I Tried 9 Common Treatments for My ADHD - Here's What Happened
Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
Google “ADHD treatments” and most sources suggest medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, dietary changes, or supplements. I’ve attempted a number of different treatments to try and make my life a bit easier. In my experience, it takes a combination of a few things to get the best results, and what works depends on the person. While these common treatments may or may not have worked for me, that doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for you, and it is always worth exploring options with a licensed health professional before trying new treatments or replacing current ones.
The biggest issue I have with most ADHD treatments is that they almost always require discipline and consistency, two things that are basically nonexistent with ADHD. As such, while many of these treatments may be effective, I don’t use a lot of them consistently and therefore don’t get the benefits because I find it hard to keep up with them on a daily basis.
In evaluating these treatments, I’ve rated each on a scale of 1-5 compasses, with five compasses being the most effective at “keeping me on track.”
Taking prescription medication, such as prescribed stimulants, can be really helpful for treating ADHD, and is considered the first line of treatment for most people. It can be tricky to find the right medication or the right dosage, and sometimes the side effects are hard to deal with. I had a terrible experience taking medication when I was first diagnosed, and gave up. A few years later, I tried again with better results — I cried the first time I took it because things just seemed so much easier and I wondered if this was what neurotypical people got to feel like all the time. That being said, I’ll never understand why the medication required for a condition that causes poor memory, absentmindedness, and inconsistency is treated by taking a pill at the same time every single day.
2. Omega-3 Fish Oil
After my bad experience with prescription medication, a naturopath recommended omega-3 fish oil every morning that is high in EPA (>1000mg) instead of DHA. Though it took a while to see any results, I found this effective. The downside is that I found it hard to take the big pills so I had to take a liquid instead. I didn’t like the oily feeling in my mouth, and even though I bought a solid brand that had no fishy taste, I had to wash the spoon instantly or my whole kitchen would smell like fish. It can also be quite expensive to get the high-potency ones.
3. Meditation Apps
Meditation was just not for me. I could not get my mind to focus or clear my head, and I found it incredibly frustrating. That said, two apps (Headspace and Waking Up) were OK so I’d recommend giving those a try. There’s a free trial period, but after that you have to pay to use the apps.
4. Less Sugar
Sugar can exacerbate ADHD symptoms, so it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. Reducing the amount of sugar I had was pretty effective but I found it hard to be disciplined about it. I also didn’t like being restrictive with my food — I’m a big believer in intuitive eating and allowing myself what I want.
Apparently, strenuous exercise is good for people with ADHD. It was not for me. I hate working out, find it difficult with my other health conditions, and mostly just feel miserable when I exercise. While there may be some ADHD benefits, the cons outweigh them for me. I prefer leisurely walks to clear my head.
Yin Yoga is a form of movement I found very helpful and enjoyable. It’s focused on slow, controlled movements and stretches that are very relaxing. Plus, the movements and stretches often help with my chronic pain — a win-win!
7. Mindful Music
So this is totally something I made up, but I find it great for relaxing and practicing focus. I call it “MYndful music.” I find a song I like (instrumental ones with multiple instruments are best) and I play it loudly on repeat, using headphones. Each time I listen through the song, I focus on only one instrument or element — so the first time, I may only focus on the guitar, but the second time I might focus on the piano. I find separating all the elements improves my focus without distracting me because I know the song and can predict what’s next.
It sounds super simple, but sleep (or a lack thereof) is the number one predictor of whether my ADHD will be in check. It doesn’t matter if I take my medication or eat well if I haven’t slept well. I need at least eight hours, but 9-10 is preferable.
For a long time, therapy was the only treatment I had for ADHD. Not only was it helpful for finding behavioral strategies for managing my ADHD, but it was also a safe place to explore how ADHD impacts my relationships, life, personality, and worldview. Being undiagnosed for so long was hard on my confidence, and therapy helped me accept that ADHD isn’t my fault or a failure, and it’s OK to be different and need other kinds of support. It taught me that neurotypical folks aren’t better than me and I’m doing alright.
There’s no perfect ADHD treatment, and some of these treatments might work better or worse for you than they did for me. I think it’s always worth trying different things to see what works best, and it’s OK if something doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped. I hope that, in the future, there are fewer barriers (financial or otherwise) to accessing holistic treatments. I also hope that we can invent ways to treat ADHD without requiring people with ADHD to do the very things that they struggle with the most — like taking medication consistently, or being disciplined about their routines or diets, or remembering to do certain tasks every day. Mostly, I hope that everyone finds what works for them, so that it becomes a bit easier to manage what can be a very frustrating condition.
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