Creating New Habits to Manage ADHD

Karina admits she feels trapped some days. The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased severity of her ADHD symptoms related to quarantine has taken an emotional toll.

“I need to take walks every 45 minutes, and tend to forget important timelines,” she says. “It’s making my days longer, because I can’t sit still long enough to get through a normal work day.”

Finding ways to manage symptoms, work from home, adjust to new working conditions, and navigate a new set of needs created by “safer at home” advisories challenged many adults with ADHD.

Beyond routines—living a new pattern

Many people put aside the most commonly recommended ways to manage ADHD through lifestyle during the health crisis. While outdoor activities such as jogging and gardening remained possible, people who went to the gym or yoga studio as part of their behavioral management strategies had to find new ways of exercising. Those who stopped at a local coffee shop in the afternoon found doors closed in the effort to halt the coronavirus. Altered working environments upset routines that helped many people succeed.

“Working at home has come with added challenges,” says Lexi. “Since my anxiety is on high, it exacerbates some of my ADHD symptoms. I can no longer quickly stop by a coworker’s desk to confirm expectations on a project or brainstorm ideas, or pick up on physical or verbal social cues in an office setting. This lack of social connection has me regularly sending somewhat frantic messages, to make sure I’m on track. I’m seeking reassurance from my coworkers and management that I’m making the right progress and meeting expectations in my new role.”

These changes in lifestyle pushed many people with ADHD to find new ways of getting their needs met. Lexi says she has regular video conferences with her colleagues as one way of getting reassurance. She schedules breaks away from her work-from-home space as a way to relieve anxiety and manage hyperactivity. Lexi also tucks her cellphone away to help prevent distractions during her workday. Experts says these habits are a good way to create new patterns of behavior for managing symptoms.

Helping adults in a challenging situation

Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH, treats adults for ADHD and says there’s a need for practitioners to step up during this time.

“These rather complex pandemic times have made the care of such patients even more challenging,” he says, “and that’s why I, as a clinician, really need to step in, really need to bring my A‑game to address the needs of these complex ADHD patients.”

ADHD is a “24-hour disorder,” he says, and finding the best ways to incorporate nonmedical interventions is important right now.

“The care of someone with ADHD is not just about medications,” says Dr. Jain. “It’s also about lifestyle modifications.”

He suggests ADHD specialists and adults incorporate these practices to help manage symptoms:

  •  Appreciate how difficult this has been for people with ADHD.

“Our patients’ lives have been stressed beyond imagination,” observes Dr. Jain. “ADHD just increases the level of complexity considerably in this whole situation.”

  • Extra watchfulness over the care of patients with ADHD.

“I do think our patients with ADHD require us to be extra vigilant about side‑effect management with them and also adherence,” he says. “In the best of times this is challenging, but now, with schedules thrown into complete disarray and social schedules as stressed as they are, adherence may be a particularly complex issue.”

  • Good daily self-care can help optimize a person’s treatment plan.

“Let’s think of and remind our patients and their families about the importance of exercise, sleep hygiene that’s optimized, and of course optimized nutrition,” says Dr. Jain.

Adapting and then thriving

This past spring, uncertainty created a sense of novelty as society shifted very quickly. Some people with ADHD found it exciting and felt focused, ready to go. Others instead felt lost, as the rapid changes shifted the routines that helped them to manage their symptoms.

Today, things are settling down. Some people have returned to their workplaces and more businesses and restaurants are open. The process of adapting and creating new routines that can support an adult with ADHD is underway for many people.

“After a month, things gradually started to shift,” says Jandra. “I feel like I’m getting back to my ‘normal’ self—even though that normal is new to me—and I’m starting to feel like my life is moving again. I’ve realized that productivity is less about getting work done and more about embracing the ebbs and flows of life. There are days when my productivity levels are sky-high, but there are also days where I struggle to work for an hour, even with medication, and that’s perfectly fine too.”

Are you looking for ideas on adapting?

Join the discussion: What new routines have you created?