There are strategies adults can use to manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) without medication. For example, learning new productivity strategies may help.
Regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and strategies to aid sleep may also help to reduce symptoms. A person can try these approaches on their own, or with the help of an experienced coach or therapist.
However, it is important to recognize when a person needs additional help in the form of medical treatment.
Read on to learn more about the strategies that can help manage ADHD without medication for adults.
Research suggests that regular exercise helps to reduce the symptoms of ADHD, both in the short-term and over time.
A 2017 systematic review found that both cardio and other forms of exercise could have benefits, but that cardio showed particular benefits for:
- improving executive function, which is the ability to mentally plan out tasks and regulate behavior
- improving attention
- reducing impulsivity
Some adults with ADHD also report that being outdoors and in contact with nature helps their symptoms. There is not much research on the impact of this strategy on adults.
The authors suggest getting more “green time” each day. If possible, an adult could do this by:
- taking a greener route to work
- taking breaks outside, such as in a park
- doing tasks near a window with a green view
- exercising outdoors
Managing tasks, such as daily chores, work, studies, or child-caring responsibilities can be a challenge for anyone, but particularly for adults with ADHD.
However, many people with ADHD report that the traditional productivity tips that neurotypical people use are not helpful for them. For this reason, it may help to learn management strategies from others who have ADHD.
Anecdotally, people with ADHD report that it helps to:
- Start small: Trying to do the hardest tasks first can be overwhelming to people with ADHD and may result in procrastination. Instead, start with one small task, such as washing one dish or reading one page of a book. This can help spark further motivation by giving someone a small win.
- Use timers: Some people with ADHD find that having a deadline helps them to focus. Using a timer can create the same effect and give a person a concrete time when the task will finish. For example, a person could set a timer for an hour to clean their house.
- Body double: This means having another person sit in the room while someone does a task. They could be doing the same task or something else. They can be on hand to help with obstacles.
For remembering tasks, it may also help to:
- Set up automatic reminders: Choose a scheduling or calendar app, and set up automatic reminders for important tasks. This could include any recurring tasks or events, such as chores, appointments, or birthdays.
- Use visible reminders: It may help to have a calendar on the wall, or a dry-erase board, where a person can write important reminders.
- Reorganize the home: Changing where objects are in the home may help a person remember where they are and notice when they need to do tasks. For example, using clear containers for food allows people to easily find things in cupboards and to see when they need to restock.
If a person finds it daunting to make these changes on their own, enlisting the help of a friend, partner, or family member may help.
Another option is working with an ADHD coach. These professionals can offer support and advice on the practical aspects of ADHD and may help a person reach their goals.
A 2022 systematic review states that there is limited evidence that diet can help adults with ADHD. Many factors can influence ADHD symptoms, which makes testing the impact of diet alone difficult to do.
However, some previous studies have found that some nutritionally balanced diets, such as the Mediterranean and DASH diets, have links to reduced ADHD symptoms in children.
There is also some evidence that people with ADHD may be more prone to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. For example, an older 2016 study found that people with an ADHD diagnosis were more likely to have deficiencies in:
- vitamin B2
- vitamin B6
- vitamin B9
It is unclear if this plays a role in the development of ADHD, or whether it is the result of irregular eating patterns. However, the researchers did note that symptoms tended to be more severe in people with vitamin B2 and B6 deficiencies, which suggests that addressing any nutrient deficiencies could help.
According to a 2018 review, there is also some evidence that polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as Omega-3, may have a small effect on ADHD symptoms.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is not a cure for ADHD. But it may help a person learn coping skills, regulate emotions, or address the impact of negative messaging and stigma around the condition.
Behavioral therapy is one option. This focuses on helping a person manage behaviors that are interfering with their life.
Therapy can also help with low self-esteem, relationship difficulties, and more. People may find it useful to look for a therapist with experience helping those with ADHD and who understands neurodiversity.
For peer support, there are many online and in-person support groups, where adults with ADHD can find people who share similar experiences.
What helps each individual may vary, so people may find it useful to try each new strategy one at a time. This can give them an idea of what works for them.
However, anyone having difficulties with their symptoms, or with their mental health, should speak to a medical professional about treatment options.