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We have a lot of clients that ask, “If I have ADHD, do I have to take medication?” Indeed, medication can be a part of treatment, but when you only take medication to treat the thing you are weak at, it can potentially make you weaker in that area. Dr. Edward Hallowell describes ADHD as having a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes. Part of the process of treating ADHD is working on improving those brakes. Treatment of ADHD is unique for every individual, but we think there are indeed some areas which are true for most people.
- Practice slowing down – Mindfulness may sound like a bunch of yogi hoopla, but there is some wisdom in everyday mindfulness. What is that? It’s doing things like washing dishes and only focusing on that. The ADHD brain tends to operate in a universe of possibilities, and as a result, it can also get frantic and stressful. Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer can be critical in helping people learn to meditate and slow down.
- Learn your cycles – How you study and work best are an essential thing to figure out. We have so many clients who come in and describe an all too familiar scene of years spent struggling with how to best study for class or ways to focus their time at work. They will notice things, like going to the library and sitting at a table and chunking through their work, isn’t the same for them. Some have to quarantine themselves in a distraction-free private study room. Others do better at home where they can take regular brakes every 30 minutes for a few minutes and do a small task. The same is true for finding flow in the workspace.
- Exercise is essential – Dr. Hallowell refers to exercise as the magic tonic for the brain. It was initially thought that the brain didn’t produce new neurons, but a 1999 Salk Institute study showed that exercise helps to induce this process which is now known as neurogenesis. Even walking has been found to boost memory functions like learning and the ability for abstract reasoning. Exercise also increases endorphins which affect mood and increases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. Dopamine, in particular, is essential for people with ADHD as it is in short supply with people who have ADHD.
- Prevent sleep problems – People with ADHD often have sleep problems. This can be difficulty falling asleep, difficulty waking, waking after falling asleep, or even getting tired after periods of hyperfocus. It is also important to rule out things like sleep apnea. We often have people take note of their stimulant use in this area as well as the two can tie together.
- Nutrition is essential – Research has shown that a protein heavy breakfast and lunch is found to boost attention. Some may also have food sensitivities in their diet which could affect mood and focus. Research shows that foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids are found to be important in improving attention as well.
- Medications – There are some medications for ADHD, but we often suggest that clients start with non-stimulant medicines first and then work with their psychiatrist from there. Frequently, the therapist may focus on building up their coping skills so clients will believe in their innate ability to change instead of only having faith in the medication. Medication doesn’t have to be forever, and it’s up to each person to gauge this with their therapeutic support team.
- Make very specific and tangible goals – Since the ADHD mind operates with a vast number of possibilities, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by those thoughts and options. Thus, it becomes very important to focus these goals and break them into smaller steps for success.
- Is technology your friend or enemy – Technology can be a lifesaver and an enemy for those with ADHD. How it can help are things like Google Calendar, Todoist, Leave Now, Headspace, and 30-minute timers. On the negative side, we ask clients to reflect on what pulls them out of the moment and distracts them. This can be things like notifications about Facebook messages, sports updates, emails, or any app notification. We often discuss going on an information diet to see how they can help cut down this process. This could be moving distracting items to one folder and turning off a lot of notifications. It could also go as far as getting rid of a lot of items. In relationships, we often suggest going on a date without a cell phone to aid the process of being more connected to your partner.
These tips are just the beginning of decoding ADHD and learning about how to work with your brain instead of against it. The process of building self-esteem and breaking free from depression, stress, and anxiety will be aided by utilizing counseling. These issues tend to enmesh across friendships, marriages, and work relationships and can be challenging for individuals to work through. Please read more about ADHD Counseling and contact us to make a counseling appointment if you would like assistance.
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