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Living Well With Adult ADHD

Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on March 23, 2021

Adult ADHD can affect your whole life. But along with medication, you can take steps to make your day-to-day a little easier. No single habit will fix everything. But a mix of lifestyle and diet changes can help.

Here are some strategies you might want to try.

Get Good Nutrition

ADHD raises your chances of obesity. Experts aren’t exactly sure why. You might not pay a lot of attention to what you eat. Or you might not sense when you’re full. Either of these can lead to snacking and overeating.

If you’re not sure how to adopt a healthy diet, ask your doctor. They’ll set you up with a dietitian who works with people who have ADHD.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Eat a balanced diet. No individual food or vitamin will ease your symptoms. Instead, follow the same minimally processed diet that’s good for all adults.

Fill your plate with:

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Make a plan. You might get distracted and skip meals. Then you might opt for quick, less healthy choices when it comes time to eat. To make things easier, schedule your meals and keep nutritious food on hand.

Here’s more meal-planning advice:

  • Go to the grocery store with a list.
  • Cook enough food for leftovers.
  • Make freezer-friendly meals such as soup.
  • Chop fresh vegetables ahead of time.
  • Buy frozen fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep items like brown rice and beans in stock.

Avoid trigger foods. Your diet won’t give you ADHD. But certain ingredients might affect your symptoms. Some people think artificial colors and other food additives can cause problems. But there’s not strong evidence to support this. Keep a journal to see if food affects your thoughts or actions. Better yet, ask your dietitian for advice.

Exercise

Growing evidence suggests that regular physical activity can ease symptoms of ADHD. Experts think that’s because exercise triggers the release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine. Those are the same brain chemicals that stimulant drugs affect, and they are the main treatment for ADHD.

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Like all adults, people who have ADHD should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week. Moderate is stuff like jogging or fast walking. It makes your heart rate go up but shouldn’t make it hard to carry on a conversation.

Physical activity might benefit adults with ADHD in the following ways:

  • Boost well-being
  • Improve impulse control
  • Reduce hyperactivity
  • Strengthen ability to plan and finish tasks

Get Enough Sleep

In general, adults should snooze for 7 to 9 hours a night. But if you have ADHD, you’re more likely to also have trouble falling or staying asleep. In turn, sleep problems might worsen your symptoms.

Tell your doctor if you can’t get enough shuteye. You might need to change when you take your medicine or switch to a different drug. They’ll also look for any hidden issues.

Treatment for the following health conditions might improve your sleep:

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You can also follow these healthy sleep habits:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Exercise, but not too close to bedtime.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Try not to nap late in the day.
  • Use a weighted blanket.

If none of that helps, ask your doctor if you can see a sleep specialist. Methods like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, biofeedback, or relaxation training can also help.

Give Up Bad Habits

You might do some unhealthy things to manage your symptoms. But you should skip or limit certain activities, especially if you have ADHD. That includes:

Drug and alcohol use. Steer clear of substances. Adults who have ADHD might turn to alcohol or marijuana to ease negative feelings that come with the condition. On the other hand, nicotine and cocaine may feel like they bring the same benefits as ADHD medications. But people with ADHD have high odds of getting hooked on these substances.

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Cigarette smoking. Smoking while you’re pregnant might raise the odds your child will have ADHD. And people with ADHD are also twice as likely to smoke when compared to those without the condition. If you start, it might be really hard to stop.

Ask your doctor if you need help quitting. Treatment, including ADHD medication, can help. Just don’t give up after your first try. Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant. It takes most people more than one attempt to give it up.

Lots of digital screen time. You probably can’t go without a smartphone. But you should be mindful of how often you use it. ADHD might make you more likely to develop what some people call “smartphone addiction.” And there’s some evidence that teens who use digital media a lot are more likely to get an ADHD diagnosis later on. But experts don’t know if this habit causes ADHD symptoms.

Manage Stress

ADHD can make daily life a little tougher. And when you get stressed out, your symptoms might get worse. That can make it even harder to think or control your emotions.

Ask your doctor how to add stress management to your treatment plan. Here are some tips and methods they might suggest:

  • Break down big tasks into small steps.
  • Use a calendar to plan ahead.
  • Stick to routines.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation.
  • Learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy.

Always reach out for support when you need it. There are lots of people who know what you’re going through. Ask your doctor or social worker if there’s a virtual or in-person support group you can connect with. You can also search the “affiliate locator” on the website of the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Brain Sciences: “The Association between ADHD and Obesity: Intriguing, Progressively More Investigated, but Still Puzzling.”

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): “Nutrition and ADHD,” “What’s for Dinner? Tips for Healthy Meal Planning,” “ADHD and Sleep Disorders,” “ADHD and Sleep Disorders Diagnosis and Management,” “Reframe Your ADHD-Related Stress.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Diet and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology: “Does Diet Affect the Symptoms of ADHD?”

Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation: “Physical exercise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – evidence and implications for the treatment of borderline personality disorder.”

Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: “The Association Between Insomnia and Sleep Duration in Adults With Attention Hyperactivity Disorder: Results From a General Population Study.”

Nature and Science of Sleep: “Sleep disorders in patients with ADHD: impact of management challenges.”

Alcohol Research & Health: “The Clinically Meaningful Link Between Alcohol Use and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): “Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Substance Use Disorders.”

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Columbia University Irving Medical Center: “Four Things People with ADHD Should Know About Smoking.”

Annals of General Psychiatry: “The relationship between smartphone addiction and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and attention deficit/hyperactivity in South Korean adolescents.”

JAMA Network: “Association of Digital Media Use With Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents.

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National Institute of Mental Health: “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.”

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