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Finally Focused: A Comprehensive Guide to Thriving with Adult ADHD

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Your guide to managing ADHD

Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult a qualified healthcare professional for personalized advice.


Intro to Adult ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulty sustaining attention, resisting distractions, and managing impulse control beyond what is expected for one's age.

The core symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Adults with ADHD may have trouble focusing on tasks, listening when spoken to, following instructions, organizing, staying on task, excessive talking, fidgeting, chronic lateness or forgetfulness. These symptoms can significantly impact work performance, relationships, self-esteem and more.


Getting Diagnosed

Getting an accurate diagnosis is an important first step for adults who suspect they may have ADHD. While ADHD is commonly diagnosed in childhood, many adults go undiagnosed into adulthood. According to data from the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada (CADDAC), an estimated 4-6% of Canadian adults have ADHD. However, many experts believe the actual number of adults living with ADHD is much higher. According to CADDAC, ADHD remains under-recognized, under diagnosed and misdiagnosed in Canada.


There are several reasons why ADHD is underdiagnosed in adults. Symptoms often present differently in adulthood and many adults simply don't realize their struggles could be explained by ADHD. Without a proper diagnosis, adults lack access to treatments and resources that can help manage their symptoms. Getting evaluated by a mental health professional who understands adult ADHD is an important step.

The diagnostic process for adults involves looking at symptoms, gathering information about childhood history, assessment or testing, and ruling out other possible conditions. While the symptoms and challenges of ADHD may persist from childhood, some adults may not have been diagnosed as children. Their symptoms can still be identified and addressed. An accurate diagnosis is the key starting point to take control of ADHD and start implementing effective treatments and strategies.


Medication Options for Adult ADHD

Medication is often recommended as a first-line treatment option for managing ADHD symptoms in adults. The most common types of medications prescribed are stimulants and non-stimulants.

Stimulants like methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamines (Adderall, Vyvanse) are usually the first choice. They help with focus, attention and concentration by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. According to research from the Cleveland Clinic, 70-80% of adults with ADHD find these medications effective (Source).

Non-stimulants may be prescribed if stimulants cause side effects, have a limited effect or are risky due to health conditions. Atomoxetine boosts norepinephrine and is the most common non-stimulant.

It often takes some trial and error to find the ADHD medication and dosage that provides optimal benefits with minimal side effects. Doctors typically start with lower doses and adjust based on how the medication affects symptoms and tolerability. Ongoing medical supervision is important.


Additional Approaches

In addition to medication, there are effective approaches that can help adults manage ADHD symptoms. These include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of talk therapy focused on identifying negative thought and behavior patterns and developing strategies to replace them with more positive, productive ones. CBT for ADHD may incorporate techniques for executive function, like organization and planning skills, distraction control, self-care, and cognitive restructuring around ADHD-related thoughts (CHADD, Sprich 2012).

ADHD Coaching

Coaches work with clients to set goals, manage time, get organized, and address problematic behaviors. They provide accountability through consistent support. Coaching combines education, structure, motivation, and advocacy. Look for someone who is qualified, who has experience, and most importantly - someone who you feel is a good fit.

Mindfulness Practices

Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and other mindfulness techniques can improve symptoms like distractibility, hyperactivity, and emotional dysregulation. Regular practice helps calm the mind and body. Why does this help? Inhibition, the skill of taking a pause, is difficult for adults with ADHD. Mindfulness helps to cultivate this skill by practising "noticing" and "observing" which links to pausing.... AKA: taking your foot off the gas pedal.


ADHD-Thriving Strategies

Living with ADHD often requires implementing various strategies and tools to manage symptoms and challenges. Finding systems and routines that work for your unique needs is key. Here are some ADHD-friendly tactics to try:

Organization Systems

Organization is one of the biggest obstacles for people with ADHD. Try using tools like daily planners, calendars, and to-do lists to stay on top of tasks and appointments. Apps like Evernote and Trello can help you create digital organization systems. Experiment to find what works best for your style. Be prepared though! One system might work for a little while, then you may get bored of it and have to move on to another system that is new and exciting to your brain!

Morning and Evening Routines

Establishing consistent daily rituals in the morning and evening can create stability. Your morning routine might include getting dressed, eating breakfast, reviewing your to-do list, and meditating. An evening routine could involve tidying up, prepping for tomorrow, and relaxing. Routines reduce decision fatigue. There are apps such as Routinery, that can help you create routines as habits. Personally, I love Routinery because it includes a timer and I can set a time estimate for the task. Then I get to learn whether I assessed the time accurately. It actually has helped me learn how much TIME tasks actually take, which means...I am in less of a rush these days!

Minimizing Distractions

It's easy to get sidetracked with ADHD. When you need to concentrate, put away your phone, close extra browser tabs, and find a quiet space. Noise-cancelling headphones, loop earplugs, and apps like FocusMe can block distracting websites, minimize noise distractions, and increase focus. Here is a tech review on Loop earplugs from Developmental Disabilities Association in BC.


Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy lifestyle changes can greatly improve ADHD symptoms and help adults manage their disorder. Establishing structure through consistent daily routines is key. The following areas to focus on are the basic pillars of health:

Exercise and Movement

Regular exercise provides multiple benefits for adults with ADHD. It can improve focus, mood, sleep, and impulse control. Aim for 30-60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week. Activities like running, biking, swimming, or even a brisk walk can be helpful. Weight training also enhances dopamine. Moving around frequently and taking walks or stretch breaks can aid focus (Source).

