By Grace Gufler

I have recently noticed an increase in worries and concerns over the long-term side effects of ADHD medication. Many of the people in my life who take medication for ADHD or ADD have shared with me their feelings of frustration and hopelessness, about the reliance on medication for the treatment of these disorders. I began to notice that there was a plethora of information on how to safely wean yourself off of medication but very little on what can be substituted in place of the medication. In other words, people feel terrified to stop taking medication without having some skills or techniques to fill that void.

I would like to preface this blog post by saying that medications are a viable option for many people and have been very successful for the treatment of ADD/ADHD. I also understand, however, that relying on medication alone can be problematic,  for some people, in the long-term. This can be due to a change in lifestyle, physical health concerns and as our tolerance for the medication increases, over time, it may become less effective. This blog post is going to offer some techniques and skills you can use in replacement of your medication, to use while you are weaning off your medication or, even along with medication to increase its’ overall effectiveness.

Persons with ADD/ADHD have various symptoms, including (but not limited to): difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, lack of motivation, decreased energy, racing thoughts and high levels of energy. Alternative methods to manage these symptoms include:

    • Trouble completing a task: For this symptom I recommend a few things. For one, stop comparing yourself to people who do not have ADD/ADHD and expecting to be able to approach things in the same manner. For the majority of people, completing an item on their to-do list or project in one sitting is a normal expectation. If you are a person with ADD/ADHD, and have the same expectation, you are setting yourself up for failure. Your brain functions differently and, therefore, you need to approach things differently.
      • Take breaks: it is very important you allow yourself time to move around and clear your mind. Schedule breaks into your day and adjust your goals accordingly. For example, let’s say you need to write an expense report by the end of the day. You are expecting this to take 2 hours, however, you should plan to spend 3 hours on this. That extra time will reduce feelings of anxiety and will allow you to take the breaks your brain needs! 
      • Break goals down into very small action steps: Most people have a list of things that need to get done that week and will assign a few items to complete each day. If you are a person with ADD or ADHD this may not be the approach for you. Instead, try accomplishing small pieces of each task a day. Break each task down into very small action steps that can be completed throughout the week. This will allow you to take breaks from one task and satisfy your need for variety. These small tasks will seem much more manageable and will keep your brain engaged and busy. 
  • Increasing level of motivation and energy:
      • Start your morning out right: It is very important you begin your morning with an activity that will jump-start your brain. Exercising in the morning provides a natural increase in dopamine, similar to the one you receive from your medication
      • Green tea: Green tea is a natural caffeine and provides similar benefits as medication. Green tea is a natural way to give your body a boost and it also increases brain activity!
      • Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness is very helpful in the treatment of ADD/ADHD symptoms. It is important that you find the right activity for you and there are many options! If you have difficulty sitting still, try finding a more active mindfulness practice; such as: yoga, progressive muscle relaxation or guided meditation.
      • Diet: it is important you maintain a healthy diet. If you are struggling with low energy consider incorporating more protein in your diet. 
      • Activities that increase brain activity: Some activities increase our brain’s activity in the same way ADD/ADHD medication does. Some of these include: social activity, sunlight, exercise and decreasing our sugar intake.
      • Get an activity buddy: For activities/chores you struggle to find motivation to complete find someone who can do with them with you! Even if you are both doing separate activities, most persons with ADD/ADHD strongly benefit from being around others when working. 
      • Sleep: It is very important for you to get enough sleep, especially if you are weaning off of medication
        • If you are weaning off of medication, you may begin to have trouble falling asleep: taking a sleep aid, using a lavender essential oil or drinking a warm non-caffeinated beverage before bed can help. 
  • Healthy sleep habits include: 
        • Establish a bedtime routine and try to be consistent with what time you go to bed. I recommend beginning this routine at least 30 minutes before the time you want to be asleep by. This will give you time to de-compress and unwind from your day. 
        • No electronics 1 hour before sleep: the blue light in our electronic devices stimulates our brain and can make it difficult for us to fall asleep right after use.
        • Spending time in bed doing something relaxing (reading, meditation, journaling). Your bedtime routine should not just be the activities we do before getting into bed: brushing our teeth, showering, etc. It should also include time to relax.
  • Staying organized: it is very important that you find the method that works best for you to keep track of your responsibilities
    • Using a hand-written planner or calendar and placing it where you can see and reference it easily
    • Color coding: make things very clear and easy to spot
    • Set alarms and reminders 
  • Therapy: although I have outlined some tips you can use to cope with ADD/ADHD symptoms, the techniques in this blog post are very broad. The benefit of seeing a therapist, is that you can learn and practice techniques that are specific to your needs and lifestyle. 

I hope this blog was helpful for anyone looking for some alternative methods for treating and coping with ADD/ADHD symptoms. As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want to share some of your own methods you use!