Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD, is a mental disorder that is common in both children and adults. People with ADHD have difficulty maintaining attention, are hyperactive and/or impulsive, and are usually easily frustrated and disorganized.
Many children, like 8-year-old Justin, are diagnosed early – some as early as three years old. For the most part, though, a diagnosis of ADHD comes in the kindergarten or early elementary phase when kids’ behavior – that which may be deemed abnormal or disruptive – is flagged by parents, caregivers, or teachers. Sometimes, an ADHD diagnosis is delayed, or the potential of a mental disorder disregarded, because symptoms are mistaken as just typical poor behavior for the child’s age range.
“Justin was diagnosed after almost a year of what the school considered unruly, disorderly behavior,” says his mom, Kim. “He was poking other kids, running out the classroom, constantly questioning his teacher.
“He’s on medication now which has helped tremendously, and the struggle continues, but the truth is that he gets strong every day as a person with what he’s learning about himself and (this disorder). There’s a mountain of ways to deal with ADHD. We learned not to turn away any tips, even the unsolicited ones – you’d be surprised what helps.”
Anton, a salesperson at an office supply company, has ADHD too. Unlike Justin, he was diagnosed in adulthood, which came as a relief to him – but which also came with a set of new fears and frustrations.
“I went through a period of disbelief, but it was fleeting,” admits Anton. “After the initial shock of, ‘What? Isn’t (ADHD) a kid thing you outgrow?’ it suddenly occurred to me that I could breathe… the weight of all these lifelong difficulties had a name.
“My therapist told me, ‘Now that you know, now your life will change for the better.’”
If you’re an adult with ADHD, you may be frustrated, tired, afraid and overwhelmed. The symptoms sometimes seem to overcome you, and you wonder how you can keep going like this day after day after day. But like Justin and Anton have discovered, there are many ways to handle this disorder. With these ADHD tips, coping mechanisms and strategies, you too can live a full and healthy life.
1) Try not to get frustrated with the day-to-day. Living with ADHD is a marathon, not a sprint. There are going to be great days and there are going to be days when things are rough. Focus and celebrate small successes throughout the day, and while keeping your eye on the prize - your long game – don’t let it overwhelm you.
“On my really bad days, I feel like a total failure,” admits Anton. “I feel alone, disconnected, and like I’m not in charge of my head or my body. I have a lot of days like that, but I have to remind myself this isn’t forever. Bad days are just that – they’re bad days. The best thing I can do for myself is own it. I can own that it’s a bad day, accept I don’t feel great, go to bed and hope that the next day is better.
“And you know what? It usually is.”
Often, when you’re frustrated with day-to-day duties and how you’re thinking of or dealing with them, it could be because you’re overwhelmed with the big picture. Try breaking down your day or your daily projects into smaller chunks. For example, you might wake in the morning and know you have to get breakfast ready for the kids, drive them to school, make it to work on time, get payroll submitted for your team, wrap up your latest presentation, get to your dentist appointment… you get the idea. This is overwhelming for anyone, least of all someone with ADHD.
Take one step, one breath at a time, and enjoy the present moment. When you rise, be aware of your surroundings. Enjoy a hot cup of coffee while getting breakfast ready, and take in the sight of your children, who you know you love more than anything in the world. Sing a song with them in the car as you drive them to school, and mentally record this memory in your mind to replay at a later time. Be conscious of each task and activity you’re taking on and completing, one at a time, throughout the day.
It’s times like these – when you’re overwhelmed and anxious – that experts say taking on an attitude of gratitude is best. We know it’s easier said than done to relax your mind and take it easy, especially on the days you most feel overcome by your symptoms and stress. But it can be done, and it is enormously helpful.
“My therapist – and pastor, actually – recommended mindfulness, the act of being present,” says Anton. “I have to admit that it’s probably harder for me than for the average person to be mindful and meditative because my mind is going a thousand miles a minute. So it takes practice. But the reality that I’m ok in this moment, that just my mind is racing and my body doesn’t have to… it is so calming and really gets me through.”
2) Always remember your strengths. ADHD can really bring into focus the things that we’re not good at: the forgetfulness, the agitation, the impulse control issues, the struggle with deadlines. It’s important to remember the good things that we bring to the table – our worth, our strengths, and our contributions. ADHD thought patterns can be negative – but there’s no reason your thoughts have to stay that way.
Alexandra, a youth ambassador at her local parish, was diagnosed with ADHD when she was 12. Now 17, she journals her daily life with ADHD.
“What I found helpful was getting out of my own head,” she shares. “ADHD is totally real – it’s not imagined, it’s not fake, it’s not a cop-out. But for me, I get that a lot of my thought patterns are my own. I was always like, ‘Oh this person doesn’t like me because I suck,’ or ‘I’ll never get into that club because I’m not good enough.’ I realized that no one had actually ever told me those things but me!
