Experts recommend a holistic approach for living with ADD/ADHD. As well as learning as much as you can about ADHD and receiving support from peers and professionals, here are some do-able self-care strategies that can help you feel better and function at your best!
1. Realize that having to focus all day can be draining and find the time to rest and renew. This could mean playing a video game, taking a walk, reading a good book, or just lying on the couch and staring at the ceiling! The most important thing is to NOT feel guilty because taking the time to re-energize your body and mind is an essential component of functioning at your best.
2. Try to evaluate whether you are putting unrealistic demands and expectations on yourself. None of us are perfect and having ADD/ADHD and executive functioning challenges makes certain aspects of life harder. Practice recognizing your accomplishments and all the good things that you do. And try to develop some compassion for yourself if you fall short. See if you can give yourself a break.
3. Spend time with caring non-judgmental people whenever possible. Creating a personal support system where you can be yourself and feel accepted is crucial for everyone, ADHD or not.
4. Find ways to feel grateful every day. Most of us take so much for granted that we often overlook our blessings. Do we have food to eat? A warm place to live? Our health? Family? Safety? Some people keep a gratitude journal and others just say a prayer of thanks every night. Do whatever works to remind you of everything good in your life. This can help tremendously in broadening our perspectives!
5. Practice taking brief pauses throughout the day to become aware of what you are thinking, feeling, or doing in the present moment. If we set reminders (electronic or written) to trigger us to step back and observe ourselves, it can help in so many ways. This observation can be called mindfulness. Is my attention matching my intention? In other words, did I really mean to be checking my emails right now? Is my neck tense? What am I telling myself about this task I am avoiding? Developing the skills to step back and observe ourselves can help us make sure we are acting in our own best interests.
6. Exercise! Dr. John Ratey, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain suggests thinking of exercise as a form of medication for ADD/ADHD. Exercise improves attention, energy, and mood. Anything aerobic, even 30 minutes of brisk walking, can cause your brain to release endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals increase your ability to focus and pay attention. So if you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or don’t know where to start, try running up and down some stairs or doing jumping jacks!
7. Keep yourself fueled with healthy food and liquids throughout the day. This means different things to different people, depending on whether you are a vegetarian, a meat eater, on a Paleo diet, or whatever! Regardless, a diet low in sugar and simple carbs and high in fruits, vegetables, and good quality protein is probably best. Try not to go too long without eating and keep yourself hydrated. These all add up to an optimally functioning brain and body. If you tend to hyper-focus, you may want to set electronic reminders: Don’t forget to eat!
8. Get enough sleep. Staying up late seems to go along with ADHD and some people get a second wind at 11 p.m. It helps to develop a bedtime routine that will work just for you. For at least an hour before bed, what could you do that would allow you to relax, let go of the day, and get ready for sleep? Some suggestions are keeping the lights low, listening to relaxing music, slow stretching, meditation or yoga, turning off electronics, and settling into bed with a book. What time should you start winding down? Once you’ve figured it out, set an alarm to remind you to start your routine. Not easy, but getting enough sleep can improve your whole next day and help you function at your best.