Medication might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about treatment for ADHD. You might also think of therapy and ADHD Coaching as means of treatment.
True, these are the standard methods of treatment, and the only ones that are fully supported by scientific research as effective treatments in the long term. And for many with ADHD these form the cornerstone of a holistic treatment plan.
However, if you consider treatment as a means of reducing the ADHD symptoms that cause you to struggle in your daily life, the options available become more plentiful.
You might even be surprised at some of the options I’ve included below. While others may appear to just be common sense.
I certainly encourage you to explore the many different ways of managing your ADHD. At the same time you should also exercise caution, and carefully research your options before making a commitment.
Using Your Strengths
When exploring treatment options, I think the first step should be being aware of and developing your strengths.
While not necessarily a means of reducing your symptoms, operating from your strengths allows you avoid having to compensate for your weaknesses, which include the ADHD symptoms that you find challenging.
As Drs Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, authors of Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction point out:
The best way to change a life of frustration into a life of mastery is by developing talents and strengths not just shoring up weaknesses.
Positive psychology researcher Alex Linley, author of Average to A+ Realising Strengths in Yourself and Others, describes a strength as:
…a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development, and performance.
Relying more on your strengths then becomes part of treating your ADHD!
Once you identify your assets, you can focus on understanding how you can use these skills to help you accomplish your current goal(s). You may even possess strengths that you utilize in one area of your life that you do not yet see how you can apply to other areas.
Think about how your strengths are transferable among different tasks.
1. To start with the most obvious, what are your strengths? This is not a time to be modest!
2. What activities capture your attention and keep you consistently engaged? What are your strengths related to these activities?
3. What are your passions? What are your strengths related to these passions?
4. What types of tasks do you learn and understand quickly, and approach the challenge with a sense of joy? Again, what are your strengths related to these tasks?
5. When are you most effective and efficient? What strengths are you using during these times?
If you are not able to answer the above questions on your own, ask one of your “fans,” such as a friend or family member, to help you. Of course, if your fans do not have the capacity to help you in the way that you need, you may want to think about investing in professional help, such as a coach or therapist.
There are also many assessments available to help you find out more about your strengths.
Another interesting test is the The VIA Survey of Character, if you want to find out more about your character strengths.
However you decide to explore your strengths, remember that they are not fixed. Once you have an understanding of your strengths, you can choose to develop and utilize those specific strengths that you think will be most useful to you.
Forming connections may also seem odd to include in an article covering forms of treatment for ADHD.
Yet, when you are connected to others you are generally happier and more content. And fulfilling your own emotional needs is one of the most important factors in being at your best.
When you are at your best or at least in a good place, you are able to progress toward your goals more efficiently and effectively. That is, you have more energy and creativity to pursue your goals, in spite of challenges, like ADHD.
Spending time with supportive friends and family will not only meet your emotional needs, but will also help you feel less stress. This is certainly a good antidote for the stress you may feel in attempting to manage your ADHD.
Dr. Edward Hallowell notes that our connection with others is critical to our well being. It is so important that “making sure you keep up regular contact with a few good friends” is included on his list as one of the seven habits of highly effective adults with ADHD.
So, take out time to connect with friends and family.
1. Who are people you would like to connect with more?
2. What is one step you could take in the next two weeks to make that connection
Of particular interest to those with ADHD is that exercising leads to an immediate increase in the levels of the neurotransmitters, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Thus, in the short term, exercise can have the same effect as the various stimulant medications, like Adderall and Ritalin, resulting in a temporary improvement in attention and mood.
Exercise also helps to wake up the executive function component of the frontal cortex, which is under stimulated in those with ADHD. With this improved functioning, there is the potential for better decision making. You may find that you are able to slow down, evaluate your options and make better choices.
With an increased capacity to slow down, you can also curb your impulsivity and need for immediate gratification, both common ADHD symptoms. Being able to curb these symptoms gives you even more opportunities to make choices that work for you.
Of course, there are many benefits to exercising other than managing your ADHD
1. What outcomes of exercising would be most important to you?
2. If you are not exercising now or not enough, what you would like to do to begin?
3. What could help you get started?
4. If anything is getting in your way, what could you do to change this?
Lack of sleep can make your ADHD symptoms worse. You may already have a compromised ability to process information, focus your attention and manage your emotions, a few of the ADHD symptoms. Lack of sleep, as you know, will exacerbate these symptoms.
Conversely, you know that adequate sleep can help you manage your emotions, attend better and process information to the best of your ability.
Some of the following may make it harder for you to get a adequate night’s sleep.
- Using electronics, computer or games and, yes, even TV before bed stimulates your brain just when you want to slow down
- Rigorous exercise before bed can also stimulate your brain. Though for some, cardio exercise is helpful.
- Becoming engaged in any activity whether for work or pleasure that stimulates you will make it harder for you to get to sleep.
- Also, if you are taking stimulant medication, the timing of when you take it is important, as taking it too late in the day can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
So, having a good sleep routine is important to being able to get enough sleep and manage your ADHD symptoms.
1. If you are not getting enough sleep, how might getting more sleep help you?
2. What changes would you need to make to get more sleep?
3. What would you need to do to make these changes?
4. What other information or help do you need to make a plan?
You already know that nutrition, like sleep, has a direct impact on how your well-being and how well you operate.
While most of what is known about the impact of nutrition on ADHD is not conclusive, there is some research that supports the claim that nutrition can impact your ADHD.
I think it is at least worthwhile to consider how you may want to alter your eating patterns to manage your ADHD symptoms.
