Dec 28, 2021

Ways to Manage Adult ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not just a childhood disease. A little over 4% of the U.S. adult population struggles with ADHD. In addition, anywhere between 50-66% of children diagnosed with ADHD will continue to have symptoms into adulthood. 

While adult ADHD doesn't usually present like childhood ADHD, it can negatively affect social interactions, careers, friendships, and marriages and lead to dangerous behaviors, such as gambling and drug or alcohol abuse.

While there is no "cure" for ADHD, there are ways to better manage your symptoms and prevent  them from disrupting your life. We put together this guide to help you explore options for adult ADHD management and treatment.

What is adult ADHD?

Adult ADHD is a mental health disorder that involves ongoing problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. 

Adult ADHD disrupts the brain's executive functions, including: 

  • judgment

  • decision-making

  • initiative

  • memory

  • ability to complete complex tasks

Research also shows adults ADHD frequently co-occurring with the following comorbid disorders:

  • Bipolar disorder 

  • Major depressive disorder

  • Anxiety disorder

  • Personality disorders

Symptoms of adult ADHD

Common symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Impulsiveness (outbursts may occur for example during shopping, waiting in line, etc.) 

  • Disorganization

  • Poor time management skills and prioritizing

  • Problems concentrating 

  • Inability to multitask

  • Restlessness

  • Low frustration tolerance

  • Frequent mood swings

  • Problems with follow-through and finishing tasks

  • Chronic procrastination 

  • Short temper

  • Trouble coping with stress

Best ways to manage adult ADHD

Typical treatments for adults with ADHD often involve medication, education, skills training, and psychological counseling. Combining these treatments can be the most successful way for adults to manage their ADHD symptoms

Trying different treatments may take time to figure out what works best for you. 

Get a proper diagnosis

If you suspect you may suffer from adult ADHD, the first step you should take is to get officially diagnosed by your doctor. Other medical treatments and/or conditions can cause similar symptoms to ADHD, like:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Conduct disorders

  • Learning and language deficits

  • Developmental disorder

  • Seizure disorder

  • Thyroid problems

  • Sleep disorders

  • Brain injury

  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

  • Drugs and medications

Being tested for adult ADHD and receiving the correct medical diagnosis can start you on the right path to finding treatments that work for you. 

Develop behavioral strategies

Don't overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to try all of these at once or incorporate all of them into your life. The key to managing adult ADHD is finding methods and treatments that work for you, individually. (We say this a lot in this article, but it's important!)

Get organized 

Being organized can make things easier to find, decrease strain on relationships, reduce anxiety, and improve productivity. However, organization can be a significant challenge for adults with ADHD. 

To successfully organize, focus on creating a helpful and realistic strategy by:

  • Decluttering- Tackle one room at a time and try starting in the easiest room or space first. When it comes to decluttering a large area, break it down into smaller tasks.

  • Gathering supplies beforehand- Have everything you think you'll need before starting. Some helpful supplies are bins, baskets, folders, and binders. 

  • Establishing zones- Placing similar items together can make storing them and finding them later much more manageable. 

  • Designating a "landing pad"- A landing pad is a dedicated spot where you can put your keys, sunglasses, wallet, etc. Having one place to put these items can decrease time looking for them every day. 

Time Management 

Effectively managing time is another challenge many adults with ADHD struggle with. However, there are a few ways to develop strong time management skills: 

  • Use a planner- Whether it's an app on your phone, a desk calendar, a notebook, or a paper planner, write down all meetings/appointments/commitments, take it with you wherever you go, and check it as many times a day as you need. (It's important to write everything down in the same planner.)

  • Overestimate- Add 10-15 minutes to however long you think it will take you to complete a task. 

  • Get a watch- Use it to keep track of time and check it often. While you can certainly use your phone to see the time, we advise against this to reduce distractions. 

  • Create a routine- Make a scheduled routine that works for your lifestyle. Routines will look different for everyone, so the key is to find one that helps you get (and stay) organized, on-task, and on time!

Task Management Organization

Organization refers to more than just your physical space — it should also include work and school tasks. Developing task management strategies will help you organize and prioritize your work while staying on track.

  • Make lists- After checking your planner for the day, create a priority checklist. (Keep in mind tasks that are time-sensitive.)

  • Break down big projects- Don't let a big project make you feel overwhelmed. Creating smaller tasks can help make it easier to know where to start. 

  • Work in small increments- If you are someone who finds themselves distracted after 15 or 20 minutes into starting a project or task, give yourself a break. Set a timer for 5 minutes to stretch, scroll the internet, or fill up your water bottle, but commit to starting right back up after the time is up.

  • Focus on one thing at a time- Giving one task your full attention will increase your overall productivity.

Money Management

Procrastination, disorganization, and impulsivity can create financial issues for adults with ADHD. Stay on track by:

  • Setting up reminders- Whatever type of planner you are using for appointments, use it also to write down or set reminders for bills.

  • Use online banking- Nowadays, most financial institutes offer online banking. Your online account gives you access to your accounts right away and at any time. You can also set up bill pay, use budgeting tools, and reduce paper clutter by signing up for e-statements. 

Psychotherapy/Psychological counseling

Counseling for adult ADHD usually includes learning about the disorder, psychotherapy, and learning skills to set you up for success. Adults with ADHD can find success in using one or both types of psychotherapy. 

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches specific skills to manage behavior and change negative thinking patterns into positive ones. It also helps you find ways to handle life stressors and address other mental health conditions, such as depression or substance misuse.

  • Marriage counseling/family therapy helps your family cope with the stress of living with someone who has ADHD, learn how they can help, and improve communication and problem-solving skills between you and your loved ones. 

Benefits of psychotherapy include:

  • Improving your time management and organizational skills

  • Learning how to decrease impulsive behavior and methods to control temper

  • Creating useful problem-solving skills

  • Addressing past academic, work, or social failures

  • Improving self-esteem and confidence 

  • Strengthening relationships with family, co-workers, and friends

Medications

There are several medications prescribed for adults with ADHD. Always consult with your physician about the risks and benefits of these drugs. 

  • Stimulants-  The most prescribed methylphenidate or amphetamine medications, including Adderall XR, Ritalin LA, and Vyvanse, work best for adults with ADHD. Stimulants increase and balance levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. However, stimulants can lead to dependencies and be easily abused, so you should always speak to your physician and pharmacist before starting them. 

  • Non-stimulant medications-  Strattera and Intuniv XR are non-stimulant medications used in conjunction with a stimulant or alone. They work slower than stimulants but are good treatment options if you can't take stimulants because of health problems or if you are experiencing severe side effects.

The proper medication and the correct dose vary from person to person, so it may take time to find out what's right for you. Your doctor will most likely use a medication trial to help determine your individual medication and dosage. Typically, this trial begins with a low dose and gradually increases until benefits are achieved.

Let your doctor know about any adverse effects you experience as soon as possible. 

Final thoughts

It's important to remember that symptoms won't disappear overnight. These ADHD strategies require trial and error and practice to see which works best for you. 

By utilizing these methods in your everyday life and working with your healthcare provider, you can become more productive and organized. 

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