10 Things to Try If You're an Adult With ADHD

Here are 10 behavioral interventions, lifestyle changes, and daily strategies that may help you feel more in control of your ADHD.

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be incredibly disruptive in everyday adult life. You may find yourself having trouble focusing, sitting still, maintaining relationships, and completing tasks. This may leave you feeling anxious, depressed, isolated, or just bad about yourself. Luckily, there are strategies that can help you day to day as you navigate life with adult ADHD.
  • Most people with ADHD respond well to medication, although there are other, nondrug options that may help too. Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) likens using medication to wearing glasses -- while medicine won't entirely eliminate symptoms, it can alleviate challenges.
  • You will likely have to combine medication with lifestyle strategies and changes. "Start with treatments we know are effective," says Ari Tuckman, PsyD, the vice president of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. "Then, if you're interested, try some of the alternatives to see if it has any additional benefit."
  • Here are 10 behavioral interventions, lifestyle changes, and strategies that can help you feel more in control of your adult ADHD.
01 of 10

Consider medication

Choosing and finding the right ADHD medication may seem daunting. You have several options, which can be overwhelming but also may serve as good news: you can work with a doctor to find what works best for you.

If you discuss medication with your doctor, they will walk you through possible outcomes and likely put you on a trial so you can notice what helps and what doesn't. Factors to consider include how often you will need to take each type of medication, what each drugs costs, and of course, if you feel improvement. CHADD notes that your medication trial may start with a low dose and then increase on 3-7 day intervals.

So, what are your options? Psychostimulant drugs approved by the FDA for adults with ADHD are the most common first course of action. Psychostimulants increase your brain's production of dopamine and reduce how much dopamine and norepinephrine is reabsorbed into your neurons. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feeling pleasure and motivated, and allows you to better emotionally respond to your surroundings. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter responsible for helping you stay alert and maintain attention.

Commonly prescribed psychostimulants include Adderall XR, Ritalin, Dexedrine, Concerta, Vyvanse, and more. A 2016 study found the most common adverse side effects to these drugs include decreased appetite, stomach pain, insomnia, and headaches.

A non-stimulant drug like Strattera may be a better fit for people who have ADHD and do not respond to psychostimulant drugs. A 2007 study estimates anywhere from 10 to 30% of adults with ADHD do not respond to psychostimulant drugs. In some cases the cause of aversion is unknown; in others, patients are allergic to the psychostimulant or experienced uncomfortable side effects.

Discuss your treatment options with your doctor to determine if medication can help you.

02 of 10

Think about therapy

While medication can improve your ADHD symptoms, you may want to consider pairing it with cognitive behavioral therapy.

This type of therapy aims to help patients change their behavior by focusing on self-image and thought patterns, as well as overcoming obstacles and negative thinking in daily life. This can be particularly helpful to adults with ADHD who are navigating relationships, day-do-day responsibilities, careers, and school. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you understand everyday ways to alleviate your symptoms and improve your inner and outer life.

In fact, a 2020 analysis of 53 peer-reviewed articles on psychological interventions for adults with ADHD determined that cognitive behavioral therapy provided the "strongest empircal support" for adults with ADHD.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is not a replacement for medication, but it can help you modify your behavior, and may be more effective than using medication alone.

03 of 10

Get educated

The more you learn about ADHD, the more aware you will be of your symptoms. This can help you learn how to better manage them. It might make you feel less alone and less like there's something "wrong" about you.

"Learning about ADHD helps you know a little better what strategies tend to work," says Tuckman. It can also reduce feelings of shame or blame, he adds, as patients begin to realize that treating ADHD is not as simple as trying harder to pay attention or caring more about school or work.

CHADD's website is a great place to start learning, as well as the CDC's ADHD hub and NIMH's data collection. You may also find comfort, comraderie, and knowledge in reading first-hand accounts from other adults with ADHD. All over the internet people are sharing their own experiences -- you can likely find someone whose life is similar to your own; they may have strategies that work well for them or other recommendations.

04 of 10

Nurture relationships

Family members, close friends, and romantic partners should also educate themselves about ADHD, says Tuckman. CHADD notes how ADHD can negatively affect your relationships and social skills: you may find yourself talking over people, blurting out your thoughts, talking excessively, being late, feeling heightened emotions, etc. Others may perceive these behaviors negatively or take them personally. This, of course, may make you feel terrible, hated, or lonely. But you deserve love, friendship, and professional success.

Again, therapy and counseling -- for you and your loved ones -- may also help everyone adapt to each other's needs. If you feel comfortable, explain as best you can how your brain works to those closest with you. For example, if your ADHD makes it hard for you to be on time, tell your friend. This way, they won't think you're just dismissing their time.

While it's important you find people who can meet you with empathy and understanding, focusing on your social skills can greatly benefit many of your relationships. Melissa Orlov's The ADHD Effect on Marriage offers coping skills for people with ADHD in partnerships. You can read an excerpt in ADDitude magazine.

