A Pulitzer Prize winning author shares her ADHD hacks for a better, more fulfilling life.
The following half dozen gizmos and strategies are the most effective means I’ve found to help survive the anxiety, frustration, and overwhelm that so often come with this perplexing if occasionally also delightful type of wiring. I’m assuming I don’t need to belabor the no-brainer supports, such as air bags, the occasional prescription stimulants, good health insurance, and sensible shoes.
So (drum roll), proceeding from the relatively minor to the couldn’t-be-more major:
- Tracking gadgets.
Kudos to whoever invented the Find my iPhone app, one of the earliest and kindest e-concessions to the fact that everyone loses things occasionally – albeit some of us more than others.
Over the past few years, I’ve used Find My Phone on my iPad more than I’d like to admit, although I’ve recently come to depend more on Tile, an even more ingenious Bluetooth tracking device that helps you find your wallet, phone, keys, and more. If you need to track down a larger and potentially more far-flung item, like a pet, car, small child, or elderly parent, here’s a list of reviews of gadgets I haven’t yet tried.
- Sugarless gum.
Long before I knew I had ADHD, I knew that chewing gum helped me stay in my chair during boring meetings and writing assignments. And of course if you chew as much as I do, you want a gum without sugar. Through the years, I’ve been loyal to Trident. I love the intense, exotic flavors, such as Tropical Twist and the one with pomegranates. Yet it may be worth noting that Trident gum is sweetened with aspartame, an FDA-approved chemical that some activists nonetheless charge causes all sorts of harm, from cancer to – gasp – ADHD. I can’t find any solid research supporting those claims, but if you’re still worried, here’s a list of gum brands that are aspartame-free. Some have sugar, though
- Meditation aids.
Let’s face it: most people with ADHD are lousy meditators – which is particularly unfortunate considering that so many experts tout the extra benefits of meditation for people like us. As I’ve struggled to establish my own practice, I’ve found a few things that help. The Insight Timer app provides guided meditations or lets you breathe in and out on your own while listening to a pre-set period of waves, raindrops, or other soothing sounds. Headspace and Calm are also popular and helpful. Insight Timer and Calm have some lovely recordings that can help you go back to sleep if you’re battling anxiety in the middle of the night. For coping with anxiety and distraction in general, try reading up on meditation and Buddhism with books by Pema Chodron and Alan Wallace. In a pinch, when overcome with stress or on the verge of making a big decision, try box breathing, a secular deep breathing exercise
- A dog – or two.
They complicate your life. They demand big helpings of your scarce attention. But on days when you feel like the rest of the world can’t possibly understand you, they assure you that you’re lovable. They are also so forgiving. I have two poodle mixes who have observed that I often get distracted while preparing their dinners. I’ll pour the kibble into a bowl and then rush off to adjust the radio or boil water for rice or check out the lead stories in the new New Yorker. And then I’ll turn and spot two pairs of eyes fixed on me, with just the faintest glint of WTF?
By the way, if you haven’t yet seen Kathy Hoopmann’s sweet picture book, “All Dogs Have ADHD,” published in 2008, it is full of insights into all that we have in common.
- Daily exercise.
Undoubtedly you’ve heard this one before, more than once, but it’s still worth a review. Abundant research confirms the cognitive and emotional benefits of exercise. Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey has written a whole book on the subject. Ratey talks about exercise as medicine for the brain, providing natural mood-lifters and stimulants. I started biking before school as a teen, and today, decades later, whenever I can, either hike, swim, or take an aerobic class before settling down to work.
- And…the Number-One indispensable life-hack for people with ADHD is…. A patient spouse.
As I constantly remind my two sons, the choice of whom to marry is the most important decision you’ll make – and this is extra true if you’ve got ADHD. It’s not uncommon for people like us to choose perfectionist, critical partners in the hope that they’ll be good for us, when the result is often the opposite. In my experience, the best thing you can do is find someone who may not share your challenges in sticking to schedules and keeping every little thing neat and clean, but who is tolerant enough to recognize your best intentions behind the occasional blunder, and, at least most of the time, willing to laugh – with you, not at you.
Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer-prize winning former foreign correspondent and author of three books on ADHD who was diagnosed with ADHD at age 48. She is not on the payroll of Apple, Tile, Trident chewing gum, or any of the other commercial interests mentioned in this blog. Which is all the more reason she hopes you’ll buy her latest book, “Mothers & Murderers: A True Story of Love, Lies, Obsession…and Second Chances.” The story begins with a gigantic mistake that turns out to be a gift. Sound familiar?
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