“I forget things but when I remember I do them. I get frustrated but I pull through it anyway. I’m impulsive but I’ve had some exciting experiences because of that trait. I suck at deadlines but I’m thorough and no one will ever tell me I’m submitting anything incomplete.
“For every bad thought I have about myself, I try to come up with a good thought.”
For every time she wants to beat herself up, Alexandra says, she humors herself and writes it down – every complaint, every worry, every sad or awful thing she feels. But her challenge to herself is to write as many words, or as many pages, on the “other side,” the good things that have come from what she’s believed since her childhood as bad things.
“It’s super therapeutic to write things down, even the bad,” Alexandra says. “It’s cool to have a record of when you feel really bad because you can avoid or work through whatever triggered you. But what’s really cool is knowing you have the power to make yourself feel better because you’ve just talked yourself up. No one else is going to be a bigger advocate for you than you are.”
3) Be proactive. You know you have ADHD. Read up on the disorder. Learn about it. You can join support groups, both online and in person, and figure out ways to be the best version of yourself - with ADHD.
There are literally thousands of publications and resources that are dedicated to ADHD and living with the disorder. There are videos, support groups, recreation programs, tutors, coaches, camps, research study groups and professionals whose life’s work is to learn more and educate the public about ADHD.
Beyond learning about ADHD for yourself, you’ll also be doing your entire community a service. There are a lot of myths and half-truths out there about ADHD, despite an abundance of legitimate medical information that mental health professionals are trying to share. There is still a stigma surrounding ADHD, one that impacts families and individuals living with the disorder, and it’s bound to cause stress, confusion and frustration for everyone involved. When you are proactive about learning about your disorder, you’re helping throngs of people impacted by ADHD be heard by the community at large.
4. Sleep. Sleep is a beautiful thing. Sleep can help us to recharge our batteries, relax from a hectic day, and readies us for the next one.
But ADHD and sleep don’t always get along. Those with ADHD often report sleep disturbances, complaining that they find themselves sleepy when they should be wide awake, or wide awake when they should be fast asleep. Three main sleep issues plague those with ADHD, described here:
Difficulty falling asleep. Most adults with ADHD are unable to “turn off” their minds at night, making sleep an elusive luxury. Some say they get a second wind in the evening, while others admit to feeling tired throughout the day, and are inexplicably energized at night, thanks to runaway thoughts and worries. For some, this is a marker of an anxiety disorder, while for others, it’s part and parcel of having ADHD.
Restless sleep. Restless sleep is characterized by constant tossing and turning, or “light” sleeping (waking to the softest noise). Restless sleep doesn’t actually provide any kind of rest for the sleeper. Rather, it leaves them as tired in the morning as they were when they retired to bed the night before.
Difficulty getting up or waking. The majority of adults who have ADHD will report waking up several times throughout the night until about dawn; at that time, they end up falling asleep hard, so by the time they actually do need to rise – say at 6 or 7 a.m. – it feels like an impossible and maddening task. Because those who constantly wake up throughout the night don’t actually get any rest, they’re often irritable when they get up, and sometimes don’t feel fully functional until about mid-day.
If you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios, try one of these tips to help you get a good night’s rest:
Turn off all electronics at least half an hour before you go to bed
Turn off all lights in your bedroom
Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature – not too hot, and not too cold
Invest in a gravity blanket, which are designed to feel like a hug thanks to their evenly-distributed weight
Try a sound machine, one with sounds that relax you (like a thunderstorm, birds, or soft chanting)
Meditate or exercise before bed
5. Structure is your friend. For those with ADHD, structure is particularly helpful. It assists in curbing the natural impulsivity you might have, and helps you feel grounded and stable.
Some ADHD organization tools include:
Journals or note apps on your smartphone where you can keep your to-do lists and appointments. Those with ADHD tend to need help remembering things, so jotting down what you need to do throughout the day will assist in making sure they get done.
Timers. Sometimes, you may find yourself getting so caught up or engaged in an activity you’re enjoying that you forget about time, or other duties that may be pressing.
Alarms. What good is writing something down if you forget you wrote it down? Alarms help remind you of important appointments, meetings or tasks.
Bags with organizers. If you’re the type to go overboard with keeping, hoarding or carrying items, keeping products in specific bags will help you find things easier and prevent you from getting overwhelmed looking through a mountain of random stuff.
Colored pens and paper. It’s not just kids with ADHD who are intrigued and helped by writing things down with colored pens and paper – colors help keep you interested and the visual variety may help you better remember what you’ve written down.
Post-it notes. It may seem archaic and simple, but many people find sticky notes helpful. As you think of something, jot it down and leave it where you think you’ll need it. For example, if you know you have to defrost meat for dinner, write yourself a note and stick it on the freezer. If you have to pick someone up from the airport, throw a Post-it note near your keys.
For more tips on how to deal with ADHD, visit us at www.hopetherapyandwellness.com. We also invite you to contact us for a free 15-minute phone consultation with one of our therapists.