Though you can’t cure ADHD, you can take steps to manage the condition. You may be able to minimize your symptoms by identifying individual trigger points. Common triggers include stress, poor sleep, certain foods and additives, overstimulation, and technology. Once you recognize what triggers your ADHD symptoms, you can make the necessary lifestyle changes to keep episodes under control.
For adults especially, stress often triggers ADHD episodes, and, conversely, ADHD causes a perpetual state of stress. A person who struggles with ADHD cannot successfully focus and filter out excess stimuli, which increases stress levels. Anxiety, which can stem from approaching deadlines, procrastination, and the inability to focus on the work at hand, can further raise stress levels.
Unmanaged stress aggravates common symptoms of ADHD. Pay attention during periods of stress (when a work project is coming to a due date, for example). Are you more hyperactive than usual? Are you having more trouble concentrating than usual? Try to incorporate daily techniques to relieve stress: take regular breaks when performing tasks and engage in exercise or relaxing activities, such as yoga.
Lack of Sleep
The mental sluggishness that results from poor sleep can worsen ADHD symptoms and cause inattention, drowsiness, and careless mistakes. Inadequate sleep also leads to a decline in performance, concentration, reaction time, and comprehension. Too little sleep may also cause a child to become hyperactive in order to compensate for the lethargy they feel. Seven to eight (or more) hours of sleep each night may help an ADHD child or adult control negative symptoms the next day.
Food and Additives
Certain foods can either help or worsen symptoms of ADHD. In coping with the disorder, it’s important to pay attention to whether specific foods exacerbate or alleviate your symptoms. Nutrients such as proteins, fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B help to properly nourish a child’s body and brain and may diminish symptoms of ADHD (Sinn, 2007).
However, certain foods and food additives have been thought to exacerbate ADHD symptoms. For instance, foods laden with sugar and fat may be important to avoid. Certain additives, such as sodium benzoate, MSG, and red and yellow dyes, which are used to enhance the flavor, taste, and appearance of foods, may also aggravate symptoms of ADHD. A 2007 study published in the British medical journal The Lancet linked these additives to greater hyperactivity in all children, regardless of their ADHD status (McCann, 2007).
Many people with ADHD experience bouts of overstimulation, in which they feel bombarded by overwhelming sights and sounds. Crowded venues, such as concert halls and amusement parks, may trigger ADHD symptoms (University of Maryland, 2009). Allowing adequate personal space is important for preventing outbursts, so avoiding crowded restaurants, rush hour congestion, busy supermarkets, and high-traffic malls may help diminish troublesome ADHD symptoms.
Constant electronic stimulation from computers, cell phones, television, and the Internet may also aggravate symptoms. Although there has been much debate about whether TV watching influences ADHD, it may intensify symptoms. Flashing images and excessive noise do not cause ADHD, but if a child is having a hard time focusing, a glaring screen will further affect his or her concentration.
A child is also much more likely to release pent-up energy and practice social skills by playing outside than by sitting for long stretches in front of a screen. Make a point to monitor computer and television time and limit viewing to set time segments.