Beyond M.E.D.S, fun and interesting ways to treat your ADHD that really work
Before we delve into the fun, interesting, and shiny ways to approach your ADHD. Let’s begin with a brief refresher course on ADHD treatment fundamentals. First, most ADHD professionals agree that the best way to treat ADHD is a multimodal approach. Since no two people experience ADHD symptoms the same way, there is no one size fits all treatment. The multimodal approach employs a variety of treatments, therapies, interventions, and strategies to meet you where you are and help you manage your challenging ADHD traits while optimizing your strengths.
Before we start, I’d like to explain what I view as the 2 prongs to ADHD treatment, 1) Creating dopamine and 2) Building executive function skills. Since on a biological level, ADHD symptoms are caused by a deficit of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, primarily dopamine, it’s vital that within our toolbox we have tools that will help our brains produce more dopamine. For example, ADHD stimulant medications alleviate ADHD symptoms by influencing the production and absorption of dopamine. Exercise is a natural treatment, with similar results. However, the other critical component of ADHD treatment is building executive function skills. Neither medication nor exercise will help us to develop those skills. ADHD coaching, for example, fills that void by helping those with ADHD to improve those skills impacted by ADHD like the ability to manage time, regulate emotions, plan, prioritize, organize, get started and follow through on tasks. All of the treatments we will discuss today target at least one of these 2 prongs and some give us a double whammy hitting both of those to prongs.
If you’ve been following me long enough, you’ve definitely heard me speak about the foundations of successful ADHD treatment. They include Mindfulness, Exercise, Diet, and Sleep or (M.E.D.S. for short) and if you choose pharmaceutical medication. When these basics are solid, you’ll be at your best. However, when you are deficient in any or all these areas, your ADHD symptoms will suffer.
For example, I recall recently travelling from Los Angeles to New York on a red eye flight, without getting a wink of sleep. The next day my focus, emotional regulation and working memory suffered. I couldn’t finish a sentence without getting distracted and losing my train of thought. My emotions were also on edge. I was unusually irritable and emotionally reactive. All my executive function skills were clearly impaired by being sleep deprived. Similarly, if you skip a meal or make poor food choices it will impact your brain and your ADHD symptoms. On the other hand, with a consistent routine and healthy habits including quality sleep, exercise, a good diet, and mindfulness you’re creating an excellent foundation for your ADHD management.
However, even with the best of intentions, sometimes we can get bogged down in the muck of the day-to-day struggle. How can we continue to be our best while treating our ADHD in a way that works with our ADHD brains and not against them? So, let’s begin. We all love the bright, shiny, new, fun, and the unusual. So, let’s explore some ways to add sparkle to our ADHD treatment that actually make a difference.
v Improv or Improvisational theater can be useful and effective as a treatment for ADHD by helping individuals approve their ability to focus on their partners, notice social cues, listen carefully to their words, and improve communication skills. Other benefits include leaning into the ADHD strength of creativity as well as reducing anxiety and building confidence.
v Video Games and Board games can be a great opportunity to improve executive function skills such as planning, prioritizing, focus, organization, working memory, decision making and emotional regulation. Games can also be an outlet to practice social skills. The pitfalls of excessive screen time, while definitely a real concern, will be addressed in a future newsletter/blog post.
v Explore something new! Novelty is another tool to fire up the ADHD brain and while you’re at it you could gain a new skill which builds self-confidence. Explore a new interest like learning a new language, to play an instrument, expand your culinary skills in the kitchen, test your athletic prowess with a new sport or whatever strikes your fancy.
v Fun and Play are not just for kids! – ADHDers are often told to work harder, but the reality is playing harder and having fun will ignite the ADHD brain (by creating dopamine) and fuel productivity. So, it’s vital that fun and play are a REGULAR part of your routine. Fun is different for everyone. So, figure out what’s fun for you (whether it’s jumping on a trampoline, using a hula-hoop, acting goofy, doing a puzzle or something else.) Now, go and play.
v Get Outside in nature. Green time is a powerful remedy for your ADHD symptoms with absolutely no side effects - well, aside from the occasional skinned knee, mosquito bite, or sun burn. Research conducted at the University of Illinois found that spending time outside in nature has a significant positive impact on ADHD symptoms. Spending as little as 20 minutes around grass, trees or at a sandy beach markedly reduced ADHD hyperactivity and impulsivity, while improving focus, motivation, short term memory and learning. So, plan a picnic, hike, or scavenger hunt, plant a garden, fly a kite, bike, go fishing, or simply chill on a lawn chair. The options are endless and it's simple, fun, free, and accessible.
v Pick a Project. The caveat here is that it should be a project you will enjoy and not a dreaded task you have been pushing off (e.g., not cleaning out your garage or attic, unless that’s your fancy 😊). All projects involve planning, organizing, prioritizing, focus, and time management and will help develop your executive function skills. The key is that it’s something that you will find interesting. Then, your brain will automatically be producing dopamine to keep you motivated and engaged. So, get ready and take a trip to home depot to plan your tree house, plant that herb garden you’ve been fantasizing about, create your own Halloween costume, plan a vacation or refinish that antique desk – the benefits are many.
v Music has also been studied as a component of ADHD treatment. While it is not a standalone treatment, incorporating music can have beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms improving focus, motivation, emotional self-regulation and mood. Music can also be a useful tool to calm the ADHD brain before sleep.
v Get a pet! Pets, particularly dogs, require daily exercise. This provides an automatic opportunity for those with ADHD to get outside and to move. Exercise and nature are an awesome treatment combination which together create dopamine to motivate the ADHD brain as well as relaxing the nervous system. The responsibilities of caring for a pet such as Feeding, walking, playing, and grooming can help create a routine and structure in which those with ADHD thrive. Pets also offer unconditional love and support which can help defuse the stress and overwhelm that can accompany ADHD.
v Yoga is an awesome addition to the ADHD toolbox. Yoga promotes mindfulness and an emphasis on breathing techniques which improves our focus, ability to regulate our emotions, and relieves stress. It teaches the ADHD brain to slow down and pause, which in turn aid on greater self-awareness and decision making. Of course, yoga is also physical activity and carries all the ADHD and general health benefits of exercise.
v Martial Arts training provides opportunities for repetition, which can help individuals with ADHD to improve working memory and focus. The structured nature of martial arts can also help those with ADHD to develop better impulse control and positively impact emotions and behavior.
v Turn on the Music. Listening to your favorite playlist is a fun way to boost your dopamine naturally. Listening to your favorite tunes can also elevate your mood and enhance your productivity.
v Get a massage. We all know that a massage feels good and relieves stress, but did you also know that a massage also activates the creation of dopamine in your brain? I didn’t until recently. So, not only can a massage feel wonderful, but it also can improve your attention, motivation, and productivity. Now, you know what to ask for your next birthday.
v Create! Harness your ADHD superpower of creativity and get those creative juices flowing because along with those creative juices you’ll also experience a jolt of dopamine and all the benefits that entails. Some popular creative avenues of expression include art, music, photography, writing, home decorating, cooking, dancing, and crafting.
While you’re at it you’ll also be gaining skills on the road to mastery in whatever creative
pursuit you choose
I bet you didn't realize ADHD management could be so much fun!