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TIPS ON THE MANAGEMENT OF ADULT
Edward Hallowell, MD and John Ratey, MD have listed 50 tips or
practical suggestions for the management of adult ADHD. These are
non-medication suggestions. Over the next few months, we will share
these very useful strategies that Drs. Hallowell and Ratey have
proposed. They are divided into four categories:
PART I – Insight and Education
1. Be sure of the diagnosis.
Choose a professional who truly understands ADHD and
its related disorders
2. Educate yourself.
Understand ADHD. Read books. Talk to professionals.
Gather information. Learn.
Get yourself a coach. A coach can help you get and
stay organized, stay on task, give you encouragement and be in
Adults with ADHD need lots of encouragement. Find
people who understand you and encourages you to reach your
5. Realize what ADHD is NOT!
ADHD is not a psychological conflict. It is not
because you and your mother don’t get along.
6. Educate and involve others.
Teach others around you about what ADHD is and what
they can do to help. This can include family, friends,
coworkers, even your boss.
7. Give up guilt over high-stimulating behavior.
Understand you are drawn to this type of thing. Try to
make better decisions, don’t “beat yourself up” about the bad
8. Listen to feedback from trusted others.
Individuals with ADHD are poor self-observers.
Information from others you trust can help you.
9. Consider joining or starting a support group.
Much of the information you need is in the minds and experience
of other people. Bring these people together for support and increased knowledge.
With new technology, telephone groups, like the ADDvisor, can be helpful in
providing this support. (Write
10. Try to get rid of the negativity.
Many of you have heard negative feedback for ages
making it hard to accept the positive. Psychotherapy may help
11. Don’t feel chained to conventional careers or
conventional ways of coping.
Give yourself permission to be yourself. Give up on
what you thought you SHOULD be and explore what you REALLY WANT
12. Remember what you have is a neurobiological
ADHD is caused by biology. It is how your brain is
wired. It is NOT a disorder of will or moral fiber. Weakness of
character has nothing to do with it. It is rooted in biology.
13. Try to help others with ADHD.
By helping others, you learn more yourself and feel
good about helping others.
PART II –
1. External structure
Structure is the hallmark of the management of ADHD.
Use lists, notes to yourself, color-coding, rituals, reminders,
files. The PDAs (personal digital assistants) such as the Palm,
Handspring Visor, etc. are very helpful organizers.
Many ADHD people are visually oriented and color can
help call attention to things, thus making them easier to
3. Use pizzazz.
In keeping with #2, make your environment as peppy as
you want without overwhelming you.
4. Set up your environment to reward rather than to
A deflating environment (remember what it was like in
school) will hinder motivation. Try to set things up so you are
not constantly reminded of your limitations.
5. Acknowledge and anticipate.
Expect that a certain percentage of your projects
undertaken, relationships entered into and obligations incurred
6. Embrace challenges
ADHD people thrive on challenges. As long as you are
realistic about success (see #5), give it a shot. You’ll get
7. Make deadlines
Think of deadlines as motivators rather than echoes of
doom. Make them and stick to them. Use your PDA to remind you
8. Break down large tasks into small ones.
Attach deadlines to the small tasks and then the large
ones get done. Large tasks may feel overwhelming. Smaller tasks
are more manageable.
Put first things first. Procrastination is the enemy
of adults with ADHD. Watch out for it and avoid it.
10. Accept fear of things going too well
Accept feeling edgy when things seem too easy. Try not
to shake things up just for some stimulation.
11. Notice how and where you work best
Individuals with ADHD often do their best in the
oddest situations. Learn what is best for you: working in front
of the TV and stereo, in a crowded room, etc.
12. Know that it is okay to do two things at once.
Often, people with ADHD need to be doing several
things at once in order to do anything at all.
13. Do what you are good at
Even if it seems easy, try to do the things you are
good at and not only what you are bad at.
