So far this month, we’ve talked about what ADHD is and looked at executive dysfunction—both the good and the bad.
Obviously, we’re looking at more bad than good. One clearly-defined criterion for psych diagnoses is the requirement that symptoms cause distress/make it hard or impossible to accomplish necessary activities of daily living.
But once you have the diagnosis, or once you think you might have ADHD, what can you do about these challenges? Russell Barkley says that ADHD is the most treatable disorder, but what does that really mean?
The Big Four
The first things to look at when considering your ADHD symptoms are diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. Keeping these within healthy ranges will generally help your brain and body function at their best, and that will give whatever treatments you attempt the best chance at helping you manage your symptoms.
A good diet that has lots of protein (not like ridiculously high, just higher than average) is important for good brain function. Other important components here include Omega-3 fatty acids (found in eggs and fish, for the most part; vegans can find it in walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and edamame) and plenty of vegetables, as well as complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole wheat bread and pasta, beans, potatoes).
Regular exercise (especially cardio) is amazingly good for your brain! It wakes up your entire body and keeps dopamine in your system, which is great since dopamine is one of the primary neurotransmitters involved in ADHD. When you exercise regularly, you also make it easier for those dopamine levels to remain higher for longer periods of time.
When we sleep, our bodies do a bunch of things like healing and rejuvenating. Our brains do that, but they also work through all of the events of the day, committing things to long-term memory and stuff like that. We need to make sure we’re getting at least eight hours of sleep per night to make sure our brains are functioning at their best.
Stress, even positive stress, increases cortisol in the body and makes it harder to function normally. Keeping yourself on an even keel can actually help your symptoms a lot, as long as you don’t let things also get boring!
formal diagnosis required
Most of the things you can do to help you manage your ADHD symptoms don’t require a formal diagnosis, but some things do. Namely, accommodations at work or school, and medication.
Medication is still the first (and sometimes only) place people turn. It’s very well-researched, and its effects are fairly well-known. There are many different types of medication available for ADHD treatment, so don’t stop after one failure. There is a fantastic chart linked in the sidebar that outlines the different applicable medications, their typical doses, and expected side effects. It doesn’t go in-depth, but it does give a solid base to work from. I recommend you share it with your doctor.
A good treatment plan will not involve medication only. If you ever have to stop taking medication, you will require strategies to help you maintain your lifestyle. It’s better to establish those strategies while you’re taking effective medication than to wait until you don’t have that support.
Accommodations are things that help you succeed. For example, wearing noise-cancelling headphones if you work in a cubicle so that you can focus on your work; having extensions for school assignment due dates; writing exams in a private room; or bringing a Tangle (quiet fidget toy) to work meetings. You do need a formal diagnosis of ADHD to access accommodations, and you will need to register with your school’s resource teacher (for grade school) or disability centre (for post-secondary), or discuss needed accommodations with HR. None of this guarantees you accommodations, but it is more likely.
Neurofeedback needs to be individualized and administered by a trained practitioner. It uses a variety of computer-based activities to retrain your brain in specific areas of functioning. I do not have personal experience with it yet, but I know a few people who have had good results and hope to finally get the paperwork in so that I can do it soon.
No Diagnosis Needed
The rest of your options can be accessed without a formal diagnosis. I’ve listed them here with what my experience has shown is most effective at the top. That doesn’t mean that the options lower on the list won’t be helpful for you, it just means that I didn’t find them useful.
ADHD coaches help you learn, develop, and implement strategies that work for you, so that you can better manage your ADHD symptoms and be able to do well if you have to stop taking medication. Do be careful about who you hire; coaching is not a regulated profession, so look for someone who has a good track record and has done training in life coaching as well as education in ADHD.
Sometimes you have a lot of stuff you need to work through, so this can be very helpful, whether you see a counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Many professionals in this field will use elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is a type of behavioural therapy where the practitioner (a psychologist or social worker with training in CBT) helps you think through your behaviours and come up with better ways to react to different situations.
If you’re able to meditate, this can be really helpful in getting your mind centred and teaching your brain to actually concentrate or focus on what you want it to.
Mindfulness is about getting us to focus on the actual now and the immediate future, rather than dwelling on the past or thinking really far into the future. Being truly present in the moment instead of jumping ahead in conversations or tuning out because something else caught our attention.
Krill oil (or other fish oil), rhodiola, reishi, and other supplements can be helpful in promoting optimum functioning. Dr Amen also has some suggestions in his book Healing ADHD. (This is the only thing I would suggest Dr Amen for. Many of his ideas, including the many types of ADHD, are fringe.)
Disclaimer: I am not a medical or other type of health care professional. This post is meant to serve as an overview of the different treatments available to ADHDers, not a recommendation or endorsement of any one course of treatment in particular.
There are probably other treatments that I’m not aware of yet. Please comment with anything you’re aware of that isn’t covered in this post.
This week’s printable is a long one, but it’s designed to help you keep track of your various treatment attempts and how they affect your symptoms. It’s fillable, so I recommend saving it before you start filling it out, and name it whatever treatment you’re going to be tracking. You can also print it and keep it in a binder, and bring it with you to your appointments.