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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Stress can make symptoms of ADHD worse. ADHD can also make people more sensitive to these stressors than most. Finding ways to reduce day to day stressors can play an important role in the treatment plan.

The following steps may help decrease stress and distractions. This will in turn improve the ability to focus.

General Guidelines for Managing ADHD

At School or Place of Employment

  • Alter the environment to reduce distractions:
    • Sitting on a inflated disc cushion may help improve your child's attention in class. The disc creates a physical distraction that help focus.
  • Decrease noise and clutter.
  • Create habits to help make your instructions clear. Writing them down for other may help.
  • Focus on success. Reward your child’s progress and reinforce positive behavior.
  • Use checklists and reminders to help stay organized.
  • Practice impulse control. (Encourage your child to do so.)
  • Look for things you are good at. (Encourage your child to do things he or she is good at.)
  • Do not require your child to perform difficult tasks in public.
  • Practice active learning such as underlining, note taking, or reading aloud.
  • Break big jobs down into small tasks.

Habits like fidgeting, pencil tapping, and constant movement may help children with ADHD stay alert and on task. Some teachers and schools may allow children to move and fidget in a quiet manner. An example is to squeeze a ball or stand at the back of the room with work.

At Home

  • Apply school or work guidelines to home life as well. This will help keep balance throughout the day.
  • Address family tensions. This may include problems between spouses, alcohol use disorder, drug abuse, and fighting among siblings.
  • Create order, structure, and routine in the home. There is comfort in knowing what is going to happen and that things are where they belong.
  • Practice good sleep habits. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Continue these habits even on weekends.
  • Eat healthy, balanced meals. Hunger or poor nutrition can make symptoms worse.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about options to help you quit.

Professional Help

  • A family doctor should track your child’s progress and treatment. This will help to detect and treat any problems early.
  • Look for support systems at work or school. A school may be able to make alternate education options. An employment counselor may help with your work needs.
  • Mental health professionals can teach coping skills. These skills can help to reduce stress. You can also learn how to better deal with emotional and social problems.
  • Specially trained ADHD coaches may also help. These coaches can help to provide structure, tools, and strategies. They may specialize in working with children, adolescents, or adults.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Talk to your family doctor if symptoms worsen. Discuss any challenges you have in making these lifestyle changes.

References:

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd. Updated June 2017. Accessed October 4, 2017.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated December 27, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2017.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated May 23, 2017. Accessed October 4, 2017.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd-the-basics/index.shtml. Updated 2016. Accessed October 4, 2017.
Rapport M, Bolden J, Kofler MJ, Sarver DE, Raiker JS, Alderson RM. Hyperactivity in boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a ubiquitous core symptom or manifestation of working memory deficits? J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2009;37(4):521-534.
Stern T, Rosenbaum J, et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2008.
Understanding ADHD: Information for parents. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Understanding-ADHD.aspx. Updated January 9, 2017. Accessed October 4, 2017.
What is ADHD? Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated July 2014. Accessed October 4, 2017.
4/30/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Pfeiffer B, Henry A, Miller S, Witherell S. Effectiveness of Disc 'O' Sit cushions on attention to task in second-grade students with attention difficulties. Am J Occup Ther. 2008;62(3):274-281.
2/4/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Hiscock H, Sciberras E, Mensah F, et al. Impact of a behavioural sleep intervention on symptoms and sleep in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and parental mental health: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2015;350:h68.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 3/29/2018

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