Adult ADHD: What Helps?
Often thought of as a ‘childhood’ condition, ADHD can present many different challenges for adults across all areas of life
When it comes to conditions, it can be tricky to find help, advice and support that isn’t aimed solely at children and teens. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can continue to affect many into adulthood. For those who missed out on early diagnosis, it can be tough to discover strategies that can help support you and minimise common symptoms.
What is ADHD?
Considered to be a behavioural disorder, ADHD can make people feel restless, impulsive, inattentive, or hyperactive, though each person may experience a range of different symptoms. While symptoms are typically noticed at an early age, which can help children and teens to get the additional support they may need, some people do slip through the cracks. Symptoms usually improve with age, however, some adults do continue to struggle.
There are three types of ADHD that people may experience. These include:
- Predominantly inattentive presentation – when you have more trouble focusing your attention than being hyperactive.
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive – when you struggle more with hyperactivity and making impulsive decisions.
- Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive – typically, this is when you have six or more ADHD symptoms across categories.
How can ADHD affect adults?
For adults, there are many different day-to-day issues that can arise. Common issues adults may experience can include:
- a lack of attention to detail
- trouble finishing tasks before starting new ones
- poor organisational skills
- difficulty in prioritising or focusing
- often losing, misplacing, or forgetting things
- restlessness or impatience
- commonly interrupting other people’s conversations, or trouble waiting for your turn
- mood swings, difficulty coping with stress, or general irritability
- displaying risky behaviours
Experiencing a range of different symptoms can affect your work and personal lif. For some, it can lead to underachievement or difficulties in interacting with others. You may also have signs of other conditions. Some of the most common can include anxiety disorders, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), depression, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), epilepsy, Tourette’s syndrome, or learning difficulties such as dyslexia.
As counsellor Sally Spigner MBACP Dip explains, the process to gain a diagnosis as an adult can often be medication-focused.
Medication simply gives you a window in which you can start to apply different coping techniques and adapting them to your specific situation
“You are not going to be given training or development as an adult [when going through official diagnosis pathways], merely a diagnosis and the choice to medicate or not.
“Medication simply gives you a window in which you can start to apply different coping techniques and adapting them to your specific situation. It is not going to ‘cure’ you. You are going to have to research methods yourself, and arm yourself with tips and hints which you can then start to try out.”
Whether you have sought an official diagnosis or are looking for ways to help manage your symptoms independently, there are many different things you can try to help you manage ADHD and, hopefully, decrease the impact of symptoms on your day-to-day life.
How to manage symptoms of ADHD as an adult
Treatment for ADHD can help to both relieve symptoms and decrease related problems in your everyday life. Typically, a combination of medication and therapy are recommended, but a variety of different options are available.
Arranged by a specialist, such as a psychiatrist or your GP, there are five different kinds of medication currently offered to help with ADHD in the UK. It’s important to remember: medication doesn’t offer a ‘permanent cure’. Some people find it helps them to concentrate better, feel calmer, decreases impulsive tendencies, or enables them to practice and learn new skills.
For those who received an adult diagnosis, your GP and/or specialist should discuss what options are available, and which they think may be most suitable for you. If you experience any side effects, it’s important to make an appointment to speak with your GP.
Counselling can be a helpful option in conjunction with, or instead of medication. If you are experiencing other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, working with a qualified therapist can also help you to find new ways to handle symptoms and challenges that may arise.
Different kinds of therapy may be offered to you, depending on your situation, local services, and symptoms. One of the most commonly offered therapy options for adults with ADHD is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A type of talking therapy, CBT can help you to better manage problems by changing how you think and behave. A CBT therapist can help you to recognise how your thoughts affect how you feel and behave.
Through examining your thoughts and what you do, CBT can help you to break down overwhelming problems into smaller, easier to manage parts. Focusing on the here and now, it’s recommended for a variety of common mental health conditions that can coincide with ADHD, including depression and anxiety.
To find out more about counselling and other forms of therapy for ADHD, visit Counselling Directory.
