes by the phone in every room for phone messages and reminders. She keeps a notebook in her home office that “never leaves the room.” In it, she jots down longer messages – from meetings, for instance – and dates every page. She also takes all the Post-Its from the other rooms and puts them in her main notebook.
Sari Solden, LMFT, a psychotherapist and author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder and Journeys Through ADDulthood, also has a problem with paper.
“I am highly creative so I create loads and loads of papers filled with ideas,” she said. Because of her visual-spatial issues, she has difficulty making neat piles. So she asks for help. Having someone else create the piles calms her overwhelm and provides a clean start, she said.
If help isn’t available, she takes all the papers on her desk and puts them in a box next to her chair. A clean desk helps Solden think more clearly. Then she slowly goes through the papers. If there’s a lot, she puts on Pandora — to Motown — and gets to work.
“My most troublesome ADHD symptom changes from time to time but, as of late, it’s definitely trouble sleeping,” said Jennifer Koretsky, a senior certified ADHD coach and author of Odd One Out: The Maverick’s Guide to Adult ADD. At bedtime, Koretsky is exhausted. But her mind is in the middle of a marathon.
To help her sleep she practices several strategies regularly. For starters, Koretsky avoids anything stimulating at night. “I don’t watch television shows that are too exciting, I try to avoid heavy conversations, and I resist the urge to start new projects,” she said. She also stops using her computer at 7 p.m. “It’s too stimulating, and too easy to get distracted and lose track of time,” she said.
Koretsky also turns off her iPhone and TV at 10 p.m. That’s when she starts her relaxing bedtime routine. “[I] walk the dogs, take melatonin, brush my teeth, do some relaxing breathing exercises, and then read a book — that is interesting but not too stimulating.”
At 11 p.m., she goes to bed. She also tries to wake up at the same time every morning – and not hit the snooze button. “This is probably the hardest piece for me, but this sleep structure is helpful in the long run,” she said.
“Even in my dotage, I find I really have to work on thinking before acting and avoiding the ready-fire-aim dynamic.” In the past, Ellison didn’t hesitate to send emails when she was upset (which she’d regret).
Today, she plays a computer game called “Color Match” — a version of the Stroop test — which aims to provide extra time between your thoughts and your actions.
Your most challenging ADHD symptoms may differ from the experts above and from others. And, as Koretsky pointed out, they may change from time to time. Pinpoint the symptoms that seem to cause the most problems in your life, and consider specific solutions. If you aren’t already, work with a clinician or ADHD coach. Even small changes can play a pivotal role in minimizing your symptoms — and improving your life.