14 REAL Tips For Managing Your ADD
“Have a schedule” isn’t one of them
I was 25 years old when I first heard of adult ADD/ADHD. I had come across the term before in a few contexts and vaguely thought of it as something that made kids hyperactive. It was only when I started taking my own mental health seriously that I realised my depression didn’t quite explain all the things I was going through. There was the inability to focus, for instance. The sudden drop in interest in things I was enthusiastic about to begin with. And there were the panic attacks I’d get when I was doing something unproductive and which I couldn’t claw out of, no matter how often I told myself that I was being unproductive and should find something else to do.
After extensive online research, a few of those self-diagnosis quizzes (I know, I know) and some conversation with my mom and my friends, I knew what was going on. All of the behaviours and symptoms I was manifesting were consistent with adult ADD — behaviours and symptoms I had in fact been exhibiting since childhood, but assumed (had been taught to assume) were just inattention or naughtiness.
Finally, I had an explanation.
Next came the matter of dealing with it. For reasons of my own, I decided I didn’t want to take medication. I know that medication is helpful and even necessary to many ADD patients, but it’s not something I am considering at this point. Moreover, there’s still very little awareness about ADD where I live, which means I risk having the wrong medicines prescribed to me even if I do visit a psychiatrist. So it boiled down to self-management. I duly searched the Internet. And there were plenty of how-to articles and videos.
But here’s what struck me about those articles and videos.
Pretty much all the advice pieces said the same things over and over. Eat healthy, exercise, have a schedule.
Which was….not helpful.
Those are things one could recommend for anyone, ADD or not.
Where were the actionable tips — advice that wasn’t generic live-better crap, but tailored for people with ADD who have to struggle with the simplest of decisions every day? People who have to deal on a daily basis with panic attacks and self-loathing about how much they’ve procrastinated?
Since I couldn’t find any, I had to figure things out for myself — and then I thought, why not share what I’ve learnt with other people searching for ADD management tips, same as I did.
All of the points I’ve shared here are things that help me accomplish more and feel calmer on a day-to-day basis. I’m a freelancer and creative writer, so my work is typically more flexible than someone who has a 9-to-5, but I hope these tips will help you feel better regardless of what you do.
1. Sleep as much as you need to
Even thinking can be exhausting at times, which means you’re much likelier to drift off in the middle of the day. I tried to fight the napping instinct for a long time, but I don’t anymore. When I’m having an emotional breakdown, I’d far rather sleep a while and reset than force myself to stay awake and be even more unproductive. Be kind to yourself about how much sleep you need — if you need two hours, then you need two hours. And if you have something on your plate that’s time-bound and you’re worried about oversleeping, power through on coffee and then reward yourself with a nap when you’re done.
2. Track your time
This is so important that I’ll be sharing a separate article about this very soon. Time tracking with an app like Toggl can give you insights into and control over what you’re actually doing with your time — both of which are crucial when you’re struggling to even understand sometimes what you’re doing all day. Once you build up the habit of tracking each piece of work you do (I’ll be going into this in detail in my article), you’ll see a significant increase in your productivity.
3. Experiment with workouts
“Exercise” is another stock piece of advice that crops up on advice columns and videos everywhere. However, there are several different kinds of workouts and you might not take to all of them well. Try playing around with YouTube workouts — dance fitness, yoga, pilates, strength and conditioning, kickboxing, cardio and so on — until you find something you like, and start with small daily intervals (I started with five minutes a day) so that it doesn’t seem like too much. I experimented with cardio, dance and kickboxing but ultimately found my favourite in strength training and weights. The fitness trainer I follow is Caroline Girvan — she posts regular videos on YouTube and is absolutely fantastic for building muscle and improving physical endurance.
4. Share with someone — when you can
It gets lonely, trapped in the world of being unable to do anything. Sometimes you need to share with another person, and you should if you have the opportunity. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone will be willing or able to listen to your outpourings at all times — even your loved ones. I’m making it a point to try and tell my partner beforehand that I’m feeling low and need to vent. I also try to not approach him when he’s busy with work or feeling tired/unwell himself. Even with ADD, being kind is important, especially to the people who love us and are there for us as much as they can be. And if you absolutely have to share, refer to tip #14 below.