14. Leave time between engagements to gather your
Transitions are difficult for people with ADHD so
scheduling breaks in between can help make the transition
15. Keep a notepad in your car, by your bed, and in your
pocketbook or jacket.
You never know when a good idea will hit you or when
you need to remember something.
16. Read with a pen in hand.
Use the pen to jot down “margin” notes but also any
other idea that may come to you.
PART III – Mood Management
1. Have structured “blow-out” time.
Set aside time every week to just “let go” safely.
Pick an activity that you enjoy and let loose without getting
2. Recharge your batteries
This is related to the above tip. On a daily basis,
take some time out to recharge your batteries: take a nap, a
bath or watch TV. Designate this time as special so as to make
it guilt free.
3. Choose “good” helpful addictions
Such as exercise. Many ADHD adults get hooked on
something. Make it something positive.
4. Understand mood changes
Rather than trying to figure out why you are in a bad
mood or look for someone to blame, focus on learning to
tolerate a bad mood. You know it will pass and by developing
strategies, you can help it pass more quickly. Doing something
different, such as getting involved in some new activity can
5. Recognize the ADHD mood cycle.
a. something ‘startles’ your psychological system, a
change, a transition, a disappointment or even success. It can
be quite trivial.
b. This startle is followed by a ‘mini-panic’ with a sudden
loss of perspective. The world has been turned on its end.
c. You try to deal with this by obsessing over some part of
the situation for hours, sometimes days or weeks.
6. Plan scenarios to deal with the inevitable
Have a list of friends you can call. Have some videos
that can distract you. Have some access to exercise. Rehearse
some pep talks for yourself. These are the ADD blues. They will
pass, you will be okay.
7. Expect depression after success.
People with ADD often feel depressed after a big
success. This is because the high stimulus of the challenge or
preparation is over. The stimulus is gone and so depressed
8. Learn symbols, slogans, sayings
These are short hand ways to label slip-ups, mistakes
or mood swings. Such as, “Oops, there goes my ADHD again.” This
is not an excuse but rather a way to avoid obsessing over your
unconscious desire to sabotage yourself.
9. Use ‘time-outs’ as with children
When you are feeling overwhelmed or upset, give
yourself a time out. Go away. Calm down.
10. Learn to advocate for yourself
Learn to get off the defensive and be appropriately
assertive for what you need to be successful.
11. Avoid premature closure of a project, a conflict, a
deal, or a conversation.
Don’t “cut to the chase” too soon, even though you
might want to.
12. Try to let the successful moment last.
Remember it. Train yourself to consciously and
deliberately do this because you can easily forget your
13. Remember that ADD usually includes a tendency to
overfocus or hyperfocus at time.
This can be used constructively or destructively. Be
aware of its destructive use: the tendency to obsess over some
problem that you cannot let go.
14. Exercise vigorously and regularly
Schedule this into your life and stick to it. It helps
work off excess energy and aggression in a positive way. It
stimulates the hormonal and neurochemical system in a most
therapeutic way and soothes and calms the body. Make it fun so
you will stick with it over your lifetime.
PART IV – Interpersonal Life
1. Make a good choice in a significant other.
With the right mate, an ADD adult can thrive.
2. Learn to joke with yourself and others.
The more you can have a sense of humor and be relaxed
you can be with your symptoms such as getting lost, being
tactless, forgetfulness, the more others will be able to be
3. Schedule activities with friends.
Adhere to these schedules faithfully. Keeping
connected to people is critical.
4. Find and join groups.
People with ADD find great strength from group
support. They feel liked, appreciated, understood and enjoyed.
5. Don’t stay too long where you aren’t appreciated or
ADD people become drained and demoralized by negative
6. Pay compliments. Notice other people.
Work on building your social skills. Using a coach
7. Set social deadlines.
Just as you set dates and deadlines and structure
other parts of your life, do so with your social life. Keep up
with your social calendar. This will help you keep in touch
with friends and the kind of social support that you need.