Doctors Explain How to Control ADHD Symptoms

Doctors explain how to control ADHD symptoms

These strategies can help with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

STRUGGLING TO CONCENTRATE, running late, or being forgetful are things most of us deal with from time to time. But, for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) these behaviours are constant.

ADHD is fairly common for adults, though statistics vary on exactly how many are affected, says Lidia Zylowska, M.D., an ADHD expert and associate professor at the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

“Men are diagnosed about three times as much as women are,” she says. It’s estimated that 5.4 per cent of men have adult ADHD.

Sometimes, men were diagnosed with ADHD as children and continue to experience symptoms, like impulsivity or hyperactivity, when they grow up, Dr Zylowska says.

But ADHD can be diagnosed for the first time in adulthood, says Dave Rabin, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist and psychiatrist. It could be that someone had the condition in childhood but it wasn’t diagnosed until later, or research shows there can be late-onset ADHD without a childhood link.

“I think that in general, most people who are diagnosed with ADHD as adults have had some attention struggles as children, but they figured out how to deal with it,” he explains. “Then, life doesn’t get easier as you get older, generally speaking. Life gets more stressful and you start having more symptoms of attention issues.”

Adult ADHD symptoms typically fall into two categories: inattention and disorganisation or hyperactivity and impulsivity, Dr Zylowska says. There are several ways to help control the symptoms, experts say.

How to know if you have ADHD

“We can all recognise the state of being scattered, disorganised, and feeling restless,” Dr. Zylowska says.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have adult ADHD, she adds. “To diagnose ADHD, it’s not just an occasional occurrence or it happens in a certain situation. It’s something that happens consistently across settings.”

ADHD can be difficult to diagnose. Seeing a psychiatrist trained in assessing and treating ADHD is the only way to truly know if you have it, Dr Rabin says. They can help distinguish whether your trouble focusing is stress-related or ADHD, or if you have a different condition, such as depression.

Diagnosing ADHD may involve an interview process, behaviour and symptom rating skills, observations, and taking a comprehensive history, according to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.

Since stress permeates most people’s lives and they’re pulled in many different directions, Dr Rabin says ADHD is often overdiagnosed, and people may be prescribed medication that they don’t need and won’t actually help them. That’s one reason there have been shortages of some ADHD medications over the past couple of years, he adds.

Symptoms of Adult ADHD

ADHD symptoms are related to inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and may include:

  • Losing things, like keys or your phone
  • Struggling to follow instructions
  • Struggling to pay attention or focus
  • Being easily distracted or forgetful
  • Experiencing restlessness
  • Fidgeting
  • Being impatient
  • Struggling to organise tasks

How to control ADHD symptoms

There are several ways that you can manage your ADHD symptoms, including lifestyle changes, therapy, and more. Here’s an overview:

Time management and productivity hacks

Making to-do lists is one way to stay focused. Dr. Rabin suggests making a list at the start of the day and prioritising checking things off one at a time.


“Don’t just go into the day with a blank slate of stuff that you think you’re supposed to do,” he says.

Whenever you need to get something done, start small and take it step by step. Setting calendar reminders or leaving yourself notes can also help. Body doubling is another technique, where you have someone around whose presence helps you stay on task.

Memory exercises

Forcing yourself to remember things can help improve focus, Dr. Rabin says. For example, if someone gives you a phone number or address, try to remember and recall it before putting it into your phone. The more you practise remembering, the easier it will become, he adds.

Practise mindfulness

Meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness practices have been shown to improve ADHD symptoms.


“With ADHD, there’s a tendency to focus externally, whether it’s noise, tasks you have to do, your thoughts, other distractions,” Dr. Zylowska says. “You don’t necessarily, as easily, focus on your internal experience.”

With mindfulness, you learn to check in with yourself, create more self-awareness, and focus on the present, she explains.

Focus on sleep

Not getting enough sleep can cause restlessness, stress, and irritability, exacerbating ADHD symptoms. Research shows people with ADHD often have sleep disturbances, circadian rhythm abnormalities, and daytime sleepiness. Dr. Rabin says this can worsen symptoms, like anxiety, stress, restlessness, and distractedness.

Sleep restores your brain’s ability to focus, Dr. Zylowska says. “If your sleep is off, it will have a direct impact on ADHD symptoms.”

Exercise frequently

“Exercise gets restlessness out of the body,” Dr. Rabin says. Regularly working out helps you release stress that accumulates in the body and feel calmer, which can improve focus. It also helps you use pent-up energy.

A 2016 research review found that cardio and other types of exercise can improve executive function and attention and reduce impulsivity for adults with ADHD.

Adjust Your Diet

A 2022 research review suggests that the Mediterranean and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets were most effective at helping children manage ADHD symptoms.

Dr Zylowska says that diets featuring healthy protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains benefit people with ADHD. These foods help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level and are good for your brain. She suggests avoiding or limiting ultra-processed foods, sugar, and additives like food dyes.

Foods high in refined sugar give you a burst of energy, but then a crash, Dr Rabin says. “They don’t stimulate focused attention.”

Caffeine can also increase restlessness and anxiety, he adds.


Depending on your ADHD symptoms and how they’re affecting your daily life, you might need to take medications, such as Adderall or Dexedrine. Dr. Zylowska says if you’re prescribed medication, tools such as mindfulness and healthy lifestyle habits, including sleep and exercise, are recommended as well.


Cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended for ADHD, Dr. Zylowska says, as it can help improve inattention and impulsivity.

Some people benefit from working with a coach to establish strategies and habits, such as setting reminders, making lists, and sticking to an exercise plan, to create structure and manage their symptoms, she adds.

“ADHD behaviours can derail your intention,” Dr. Zylowska says. “You have an intention to do something and then with the ADHD behaviours – despite your good intentions, despite knowing what you’re supposed to do – you end up not getting things done or not achieving what you wanted to achieve.”

Be kind to yourself

Self-doubt, self-criticism, and low self-esteem are common for adults with ADHD, Dr Zylowska says. People often receive negative feedback and may frustrate their partners.

She urges people with the condition to be kind to themselves, open up about their struggles, and engage loved ones for help.

“Self-awareness and kindness can make you more empowered and more effective in managing ADHD,” Dr. Zylowska says.

This article originally appeared on Men’s Health US.


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