There’s no cure for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but you can take steps to manage it. To start, you can learn to recognize your ADHD triggers.

Common ADHD triggers include:

  • stress
  • poor sleep
  • certain foods and additives
  • overstimulation
  • technology

Once you recognize what triggers your ADHD symptoms, you can make lifestyle changes to better manage episodes.

Stress can trigger or intensify ADHD symptoms. At the same time, living with ADHD may cause a perpetual state of stress.

This could be due to a variety of reasons.

Research has shown that stress affects the prefrontal cortex, the same location of the brain affected by ADHD.

Someone living with ADHD also can’t successfully focus and filter out excess stimuli. This increases stress levels. Anxiety, which can stem from approaching deadlines, procrastination, and the inability to focus on the work at hand, can raise stress levels even more.

Unmanaged stress can aggravate ADHD symptoms. Evaluate yourself 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 normal?

Try to incorporate stress management techniques into each day: Take regular breaks when performing tasks, engage in regular exercise, and practice deep breathing or meditation to help you relax.

Up to 50% of people diagnosed with ADHD also experience sleep issues. Many symptoms of sleep deprivation also overlap with ADHD symptoms.

Inadequate sleep can result in mental sluggishness for anyone. When you’re living with ADHD, poor sleep can lead to or worsen symptoms such as:

  • inattention
  • forgetfulness
  • poor impulse control
  • drowsiness
  • careless mistakes
  • decline in performance
  • slowed reaction time
  • concentration issues
  • comprehension issues
  • hyperactivity

Getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night may help someone living with ADHD manage negative symptoms the next day.

It’s possible that certain foods can either help or worsen ADHD symptoms.

Nutrients that are thought to help nourish your body and brain and diminish ADHD symptoms include:

  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • proteins
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • zinc
  • vitamins B, C, and D

Foods and food additives that may exacerbate ADHD symptoms include:

  • sugary foods
  • salty foods
  • simple carbohydrates
  • saturated fat
  • caffeine
  • food preservatives like sodium benzoate and MSG
  • food dyes

More research is needed on the role specific foods and food additives may play in ADHD. Try determining whether specific foods may exacerbate or alleviate your symptoms. Keeping a food diary to track how you feel after you eat can help you identify which ingredients to avoid.

According to a 2014 review, an elimination diet may also help with identifying food triggers. Findings from a 2017 review recommend a few foods diet, or a diet free of identified ADHD food triggers, to help with symptoms.

Many people with ADHD experience bouts of sensory overload, or overstimulation. This occurs when one or more of your senses become overstimulated, such as:

  • Sight: Bright, harsh, or flashing lighting can bring on overstimulation.
  • Smell: Strong or bothersome scents or odors can be triggering for some.
  • Sound: Loud sounds like music or fireworks or exposure to multiple conversations at once can be overstimulating.
  • Taste: Certain flavors, temperatures, or textures can lead to sensory overload.
  • Touch: Any touch that’s too light, firm, or scratchy — or sudden or unexpected — can trigger overstimulation.

Overstimulation makes it difficult for the brain to process what’s going on. For example, exposure to a loud TV, a smelly cafeteria, or a crowded mall may lead to overstimulation.

Avoiding situations that lead to overstimulation can help. However, avoidance isn’t always possible. In those cases, these strategies can help:

  • Mentally prepare for what’s coming when entering an overstimulating situation.
  • Use coping tools, like sunglasses, earplugs, or headphones.
  • Take breaks as needed.
  • Carve out personal space for self-regulation.
  • Set limits around how long you’re willing to spend in an overstimulating environment.

Constant stimulation from electronic devices such as computers, cell phones, television, and the Internet may also aggravate ADHD symptoms. Although there has been much debate about whether watching TV influences ADHD, it may intensify symptoms.

In fact, a 2019 study found that more than 2 hours a day of screen time in associated with significant inattention issues in preschoolers.

Flashing images and excessive noise do not cause ADHD. However, if someone living with ADHD is having a hard time focusing, a glaring screen can further affect their concentration.

When you’re not sitting in front of a screen for long stretches, you’re also much more likely to get up and move your body, which helps release pent-up energy. Make a point to monitor computer and television time and limit viewing to set time segments.

There are currently no specific guidelines for how much screen time is appropriate for someone living with ADHD. However, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry recommends the following guidelines:

  • Children ages 0 to 18 months should not get any screen time, unless they are video chatting with loved ones under supervision.
  • Children ages 18 months to 2 years should limit screen time, only watching educational programs alongside a caregiver.
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years should limit screen time to 1 hour per weekday and up to 3 hours on weekend days.
  • Children ages 6 and up should still be encouraged to limit screen time in favor of other activities.

Certain triggers can make ADHD symptoms more intense. Identifying your personal ADHD triggers can help you understand which changes you can make to your day-to-day routine to help minimize symptoms.