5. Eat a little more slowly
A side effect of my ADD is that I gobble my meals, which often means that I eat more than I need to and get bloated in the process. I’m trying to pace out my bites more and to focus on the flavours of what I’m eating so that my meals are more satisfying. When you eat appropriately sized meals, you feel healthier overall and have more energy to resume work after your meals. Of course, that doesn’t at all mean you can’t have treats — in fact, you should. Just be more mindful about eating those as well! ☺
6. When you’re in the middle of an emotional attack, pause and recognise it
Emotional attacks (by which I mean panic about not having done anything or about how much work is still left for the day, self-loathing because you haven’t done anything, feelings of ‘why me’ when you look at other people online doing an astonishing number of things in vanishingly small periods of time) are a part and parcel of ADD. And there’s no point in just saying ‘control it’ — because sometimes we just can’t. One thing that has helped me, though, is forcing myself to pause and recognise that I am going through something, when it’s happening. It doesn’t necessarily bring the attack to a halt, but it does infuse a slight sense of calm — the act of pausing to give a rational name to what’s going on — which can help reduce the intensity of the attack.
7. Write out your feelings when you have a panic attack — or speak them
There’s a reason everyone talks about journalling — it helps, a lot. Your journal is your no-judgment zone where you can write about absolutely anything and everything you’re feeling, whenever you’re like. Keep a notebook handy, or download a writing app on your phone, and get to scribbling (or typing) whenever the feelings become too much to keep in. If you don’t feel comfortable writing, go somewhere private and record a voice note about what you’re going through.
8. Have at least five projects to occupy yourself with
If you can’t concentrate on one thing, stop right there and move to another. And no, I don’t mean watching Netflix. Make a list of at least five useful projects you can pick up at any time. By ‘useful’, I don’t necessarily mean lucrative — they can be anything involving content creation, studying or simply a leisure activity that makes you feel good and helps you relax. For instance, the five go-to projects I can work on at any time are (1) the Medium posts I write, (2) the WordPress blog I have about the writing life, (3) my freelance assignments, (4) my short story drafts, and (5) whichever book I’m reading at the moment. You can include any instrument you play, any artwork you’re fond of, or even household tasks like gardening or cooking — anything you can take up at short notice, improves your mood and comes under the heading of “productive”.
9. Make a granular morning to-do list
Listing is great. It shows you exactly what you need to do and gives you power over those — because they’re no longer floating around in your head, they have a 2D existence on paper. I put down things as minute as ‘send invoice to Client X’ and ‘come up with three headlines for Medium articles’. There are few things as satisfying as ticking completed items off — and the more you do it, the more you’ll be motivated to keep going.
10. Take a hot bath
This veers towards the generic, I know, but taking baths and changing into fresher clothes has really helped me every time I’m caught up in a negative spiral. I know it might feel like a bath won’t make any difference, and I’ve often skipped baths because I was feeling so damn low — but I promise, it really does make a difference. Use some nice shower gel, turn the temperature up to your favourite degree of hot (mine is about half a degree short of scalding) and relax.
11. Drink coffee
Coffee always helps. Period. If you’re having trouble concentrating or simply feel low, get yourself a coffee. And by that I mean making your own coffee — I’m a huge cafe junkie myself, but I can’t afford to buy myself three flat whites a day, and neither can a lot of people. What I have done is invest in a coffee maker and some good beans. I got a Phillips coffee maker on Amazon for the equivalent of $32, and there’s a great coffee shop that delivers single-origin beans to our house. Every time I feel like a pick-me-up, I go make myself a steaming pot. Even just the smell has a calming effect.
12. Listen to upbeat music (and dance along if you can)
Here’s a quick tip that’s worked for me — when you’re feeling low, put on a song you like and that has a good beat. Even better, dance along — no matter if you’re not an A-grade dancer. I always go back to my pop music favourites when I’m in an emotional rut and need a quick fix to reset. Nothing like some Ariana Grande or Ed Sheeran to improve the mood.
13. Have a gamified learning app
This is entirely a personal tip, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about an app that lets me make progress on a useful subject within ten minutes or so and has pretty graphics into the bargain. My app of choice is Duolingo, the language-learning platform. With bite-sized lessons and daily experience rewards, the app is a blessing when I’m facing the end of the day with nothing concrete achieved. It’s also a great way to learn a new language — I’ve made a ton of progress on my Spanish in just a couple of months.
14. Opt for talk therapy — when you need it
I was obsessing over a personal problem and simply couldn’t talk myself out of it, so I booked a single session with a therapist to get some perspective. And it helped. The internet — and the post-Covid social distancing norms — makes virtual counselling sessions accessible to everyone and it’s a great option when you need to talk but you don’t have anyone from your personal circle around (or, as I mentioned above, they aren’t available to talk). Plus, there are plenty of low-cost platforms online where you can connect with skilled counsellers, so you don’t need to worry about paying a bomb.
To everyone dealing with ADD out there, whether you’ve been battling it for a long time or only recently learnt that you have it — you’re amazing. Life is hard, but you’re keeping yourself together and showing up every day, and that’s fantastic. And yes, there may be days when it feels like too much, but there are ways around that too and you are strong enough to find those ways for yourself. You’ve got this. :)