October is ADHD awareness month!
Whether you have a child that has been diagnosed with the condition or simply struggle to concentrate as much you'd like, these 5 natural ADHD management strategies will make your life easier.
ADHD is a controversial condition. Most mental health professionals and neuroscientists agree that it is a real disorder with a strong genetic and neurobiological basis. That said, a substantial number of these same people agree that it has become a blanket term for a wide range of issues that may or may not be related to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Many agree that today the diagnosis is often made too hastily or without proper justification. There are also some strong arguments out there made by serious people that cast doubt on whether the condition exists at all. One thing that everyone agrees on, however, is that the symptoms associated with the disorder are real and observable.
There is also a growing consensus that these symptoms can be managed through diet, lifestyle and environment rather than with powerful stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall. If you or someone you know experiences severe ADHD symptoms, medication may have a role to play and shouldn’t be written off entirely. You could try to supplement medication with natural ADHD management strategies. If this goes well, you might even want to try to ween yourself or your child off the medication all together over time.
1) Managing ADHD with diet and lifestyle
Managing ADHD with diet and lifestyle requires a multi-pronged approach. One of the most important things is having a diet that aids rather than obstructs your progress. The number one rule is to avoid an excessive intake of sugars. Studies have linked sugar to the worsening of ADHD symptoms and suggest that copious amounts of the stuff is like an ‘on-switch’ in children that display ADHD tendencies. Other things to avoid include artificial dyes & preservatives and allergy-causing foods such as gluten and soy.
A well-balanced diet will help immensely with managing ADHD symptoms. This includes plenty of vegetables, complex carbohydrates such as those found in legumes and whole grains, fruits (great for replacing sugary snacks) and plenty of protein.
There are two critical lifestyle-related factors that play a role in ADHD. The first of these is sleep. Restful, restorative sleep is extremely beneficial to health in general and plays a crucial role in concentration. It’s also important for regulating mood, building memories and maintaining healthy energy levels. Getting into a good routine and making your bedroom into an environment that promotes sleep are both important.
The second lifestyle factor that can either improve or worsen ADHD symptoms is physical activity. In fact, studies seem to suggest that regular exercise is more effective than diet in this regard. A highly sedentary lifestyle affects both mental and physical well-being. This is particularly true of ADHD and its related disorders. On the flip side of the coin, regular physical activity, even at a low intensity, is one of the best natural ADHD management strategies available. The most dramatic changes in the brain associated with exercise happen in the areas related to this disorder. These include executive functioning, attention, and working memory.
2) Time management, to-do lists and schedules
You’re never too old or too young to learn good organizational skills. This is particularly true of people who struggle with ADHD symptoms. One of the most noticeable of these is an inability to concentrate on one task at a time. Learning to use to-do lists and schedules effectively will enable you to stay on track with tasks and help you to remember those you left behind when something more interesting came along. This could be anything from the note app on your phone (or a real notebook) to a fully synchronized cloud calendar. No matter how you do it, keeping track of things is a great way to mitigate the worst effects of ADHD. If the devices that you work on are also the source of your distraction, you should try a time management app such as FocusMe.
If you’re trying to help your child to learn better organizational skills, a wall chart that keeps track of chores and other tasks can be really helpful. This could include a system of reward and consequences based on how well and in what time the tasks were completed.
You can even use this method on yourself. Reward yourself with down-time or something else you desire only once you’ve completed the objectives you have set. It’s difficult at first but like any behavior, your brain reinforces it the more you do it. For milder cases of ADHD, using lists and calendars in conjunction with a reward system can be just as effective as medication and has no negative side-effects.
3) Creating a productive environment
Having a productive work or learning environment is vital for people that struggle with ADHD symptoms. A space that promotes productivity is free from distractions such as television, games and people who aren’t involved in whatever activity that space is designated for. It’s also especially important for people with ADHD to have a quiet place to work or study as sound can be particularly distracting. The exceptions to this rule include certain kinds of music (go Classical!), ambient noise and sounds from nature such as wind, rain or a background chorus of birds and animals. It’s also important to keep work and study spaces well ventilated as oxygen intake is directly linked to cognitive function.
When it comes to children, this can be a little more complicated. You don’t have control over the learning environment your child encounters at school. Even expensive private schools with the most qualified and knowledgeable teachers still exist within a system that is simply not suited to the needs of ADHD children. Today, there are lots of schools that eschew traditional models in favor of a more fluid learning environment. This is certainly an option worth considering if places like this are within your geographical and budgetary reach. If not, you’ll have to do your best to at least create a productive work environment for your child at home by using some of the techniques described above.
4) Getting a regular dose of nature
There is strong evidence to suggest that spending as little as 20 minutes in a natural environment drastically improves the concentration of children diagnosed with ADHD. In fact, the effects were even comparable to that of chemical stimulants. It was already well known that spending time in natural settings improves a number of cognitive abilities, including concentration. It’s now been shown that these effects are equally pronounced in people who display ADHD symptoms. While time ‘outdoors’ is beneficial, there is clear evidence that escaping the built environment in general is where the real benefits lie. That could mean just heading to your local park for a walk whenever possible and getting out of the city on weekends if that’s all that’s available to you.
Getting a regular dose of nature does not only improve cognitive functioning. It’s also beneficial for mental and physical health. Getting two hours of nature time a week has a comparable effect to eating your five-a-day of fruits and vegetables and getting regular exercise. It’s also been linked to lower risks of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, depression, eating disorders and many other common issues. It’s not totally clear why this is the case, but the best answer we have is that time spent in nature lowers stress levels. Whatever the reasons, the evidence is clear: This is an ADHD management strategy that works!
Natural supplements and remedies
There is certainly some evidence to suggest that taking increased doses of certain vitamins and minerals can aid in combating ADHD symptoms. These include zinc, L-carnitine, vitamin B-6 and magnesium. A number of herbs, roots and other natural remedies such as gingko biloba, ginseng and passionflower may also have a positive effect on people that struggle with hyperactivity or focus issues. One thing to keep in mind though is that the evidence supporting these types of treatments is mostly just anecdotal at this point.
If you want to try to use these types of supplements to replace medication, it’s important to speak to your doctor first. This is especially true when it comes to children. A doctor can order a blood test to check your nutrient levels. If they’re already at a good level, taking supplements will either have no effect or may even create an overload of a certain vitamin or mineral. In general, this strategy works best as a supplement to a good diet, healthy lifestyle and the other strategies mentioned above.
All of these natural ADHD management strategies could just as easily be used in a general article about productivity. But while they might help everyone, they are particularly important for people who struggle with symptoms related to this disorder. Whether you’re just trying to deal with mild ADHD and want to avoid medication or you’re looking for ways to compliment it, these three strategies will help immensely.
Practicing all of them on a consistent basis will help you to drastically reduce stress and increase productivity. This can be difficult to begin with, especially for children. The good news is that kids are also far more impressionable than adults and still have plenty of time to learn good habits. If you keep at it, eventually they will too. Best of all, these natural ADHD management strategies will also benefit you or your child in a host of other ways. Maintaining a good diet & consistent exercise regime, having good organizational skills and creating a productive work environment are all important aspects of a balanced life. ADHD or not, that’s what we all want, right?