When you experience a lack of focus due to ADHD, taking on even a small task might feel overwhelming or impossible. A lifestyle that includes healthy habits (such as following a nutritious diet, making time for exercise, and getting plenty of sleep), along with a deliberate effort to plan ahead and stay organized, will put you on the path to successfully managing your ADHD symptoms.
People with ADHD symptoms may appear to be defiant, impatient, or reckless, but these behaviors are not intentional.
A healthy diet, physical activity, and quality sleep are essential to your overall health; deficiencies in any of these areas can cause ADHD symptoms to be more severe.
Communicating needs to family members and friends, teachers, and coworkers/employers will help facilitate the most optimal home, social, learning, and work environments. A good support system is crucial to getting organized and staying on track.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and need some help to take control of your ADHD symptoms, contact your healthcare team.
How does ADHD affect your ability to focus?
People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition often referred to as ADHD, have trouble engaging with others and staying on task.
Children with ADHD have difficulty paying attention in the classroom and keeping up with the list of chores at home. Parents may receive reports from teachers saying their child has trouble sitting still in class, needs constant reminders to turn work in on time, or talks excessively after being asked to remain quiet.
Maintaining concentration can also be a struggle for adults, making it difficult to be productive at home and in the workplace. Adults with ADHD may appear to be careless or sloppy when it comes to work habits or maintaining their personal space.
While everyone experiences occasional disruptions throughout their day, people dealing with ADHD symptoms require a much greater effort to redirect their attention and focus on the task at hand. Because they have difficulty minimizing distractions and getting organized, they tend to juggle too many projects at the same time without actually completing any of them.
How can you maintain your focus with ADHD?
Maintaining your general well-being is the first step toward overcoming ADHD symptoms. This means pursuing a balanced diet, getting an adequate amount of sleep, and routinely participating in physical activities.
How does your diet affect ADHD symptoms?
A nutritious diet benefits your overall health, and things like planning your meals in advance inspires strong habits that are beneficial when trying to manage an attention deficit disorder.
Meal prepping involves making choices, managing your time, and following specific steps to accomplish the desired outcome. These are all necessary skills for overcoming ADHD symptoms.
Despite popular beliefs, studies have not confirmed that caffeine, certain dyes, or excessive sugar in your diet contribute to worsening ADHD symptoms or that particular supplements improve ADHD symptoms. As always, moderation and individual discernment are key!
How does sleep affect people with ADHD?
People with ADHD often have trouble sleeping, which then intensifies their ADHD symptoms. Some things you can do to improve your sleep are:
- Be active. Physical activity during the day leads to staying asleep longer and sleeping more soundly at night.
- Stick to a routine. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every day can help train your body to get better sleep. This will help your nights to be more restful and give you more energy to focus on tasks during the day.
- Reduce screen time. Watching TV while in bed disrupts your body’s ability to fall asleep, and scrolling through your phone in the middle of the night decreases the amount and quality of your sleep. (If you wake up at night, try deep breathing exercises instead of reaching for your phone.)
Taking a warm bath or drinking herbal tea before bed are also beneficial toward improving sleep, and better sleep means you’ll have a more productive day!
How does physical activity help to decrease ADHD symptoms?
Just like adequate sleep and nutrition are beneficial to your overall health, physical activity is also a necessary part of your daily routine.
Exercise decreases stress and improves your mood. It increases your ability to focus your energy on the task you’ve set out to do. When you’re less distracted, you accomplish more — physical activity promotes working with purpose in order to achieve your goals.
Additional tips to help you stay focused
While nutrition, physical activity, and sleep are the foundation of good overall health, there are some additional things you can do to manage your ADHD symptoms.
Tip #1: Get organized
Planning your day in advance (and adhering to the schedule you’ve created) will allow you to tackle your day one assignment/task/project/job at a time.
A long to-do list can be overwhelming, and without any type of structure, you may end up not checking a single thing off the list at the end of the day. Scheduling time for each chore encourages you to focus on that specific task without worrying about the other items on the list.
If you are dreading a boring task, it can be helpful to set a timer and dedicate a certain amount of time to working on that specific task. When the time is up, take a 'brain break' — do some stretching and focused breathing exercises or head outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air. When you return, reset the timer and knock out another chunk of the task (or move on if you finished the original task).
Taking breaks between tasks (or in the middle of the task, if necessary) can help you refocus your attention level so you can accomplish more. A written plan for the day with a set time for each task sets clear expectations and creates a feeling of satisfaction when you see the progress you’ve made.
Tip #2: Ask for help
It’s important for students to communicate with parents and teachers to promote the best possible learning environment. This may mean sitting in a certain area, developing a method for tracking assignments, or scheduling routine check-ins to ensure the student is meeting expectations.
Adults also need to be forthcoming with their employer and other team members regarding any ADHD symptoms that may be causing difficulties in the workplace. Scheduling intentional break time throughout the workday can reduce extended periods of tedious labor that lead to 'brain fog' and a waning attention level.
Tip #3: Talk to your doctor
You may experience ADHD symptoms that extend beyond your ability to maintain control in certain situations or environments. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, contact your healthcare team.
Your doctor may suggest behavioral exercises or make recommendations to help reduce stress, refer you to a support group, or they may even propose medication therapy for a period of time until you’re able to successfully manage your ADHD symptoms without chemical intervention.
Finding a way to manage your ADHD symptoms takes time and will likely involve some trial and error to identify the most optimal behavior modifications and/or correct medication doses.
Tip #4: Pat yourself on the back
It is perfectly okay to reward yourself for a job well done. Achieving a goal or knocking out a list of chores is quite satisfying, and you should feel good about yourself for accomplishing what you set out to do.
You may find it helpful to do some journaling, recording details from both productive and nonproductive days, so you can identify patterns and environmental factors that help (or hinder) your progress.
Trying to overcome ADHD symptoms can be a difficult and frustrating process. It’s important to take it one day at a time, following specific routines and schedules and breaking down tasks/chores into manageable chunks. Give your brain a break when you need to, and let others help guide you and keep you on the right track.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Nutrition and ADHD.
- Attention Deficit Disorder Association. ADHD & Sleep – Problems and Solutions.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
- TeensHealth. ADHD-Tips to Try.