Working with an ADHD coach can help you to identify areas in which you may need extra support or could improve, as well as figuring out specific goals and achievements you would like to work towards. By creating a relationship based on trust with your coach, the idea is that you can develop greater structure, focus, and purpose in life.
How can coaching help? A coach may be able to help you increase your concentration, develop (and manage) your goals, improve time management, develop your social skills, and increase your organisational skills.
To find out more about coaching for ADHD, visit Life Coach Directory.
Food and mood
According to the NHS, some people find it helpful to take supplements and cut out certain foods. However, as there is no strong evidence for or against this, it’s important to always speak with your medical practitioner before making any significant changes.
Ensuring you eat a healthy, balanced diet is key. More and more links are being discovered between what we eat and how we feel. As nutritional therapist Beanie explains, it’s important to eat well to look after all of ourselves – body and mind.
“Evidence suggests that the gut is the second brain. To promote greater bacterial diversity in your gut microbiome, include a wide variety of different fresh fruits and vegetables. This will not only improve your gut health, but enhance general mental wellbeing.
“Changing what and how you eat can significantly affect your mental health. If you are suffering with mental ill-health, I recommend working with a team of professionals to help you understand the issue and create a nutrition plan that includes lifestyle recommendations to suit your individual needs.”
Having a poor diet may inadvertently exacerbate symptoms. By making small changes to what and how you eat, you can lower stress levels, improve sleep quality, and even increase concentration levels. Avoiding food and drink high in caffeine, sugar and fat, ensuring you are having enough healthy protein, and eating regularly without skipping meals may help.
Exercising is good for your health in more ways than one. For some adults, regular exercise can help to improve concentration levels and motivation, as well as mood and memory. By increasing your physical activity, you may find that it helps you to burn off excess energy. If you’re unsure where to start, try these tips from Dr Luke Powles on how to boost your health and fitness.
Introduce structure and routine to your day (and night)
Developing structure and routine can help you to feel less overwhelmed and more in control. Routines can help you to break bigger, more daunting tasks down into smaller, more manageable chunks that you can tackle more easily. This, in turn, can help you to feel less stressed and more able to handle some of life’s other big challenges.
Ensuring you have a routine shouldn’t be limited to daytime activities. Many adults with ADHD have trouble sleeping, thanks to racing thoughts, restless nights, and trouble waking up – leaving them feeling groggy for hours. Poor quality sleep can make ADHD symptoms worse, while maintaining a regular, healthy sleep schedule can improve your attention, mood, and ability to focus.
If you struggle to get a good night’s rest, try these five simple tips to help you get started. Creating (and sticking to) a set bedtime can help you to develop healthier sleeping patterns. Ensuring your room is dark and distraction-free can also be a big help, as the blue light from your phone can stimulate you and keep you awake.
Creating a bedtime routine can also be a big help. This could be going screen-free for an hour or two before bedtime to help you relax and unwind, taking a bath, or trying meditation before going to sleep. Experiment to see what works best for you.
Self-help groups and online communities
Talking about how you are feeling can make it seem like a huge weight has been lifted. Speaking with others who have had similar experiences can be particularly helpful for some. Support groups can offer you the chance to speak with others who have ADHD, learn more about their experiences, pick up hints and tips, as well as to make meaningful connections with others. If speaking with others in person feels like too much, joining online communities can offer similar levels of support and advice – without the pressure to speak face-to-face.
To find out more about support groups in your area, visit UKADHD, check out these recommended helplines, or find out more about the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), an international ADHD organisation.
No matter which options you choose to try, it’s important to remember that you do have options. If one type of therapy doesn’t work for you, or you don’t click with a specific coach, counsellor, or support group, it’s ok to try a different option – or another version of the same service.
We can’t always find the right solution on our first try – and that’s OK. By admitting something isn’t working out, you aren’t admitting failure; you’re acknowledging that there might be an option out there that is a better fit for you.
To find out more about ADHD and what it’s like living with ADHD as an adult, visit Counselling Directory.