Proper Nutrition

Eating a balanced, nutritious diet supports brain health and can lessen ADHD symptoms. Avoid skipped meals, excess sugar, and junk food. Focus on foods rich in protein, complex carbs, omega-3s, zinc, iron, and magnesium. Stay hydrated and limit caffeine. Take a daily multivitamin to get key nutrients.

Healthy Sleep Habits

Adults with ADHD often struggle with sleep issues that exacerbate other symptoms. Try to go to bed and wake up at consistent times, limit screen use before bed, avoid caffeine in the evenings, and create a calming bedtime routine. Darkening the room, using white noise, and practicing relaxation techniques can also promote restful sleep. Don't miss the sleep window! If you do, your brain will start to create, imagine, and do deep dives. Suddenly it will be 2am and you will find yourself cursing!

Creative Outlets

Participating in creative activities provides an outlet for energy and emotion as well as boosts dopamine levels. Art, music, dance, writing, and crafts engage the mind and support self-expression. Consider taking a class or finding a hobby aligned with your interests. Even journaling or coloring can be beneficial.


Finding Support

Getting support from others is critical for adults with ADHD. Support can come from loved ones, support groups, and mental health professionals. It is beneficial to have a varied support system.

Opening up to close friends and family members about your ADHD diagnosis can help them better understand you. Educate them on your symptoms and needs. Their support and encouragement can motivate you to keep trying new strategies.

Joining an ADHD support group, program, or workshop allows you to connect with others facing similar challenges. Both in-person and online support groups or workshops offer a judgment-free space to share experiences, advice, and learn new tools and tips. Support groups reduce isolation and remind you that you're not alone.

Working with a coach, therapist, or other mental health professional provides guidance tailored to your situation. They can help you implement lifestyle changes, understand AND manage symptoms, and feel less shitty!


Accommodations

Making accommodations in various aspects of life can help adults with ADHD minimize challenges and optimize their potential. Key areas where accommodations are beneficial include work, school, and home life. Honestly, the key to managing ADHD is to manage our environments (with systems, routines, and tools), which is something I learned from Dr.Russell Barkley's book, "Taking Charge of Adult ADHD"and I continue to apply this perspective to my daily goals, tasks, or To-Do lists (which are plastered in various places on beautifully coloured sticky notes).

At work, managing the environment might include:

  • A quiet workspace or private office to minimize distractions (https://add.org/adhd-workplace-accommodations-guide/)

  • Flexibility to work from home during high-focus tasks

  • Permission to wear noise-canceling headphones

  • Regular breaks to recharge

  • Adjustments to scheduling for optimal productivity

In post-secondary training, diploma or degree programs, managing environments could be:

  • Extended time on exams

  • Recording lectures to take notes afterwards

  • Reduced-distraction testing environment

  • Study groups

  • Accountability partner

At home, tips like keeping a master calendar, making lists each morning, and decluttering space can help establish order and structure.


Focusing on Strengths

While ADHD brings many challenges, it can also provide unique strengths. Many adults with ADHD find they excel in adaptability, creativity, and hyperfocus. Sometimes a client will not see ADHD as providing any strengths. Totally okay! You don't have to see it this way - and likely, ADHD has caused massive problems in your life, so I get that. The following brief examples are not to glorify ADHD, but rather point out what I have noticed in clients as strengths.


Adaptability can be a key strength, as adults with ADHD tend to be flexible, resilient, and able to think on their feet. They can easily shift gears and approach problems from new angles.

Creativity and outside-the-box thinking are common in individuals with ADHD. Their minds can make interesting connections between disparate ideas. Many influential artists, entrepreneurs, and innovators have attributes of ADHD.

Hyperfocus describes the tendency to become absorbed in activities that are stimulating and rewarding. When interested in a task, adults with ADHD can demonstrate intense discipline, concentration, and productivity.


By identifying and utilizing their natural strengths, I have watched adults with ADHD learn to understand and manage ADHD, and then thrive at life and work.


Living Fulfilling Lives with Adult ADHD

Many people with ADHD live happy, successful lives despite the challenges of the disorder. The key parts are:

  • learning about ADHD

  • understanding ADHD

  • knowing about the symptoms of ADHD for yourself

  • managing those symptoms ADHD

  • acknowledging our strengths, adapting as needed, and celebrating small wins.


With the right treatment and support system, adults with ADHD can find fulfilling careers, relationships, and activities tailored to how their minds work best. What may seem to be a simple accomplishments like arriving on time or finishing a project can be major victories worth celebrating!

It's also important to have self-compassion on bad days. ADHD is a challenge, but not a personal failing. We all need reminders to be patient with ourselves. Support groups can help by sharing stories and tips without judgment. Over time, we can learn to turn obstacles into opportunities for learning more about ourselves and our growth.

While ADHD poses very real difficulties that have caused (potentially) a lot of HAVOC in your life, it does not have to stop you from living the life you want. With creativity, flexibility and determination, you can find satisfaction and success on your own terms and learn to THRIVE on those terms.



Thanks for being here,


Rolynda Simpson. M.Ed, CCC

Owner and Clinic Director

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