Unfortunately, the reality of today means you may not always be capable (nor is your responsibility) to disclose your diagnosis to your friends and colleagues. This is where finding what works for you--whether that be medication, therapy, support groups, or a combination of all three-- becomes essential to you feeling your best self.

05 of 10

Get organized

This, of course, sounds easier than it actually is. If you find yourself feeling forgetful, try writing daily reminders for appointments, meetings, or other responsibilities in a planner or organizer. And get specific about misplaced things, says Tuckman.

"It's not just simple advice, like, 'Find a place to put your keys, wallet, and cell phone when you come in the house,' but specifically, 'Where do you put them?'" Tuckman tells Health. "And once you walk in the door, how many steps do you need to take before you get to [that] designated place?"

When it comes to organization, what works for one person may not work for another. This is true whether you have ADHD or not. Here is where both your therapist and other adults with ADHD can help you. Getting organized may take a lot of trial and error. Don't be afraid to get creative--there's no judgment in what works for you. To get started, CHADD recommends:

  • asking a trusting friend to help you organize your workspace or home (Friends won't feel as sentimental as you may when deciding what to keep or toss.)
  • using a timer or music to help you stay on schedule (for example, you can make a playlist you know is 30 minutes long)
  • break your tasks down into smaller steps (seriously, the smaller, the better!)

A note from us: No one is perfect. As you adapt to new organization tactics, you may get frustrated with yourself. Remember: you are not a failure if you don't complete a task.

06 of 10

Limit distractions

This may sound like advice your teacher or parent would toss at you, but hey, for a lot of people with ADHD, limiting distractions is vital to paying attention and staying focused. CHADD notes that we all have both internal and external distractions. This can be particularly challenging at work or school.

Your therapist may be able to help you identify your own distractions. You may already be aware of a few -- for example, if you work at home, you probably can't have the TV on or door open.

You can also try:

  • noise-cancelling headphones
  • leaving your cell phone in another room
  • turn off social media websites or apps
  • keep a to-do list to combat daydreaming
07 of 10

Take an extra beat before you act

Many adults with ADHD struggle with impulsive speech and actions. It's worth noting people with ADHD are no less intelligent than their peers. Some adults with ADHD just tend to speak reactively and/or bluntly.

This is not easy, but try to teach yourself to take a minute to stop and think before you react. Work with a therapist to change this habit. It might help to write down your first reaction instead of sharing it. CHADD suggests practicing mindfulness and learning your triggers. In a 2007 study where researchers enrolled twenty-four adults and eight adolescents in an 8-week mindfulness training program, they found a majority of participants reported an improvement in task performance, ADHD symptoms, anxiety and depression. In 2012, Lidia Zylowska, MD, creator of UCLA's Mindful Awareness Program for ADHD (MAPS), told CHADD that while more studies are necessary to prove mindfulness' affect on adults with ADHD, there are ways to practice self-coaching mindfulness on your own.

"A mindful self-coaching voice is supportive, compassionate and encouraging, void of self-criticism and harsh personal judgments," Zylowska told CHADD. "At the heart of mindfulness training is acceptance."

08 of 10

Plan ahead

Do you have a long meeting you know will make you feel on edge? Plan ahead for situations that might test your patience.

Keep yourself moving in ways that won't be too distracting to yourself or your colleagues. You can try taking notes instead of fidgeting. Or try fidgeting more covertly; many people find that spinning a pen in their hands under a table can help, says Tuckman. If you feel comfortable and safe, consider explaining your needs to those around you.

"Perhaps just tell people, 'I get antsy during these long meetings, so sometimes I need to move around a bit,'" Tuckman tells Health. "Explain how this makes [you] a better employee or team member so it becomes appealing to the other persons involved."

In other situations, finding a planner that satisfies your brain may help. CHADD suggests testing out paper planners, app planners, and time-management software. It may feel discouraging and frustrating to keep testing out what works, but you could also view it as fun. Adults with ADHD, and professionals who work with them, on social media like TikTok or Twitter may also have creative suggestions for their planning methods.

09 of 10

Get moving

"Who in the world would you not recommend exercise for?" says Tuckman. Cardiovascular-health benefits aside, exercise seems to be helpful for attention, concentration, and learning as well, he says.

While most studies on exercise's benefits on ADHD have been focused on children, early findings show a similarly positive effect in adults from acute aerobic exercise, noting reduced impulsivity and hyperactivity; and improved attention and focus.

While exercising regularly may seem daunting, finding a regimen that works for your lifestyle and abilities could give you time and space to focus on yourself while improving your ADHD symptoms. You can also explore virtual classes or apps if it's difficult to leave your home, find time, or exercise facilities in your location are not fully accessible.

10 of 10

Train your brain

While research supporting the claim is sparse, there are theories that exercising the mind—with tools like crossword puzzles or Sudoku-type games—can improve ADHD symptoms such as poor concentration.

One brand of computer software that does stand the test of science is Cogmed's working memory training, says Tuckman, but little else shows much promise in improving concentration or attention.

These types of games may help you relax or have fun, but they are not replacements for ADHD treatment like medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.

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