5 Habits to Help You Manage ADHD Without Medicine

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Guest Contributor: Ceillie Simkiss is a Communication student at Western Carolina University. She works as Editor-In-Chief of the Western Carolina Journalist, and as Designer and Photographer for the Western Carolinian, as well as doing graphic design work on the side.
 

I was diagnosed with ADHD and clinical depression when I was in 7th grade. I had had some of the symptoms of ADHD since I was little – impulsivity, fidgeting constantly, lack of forethought – but I wasn’t tested until I was around 13 years old.

Because of my particular diagnosis, symptoms, and a variety of food allergies, my parents and I chose a mix of medication, therapy and behavior changes to help me get through the difficulties that come with being ADHD. It worked really well, but I’m really bad at remembering to take medicines on a daily basis. And when I say really bad, I mean really bad.

After about a year of forgetting to take the medicine, not wanting to travel with a controlled substance and general annoyance with medications, I decided to wean myself off my meds during my senior year of high school. Three years later, now a senior in college at almost 21, I’ve found a management system that really works for me.

Now, everyone’s experience with ADHD is going to be different, and everybody has to make the choices on what makes them feel the most “normal,” but here are things that I can definitely recommend for anyone transitioning off of focus medicine, or for someone trying to go without medication at all.

 

1 – KEEP A SCHEDULE.

Establish a routine for as much as you can, and make a list that can be referred to whenever you can’t remember the next step of what needs to be done. As an adult, I do this for myself, but if you’re a parent of a diagnosed ADHD child, you might want to do this for your child, adding responsibilities as they get older, like packing their own lunch or cooking their own breakfast.

Because I’m constantly on the run to class or whatever, I use my phone and my computer to make sure that I always know when and where I have to be next. My morning routine is the same. When I have a very loose schedule for the day, I try to keep it as close to my every day schedule as possible so I can keep myself on track. My alarms are all on my phone, as is my routine list. That way, no matter where I am, I’ve always got my schedule.

 

2 – SLEEP

Sleep is honestly the most important thing in my life – and that’s not just because I rarely get the recommended 8 hours during the school week. I’m sure I’m not the only one, right? It’s difficult to put sleep first when there are so many other things that have to get done, whether that stuff is classwork, a big work project, or getting your kids put together for their school days.

From a personal standpoint, if I haven’t gotten enough sleep, I’m jumpy, unfriendly, and almost constantly unable to focus. Not getting enough sleep completely derails everything about my day. To counteract this, I’ve built time for a nap into my daily schedule as a just-in-case measure, because I know that I’m not getting the recommended amount of sleep every night. Usually I don’t end up napping. I just set everything aside and take a break from my other duties for a while.

Seriously, turn the lights off and close your eyes. Just sit for a little while to let your brain relax – don’t play on your smartphone or work on anything else. Just let yourself relax for 10-20 minutes. It will do wonders for your mood, and will make the rest of your day infinitely easier.

 

3 – MAKE TO-DO LISTS

To-Do Lists are something that helps me stay on track. I make one for every day. These lists include necessary things – eating, brushing my teeth, any medicines/vitamins I need to take, and classes I have to go to – as well as things like calling my mother, doing my homework, and any side projects that need to be worked on. Anything that doesn’t get done on one day’s list goes on the top of the next day, keeping me accountable for what I’ve done and what I’m putting off.

I know I’m a procrastinator, and chances are, you are as well. Doing this helps me keep all of my assignments straight, and it’s harder to forget the deadline when they’re staring me in the face.

Look at the bottom of this page to a link to a cute printable to-do list template created by yours truly! Designed for all ages, I use this on a daily basis, and can easily be printed in either black and white or in color! It’ll look fine either way. I put mine up on my corkboard, which goes on the wall next to my desk whether I’m at home or at school. Keeping it close to my workspace makes sure that I work on it and don’t procrastinate on it. College students have a bad reputation for procrastinating, but I know it’s something everybody does.

 

4 – EXERCISE

Exercise is one of the things that helps kids who are more on the hyperactive side of ADHD – I’m more of the fidgety type than hyperactive. However, on days when I get 20-30 minutes of exercise in, I find that it’s easier to focus, and I’m not nearly as fidgety as I had been before. My exercises of choice are more on the cardiovascular side, but in my opinion, any kind of exercise should be fine. I’m a big fan of the stationary bikes at the gym, but some easy to do at home exercises include yoga, and just jogging around the backyard. My mom used to tell me to go do three laps around the house when I was younger. Anything like that will help to manage symptoms as well as giving you some outdoor exercise time.

Health professionals recommend that you do moderate exercise 3 – 5 times a week for 30 minutes at a time to see the best results. My favorite way to do that is to go to the on-campus gym and work on the stationary bikes before I head to dinner with my friends on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Sometimes I change it up and do some treadmill work.

If you find that you still fidget with things to a level that makes you uncomfortable, I found that wearing a piece of jewelry – a ring, in my case – can help. It gives you something to fidget with without destroying your clothing, a notebook, etc. I can’t tell you how many hole-y pairs of jeans I’ve ended up destroyed just by subconsciously picking at them.

 

5 – NUTRITION

I cannot stress enough how much eating a balanced diet helps. Not only does it keep your body in better condition in the first place, it makes it easier for your body to keep to a normal schedule, which as I’ve found out, is critical for my own success.

If I haven’t eaten well that day, it’s going to be even worse. I’m more likely to get angry with people that don’t really deserve it, and I’m less likely to get anything done, very much like the Snicker’s commercials. I’m not me when I’m hungry – or malnourished.

Giving your body the right mix of nutrients and healthy food is essential to everything else I’ve talked about above. If you don’t eat properly, you won’t sleep well, you won’t have the energy to get through your day, and you won’t feel like yourself enough to gauge whether something that’s going on is a symptom of the ADHD or something that’s actually going on in your life.

I know you’ve probably heard this a million times before, but seriously – eat breakfast. It doesn’t have to be anything big. When I’m at home, my morning meal is generally a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios or a scrambled egg. When I’m at school, I tend to grab a breakfast sandwich on my way to class from one of the on-campus dining options, like Einstein’s or Chikfila. You need both carbohydrates (for energy) and protein (for endurance) to give your body the nutrients it needs in the morning, so some other good choices for breakfast would be peanut butter toast, scrambled eggs with toast, a hard boiled egg in a pita, or oatmeal with raisins.

 

6 – KNOW YOUR PERSONAL NORMAL

The last thing I recommend on a general basis for dealing with the symptoms of ADHD is being aware of what makes you feel right. If you’re a parent, and you see your child consistently having issues with something that is going on, talk to them about it. If you can’t figure out a solution for a problem, then seek professional help. There are a lot of other issues that come along with ADHD including depression and anxiety, both of which can be hard to spot, especially in kids that seem otherwise hyper.

If something is going wrong with you, talk to a professional. Even if you don’t want the medicine, just talking to someone who knows what you’re dealing with can help.  However, as someone who was on medicine for years, you should know that medicine can help to find what’s normal, so that when you transition off of the medicine, you know what you’re searching for, and what does and doesn’t work for you. I can’t recommend enough that you get help from a doctor, whether that’s in seeing a dietitian to help you with trying to keep everything balanced nutrition-wise, or seeing a psychologist to give medicine a try. Not all medicines work the same way, so there might be some different combination that works better for you.

Doing these things has made me infinitely more productive and much happier as a college student, and I hope that my trial and error process to figuring out my life will help make yours much easier. Are there other things that you do that help you manage your ADHD without medicine? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Click here for a copy of the To-Do List

 

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