And, as you experiment with your nutrition, you may also want to enlist the help of a nutritionist who can help you distill the information and make appropriate choices.
We know that eating too many carbohydrates can make you sleepy.
But eating the right amount of complex carbohydrates may have a calming effect in those with ADHD by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, found to be deficient in those with ADHD.
This is supported by the studies of neuroscientist Richard Wurtman, Ph.D. of MIT who found that carbohydrates can serve to boost the neurotransmitter, serotonin.
Before you start carbo loading, consider the type of carbs you are eating.
Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly when your body may not need the energy and is often stored as fat. It can also cause your blood sugar to spike, which can cause your energy level to be more erratic. Examples of simple carbohydrates are white flour, and anything that contains a lot of sugar, such as candy, pastries and soda.
Complex carbohydrates, starches, are broken down more slowly and provide a more steady supply of energy needed to help focus. Therefore, consuming more complex carbohydrates and fewer simple carbohydrates may help you with your ADHD symptoms. Examples of complex carbohydrates are whole wheat, brown rice, oat meal and all legumes, such as bean and lentils.
There is also enough credible evidence to suggest that eating the recommended amount of protein can help you be more alert and focused.
Wurtman’s studies have also shown that ingesting protein “triggers the synthesis of alertness-inducing neurotransmitters,” dopamine and norepinephrine – two of the neurotransmitters that also have been found to be deficient in those with ADHD.
So, if you need to operate at your best during the day, the evidence, both research and anecdotal, suggest it is important to eat a high protein and low carb breakfast and lunch. Doing so can help to increase your ability to focus during the most critical parts of your day.
The Good Fats
Yes, there are good fats!
Particularly, Omega-3 fatty acids have been touted by many as an effective supplemental treatment for ADHD. While there is no conclusive scientific evidence at this time to support this claim, there are supportive studies and a great deal of anecdotal evidence that have shown promising results.
I think it is worthwhile to investigate and consider increasing the amount of Omega-3s to your diet, particularly the EPA and DHA forms.
Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), essential to the health of your body, including your brain. In fact, your brain is about 60 percent fat, with Omega-3s being the most abundant fat in your brain. Moreover, Omega-3 is critical for effective communication and transmission between brain cells.
In order it increase your level of EPA and DHA omega-3s fatty fish are recommended, such as anchovies, carp, halibut, herring, lake trout, mackerel, salmon, striped sea bass, tuna (albacore), and whitefish.
1. If there are any changes you would like to make your diet, what are they?
2. In addition to helping you manage your ADHD, how might these changes benefit you?
3. What support or resources do you need in order to commit to and follow through in making these changes?
Since it is challenging to get adequate levels of the EPA and DHA forms of Omega -3 from your current diet, you may choose to take a fish oil supplement.
In fact, fish oil supplement is the only supplement shown to potentially reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Though there are plenty of other supplements on the market, there is no evidence that any other supplement does indeed reduce the symptoms of ADHD.
Even in the case of fish oil supplements, it is unclear what the correct dosage should be or whether one brand is better than another. In addition, there is the potential for fish oil supplements to exacerbate a preexisting condition or interfere with some medications.
So, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider before taking this or any other supplement. Your healthcare provider can also help you determine the best dose.
What if you did not have to take or do anything? Just be! Having ADHD often means having a very active mind! You knew that.
And if you can slow down and clear your mind, even for a brief time, you may find that you can bring more clarity your thinking. This clarity may be absent when your mind is in the spin cycle.
Preliminary research also shows that meditation may lead to structural changes in the brain, resulting in a reduction of ADHD symptoms, such as inattention and impulsivity. At the very least meditation is a way to create mindfulness on a regular basis. And it will not have an adverse affect on your well being. Can’t hurt, right?
And, yes, you can do this even if you have ADHD!
Before you dismiss this suggestion as being preposterous for a person with ADHD, take a look at Jon Kabatt-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go There You Are. He demonstrates how you can meditate even for a short time and still reap the benefits. You will see that you can incorporate meditation into your life in a way that works for you.
Not ready? Try One-Moment Meditation. It is a fun helpful way to be more mindful.
This option will take much more of a commitment on your part.
Neurofeedback training is designed to change the electrical frequency of the brain. The goal as a treatment for ADHD is to increase attentiveness and decrease hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
If you look into neurofeeback, you will find claims from some that it was positively life changing. You will also find statements from others who maintain that it did not work at all.
In addition to the conflicting anecdotal claims, to date there have been no scientific studies showing its long term effectiveness. And the process is very costly and time consuming.
However, if you do consider this treatment, it is worth noting that there are no negative side effects. So, it is up to you to weigh out the potential costs and benefits.
Brain Training Software
Another alternative that has gotten a lot of press is brain training software.
The only one that seems to be effective in the long term and is backed by solid scientific research is Cogmed Training to improve working memory.
According to Cogmed, 80% of “users see measureable improvements.” And the research shows that the improvements are not only seen in the game, but also in real life improvements in working memory for users.
1. What questions do you have regarding the various forms of treatment?
2. What resource can you access to get your questions answered?
3. Which of your ADHD symptoms would you like to better manage?
4. What do you want to include as part your holistic treatment plan for managing your ADHD?
As you can see when it comes to treatment for ADHD, you have a lot of options. And I have only covered the ones I think are the most credible.
While all the above may help you manage your ADHD, most are just good ideas for healthy living.
But with some, like neurofeedback, brain training software or supplements you will have to give more careful consideration in deciding whether to try them.