When it comes to figuring out how to manage ADHD symptoms, prescription stimulant medication is often the first stop. More often than not, these meds do the trick, but while many think of these medications as a cure-all for attention disorders, in reality, there sometimes a few hitches. For some, these medications cause or exacerbate anxiety; others dealing with ADHD may have a medical condition that prevents them from taking ADHD medication, or find that the medication has no effect on them at all. For these reasons and more, some women with ADHD have to dig deep and find other tools to get them through the day.
These factors in ADHD management are less well-known than the medications, but that doesn't mean that they're less important: many experts recommend good diet and exercise, behavioral modifications and knowing your limits. Learning how to say no and reducing distractions are also common suggestions that ADHD patients receive, often delivered via brochure along with your diagnosis.
Contrary to public belief, getting control of your ADHD isn't always just a matter of meds. For some, getting control is a matter of calming down; when we're not stressed, our brains have a better chance of working. Others rely on technological tools, such as Google Calendar, to keep them on top of obligations big and small. In other cases, just knowing when to stop and take a breather is comfort enough. While many may be hard pressed to replace the mileage they get out of taking stimulants, they have found another way to get through. I spoke to five women with ADHD about what tools they have picked up along the way while trying to get a handle on their condition.
1. Just Breathe
For journalist Kristine Galloway, one of the keys to managing her ADHD was being able to relax and slow down her brain enough for it to work properly. Her therapist taught her to turn on her parasympathetic response, which is explained in a 2011 Harvard Mental Health Letter as a brake for the brain, a "'rest and digest' response that calms the body down after the danger has passed."
As Galloway explained to Bustle:
There are two ways to do this. One is to look around the room and let your eyes settle on one thing, and then calmly describe every little detail about it to yourself, out loud or in your head. The second method is to pick up an object you are drawn to and describe it the same way. The second method works for me. The first does not work as well.
I find that this method relaxes my brain and helps relieve some of the overwhelm I constantly feel. It also helps me redirect my brain to focus on what I need to be doing. It calms my constant fidgeting too, which is one of the ways my hyperactivity shows, though I am primarily inattentive. My therapist recommends I do this a few times a day. So far, it's helped me a lot. I feel less overwhelmed, more relaxed and more able to focus. I'm also more able to celebrate what I did do, rather than what I didn't do.
2. Take A Break
For Laurel Bassett, it's important to take breaks when she is feeling overwhelmed.
I became skilled at using times I was motivated to my advantage. Asking for help with getting things done and triaging what I had to do, and accepting the less important tasks just wouldn't get done.
3. Use Apps When They Make Sense
Bassett also said that listening to podcasts and audiobooks while doing tasks helps her hang in there longer, stay out of her head and avoid getting distracted. She pays her bills with the money management app Prism and considers such innovations game-changers.
Jennifer Napoli Horvath, a switchboard operator and mother of five, uses the Cozi family calendar app to ensure she's on top of the entire household's daily obligations.
"I don't believe in one single magic trick to relieve symptoms. I believe it is many things acting together that help me through the day," she said. She also credits self-talk, exercise and deep breathing with helping her keep a handle on her symptoms.
4. Give Everything A Place (And Say It)
Shivani Buright swears by this tip:
Install a hook as close to the front door as possible (mine is in the kitchen next to the fridge) and every single day when you walk into your home, make sure that the FIRST thing that you do is hang those keys on the hook.
Mindy Krotzman takes it one step further:
My trick is saying to myself where I put stuff. For instance, when I set my headphones down, instead of just doing it, I say to myself, "I am setting my headphones on the bookshelf." It's easier to recall later if I make sure I'm conscious of where I put them.
5. Set Timers Early & Often
When it comes to managing her ADHD, Francesca Kühlers stays mindful of her "transition time," that space between thinking about doing something and actually doing it. By planning ahead and setting timers, she has been able to game herself into being ready to switch modes at the most appropriate time.
Every eight, nine minutes I get a reminder I want to do something else soon. This is how I started leaving the office on time. I'd be nudged by my phone for an hour beforehand. My coworkers made fun of me for it!
But it works for her, and that's what matters.
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