Tips and Tricks for Managing ADHD -without medication
For those of you reading who saw my Instagram story you know that I have ADHD, and you also know that recently I started a self imposed "medication vacation" due to the negative side effects caused by stimulants that have been interfering with my training (runner), and general health and well being.
I decided that it was important that I share this dilemma because I know how debilitating ADHD can be, and while I am not against medication- I think it's important to have an arsenal of tools that can be employed as an alternative....especially when using stimulants is impacting health or interfering with some personal pursuit-such as marathon training.
In the interest of being fully transparent, I am not going to pretend that weaning myself off my stimulants has been easy. In fact- it's been pretty miserable. With that being said, the first thing individuals who are trying to reduce their stimulant use should keep in mind is that it is vital to be kind to yourself. Remember that the stimulant medication you were using was playing a crucial role in keeping your dopamine levels in check (something your brain wasn't doing organically) and the decrease/absence in the medication is going to make the day to day feel much more complicated and probably overwhelming at times.
For anyone interested in learning more about the connection between dopamine levels and ADHD, follow the link below:
I am now 2 weeks into my break from stimulants, and my training is already benefiting. Stimulants cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, dehydration, and symptoms of anxiety. While these side effects might not be as noticeable in a more moderate exercise program/routine- they were very clearly impacting my marathon training. It's not recommended or even possible to run certain distances with a heart rate that is above 170. It's also not ideal to be running with a heart rate that is not indicative of you actual fitness level. It confuses the mind and body to feel fatigued running at a pace that is normally comfortable, and as any distance runner knows- its important to be able to accurately gauge your exertion level.
I know that everyone reading this is not training for a marathon, or is even runner. These tips and tricks are still relevant for anybody who wants to try a more holistic way of managing their ADHD. I shared my personal reasons for reference and perspective on why I made this transition.
5 tips and tricks for managing ADHD without medication
1. Wean yourself off your dose under the care and supervision of your prescribing doctor.
This might seem like a no brainer, but I don't feel like I can ethically write this blog post without having this "tip" first on the list. Weaning yourself off of a stimulant can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. You are not going to feel like yourself, and studies have shown that people who quit stimulants cold turkey can experience anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, extreme fatigue, and more. Talk to your doctor first, they will know how to advise on decreasing dosage and making the process as healthy as possible.
2. Focus on your sleep/wake cycle.
Pick a bedtime and wake time that works with your schedule and commitments. Make sure that it allows for at least 7 hours of sleep, and that you can adhere to it at least 5 nights a week. Sleep is a miracle worker, and is the time when the body restores, heals, and grows. The restoration process includes the re-balancing of levels of dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters that keep us feeling happy, alert, focused, and productive throughout the day. Getting yourself on a regular cycle (as hard as it is at first) is one of the simplest things you can do to make it easier to get through the days feeling more like yourself. I would even go so far as to say that if you have an ADHD diagnosis and you haven't REALLY buckled down on your sleep hygiene before- you might feel like a NEW person. The button below will provide you access to a document I made for clients that outlines what good sleep hygiene looks like, and how to apply it to your life.
3. Consume a high protein/low carb diet
Nutrition "harmonizes" the ADHD brain. Good nutrition that is.
Adults and parents of children with ADHD are finding that, while whole foods may not be a cure-all, they can make a BIG difference for some patients. Many have also found that a higher percentage of protein and lower percentage of simple carbs seems to be the "sweet spot".
Poor eating habits do not cause ADHD. And when it comes to controlling impulsivity, inattention, and other symptoms, sometimes (oftentimes) there is no substitute for medication and behavioral therapy, which are clearly the most effective approaches — and the only ones recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (little disclaimer there).
Research shows that protein promotes alertness in the brain. Carbohydrates do the opposite. And artificial colors and flavors are even worse. Which explains why when I eat sour gummy worms I literally crash and burn.
Two studies show a relationship between food and ADHD symptoms. One, published in Pediatrics in 2010 concluded that pesticides, specifically organophosphates, found on fruits and vegetables may be linked to ADHD. The higher the levels of the compounds detected in a child’s urine, the more likely he or she is to be diagnosed with ADHD. (The answer? Eat organic, suggest the study’s authors.) Another study, published in the Journal of Attention Disorders in 2010, showed that a Western diet — processed meats, fast foods, high-fat dairy products, and sugary foods — doubled the risk of having an ADHD diagnosis, compared with a healthier diet.
No one thing is ever a cure all, but nutrition is a huge factor in holistically managing almost anything. Below is a link to tips for cooking and eating specifically for the ADHD brain.
4. Add these supplements to your diet/routine!
NOTE: I am NOT a medical doctor, and I will be totally up front in saying that I do not take all of these suggestions below. These herbs and supplements have all been researched and there is enough information out there, that I don't feel irresponsible in suggesting them here. With that being said, everyone has to come to their own conclusions about what they want to put in their body. Anytime you purchase and take a supplement it is important to do your research (make sure what your purchasing is real first and foremost) , TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR- just because something is natural doesn't mean it won't react with a medication you take, or impact an underlying health condition. Just be responsible people....bottom line. Blindly putting things into your body is never a good call.
- B Vitamins: Vitamin B-6 appears to boost dopamine- which boosts concentration.
-Zinc/Iron/Magnesium: Zinc synthesizes dopamine and augments the effects of methylphenidate. Low levels of this mineral correlate with inattention. Iron is essential for making dopamine. Magnesium has a calming effect on the brain.
-Omega-3s: Studies sho;w that individuals with ADHD tend to have lower levels of omega-3's than most people. For some reason the body breaks down omega 3's faster in people who have issues processing dopamine.
-Picamilon: A combination of the B-vitamin niacin and gamma-aminobutyric acid, picamilon improves blood flow to the brain and has mild stimulative effects, improving alertness and attention. It can also reduce aggressive behavior.
-Pycnogenol: An extract made from French maritime pine bark. Pycnogenol was found in one study to improve hyperactivity and sharpen attention, concentration, and visual-motor coordination in students after one month, based on standardized measures and teacher and parent ratings.
-Rhodiola Rosea: Made from a plant of the same name that grows in the Arctic, this herb can improve alertness, attention, and accuracy. It can be too stimulating for young children, and is occasionally beneficial in children ages eight to 12. It is most useful, says Brown, for students in junior high, high school, and college, who have to complete long papers and spend hours reading.
-Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha, one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, and has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions. It is most well-known for its restorative benefits. In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb imparts the vigor and strength of a stallion, and has traditionally been prescribed to help people strengthen their immune system after an illness. What is most interesting is that Ashwagandha appears to have an impact on cortisol in the body. It seems to improve a persons ability to manage stress and anxiety in a healthy way- and for the ADHD brain, this is very relevant. It can be stressful to be a person with ADHD in the world. It's easy to become overwhelmed and completely tune out in certain situations, which may seem rude and annoying to others- however the adhd person knows that its a survival technique to help deal with hyper stimulation.
5. Practice mindfulness
This is my area of expertise! Mindfulness and Meditation are fantastic strategies for managing ADHD, and they are free and available to anyone. Below are handouts that I have made for clients on what Mindfulness is, what Meditation is- and how to practice/use both.
6. Get moving!
I feel like this one is a no brainer. Exercises causes a release of endorphins and dopamine, and other good stuff. When dopamine and endorphins are present, cortisol usually isn't. The hyper active child, well they are trying to make dopamine. Children are pretty great at doing what's intuitive- so follow their lead and move in whatever way works for you. Daily exercise- particularly in the morning, can set the ADHD brain up for a better day overall.