Christina’s ADHD pro tips: Mastering your beautiful brain

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

By: Christina Crowe, RP, ADHD Therapist & Coach

​This article is written for those of you who have been told by a qualified health care professional at one time or another, that you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or attention deficit disorder (ADD), but you aren’t sure if there is more that you might to to manage it.

It’s one of those conditions, since it’s been there since birth, you don’t know what you don’t know (other than what other people tell you it’s like from the outside).

What would life feel like if your ADHD was fully treated?
ADHD is a fascinating condition to work with, brimming with emerging science, effective management strategies, but complicated by decades of misinformation, myths and unhelpful stigma. The unhelpful stigma is a big part of why so many Canadians remain undiagnosed and untreated.

Ninety percent of the roughly 1.5 million Canadians who likely have an ADHD brain, don’t know they have it.  The incidence and prevalence of ADHD has been stable globally for the last 20 years – and there are no country or cultural differences in these numbers. 

​ADHD is a biological (genetic and from birth) and neurological (brain information processing & storage) difference.  Historically, it seems like it has been isolated in the ‘mental health’ corner of health care, likely because the symptoms of untreated ADHD are observable – behaviours that seem out of place with what is expected.

ADHD Pro Tips in Caledon and Ontario Dig A Little Deeper Psychotherapy

In Ontario, ADHD can be diagnosed by a medical doctor, or a psychologist. It can be assessed and managed by any regulated health care professional who has mental health and ADHD training, and who is a member of a professional health college that regulates psychotherapy.  An ADHD coach who isn’t a health care provider can also provide much needed support.

​The challenge remains that the individual with the ADHD brain, is the one who must coordinate their own care, with different health care providers, and doing things like ‘coordinating care’ is one of the very things that is quite challenging. ​

ADHD is unfairly stigmatized by our own health care systems and perspectives.

If you’ve got type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, the standard medical treatment is to replace the missing insulin. The additional treatments are monitoring one’s physiological state (blood sugar, carbohydrate, fat and protein counting), eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.

Similarly, if you’ve got an ADHD/ADD brain, the standard medical treatment is to effectively replace the missing dopamine, and, additionally, monitor your physiological state, train yourself to do things a bit differently to achieve your goals, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly and guard your sleep like it’s Buckingham Palace. It’s treatment should be as easily accessible. 

Adults with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD are the ones who are often exhausted, worn out and overwhelmed.  Decades of untreated ADHD also make struggles with anxiety and depression completely understandable.

​Other manifestations of untreated adult ADHD, versus the general population, include higher rates of car accidents (including fatal ones), more speeding tickets, more sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies, overrepresentation in the criminal system, in cigarette smoking, in cannabis use, high divorce rates, more infidelity, more conflict with family members and more job loss and underemployment. It’s been said many times, it is in fact, a major public health issue. 

ADHD MYTH-BUSTING

ADHD Pro Tips in Caledon and Ontario ADHD Myths  Dig A Little Deeper Psychotherapy

While people with ADHD brains can be challenged by their neurodivergence in a world built for sameness, ADHDer’s are also overrepresented in CEO positions, as entrepreneur’s, in leadership roles, and in creative jobs like in music, acting, performing.  While I don’t love the whole ‘ADHD is my superpower’ thing (I think it minimizes the stuff that is actually really hard), there is no doubt at all that being able to think in a nonlinear way can be a gift.  

​So, why would you want to ‘treat’ that, you might ask? Here is where the myth-busting comes in.

Treating ADHD does NOT change one’s personality, spirit or interests.

People with ADHD have a lot of cognitive energy to burn every day – knowing how to manage that energy is an essential part of taking care of oneself.  Having ADHD makes it harder to plan, manage time, direct our actions and responses, make decisions about what to do next, and control our emotions. It’s easy to get distracted and to do only the things that our brains think are interesting (which are never ever  paying the bills, opening mail, doing the laundry or turning off lights).

It becomes critical then, to learn how to do what we need to do, to get where we need to go in life. It’s NOT about forcing our loved ones to ‘fit in’ to a neurotypical world, or changing someone to be more like someone who doesn’t have ADHD.  Treating ADHD doesn’t cure ADHD.

​Treating ADHD is like getting a personalized roadmap to your brain – here is how your brain works, and here is how to make the best of it, so you can go do your thing.

ADHD Pro Tips in Caledon and Ontario Dig A Little Deeper Psychotherapy

​To be even more specific, someone with a treated ADHD brain will still think the same things they thought before – but because they have more control over their impulses, they might not blurt something out inappropriately. It doesn’t mean they aren’t funny and treatment has changed their personality – it means they now notice when they should and shouldn’t tell a joke. Or interrupt someone. Or let other people get a word in edgeways.

It’s a nuance, but an important one. 

THE 3 ESSENTIALS OF TREATMENT

ADHD Pro Tips in Caledon and Ontario Dig A Little Deeper Psychotherapy

The three components of treatment are:

  1. behaviour training,
  2. medication and
  3. psychotherapy. 

​Like the three-legged stool above, they work best when used together

If you are a parent managing a kid with an ADHD brain, behaviour training is for the whole family, not just your kid. It doesn’t mean you have been parenting incorrectly or inadequately. It just means ADHD brains learn differently than non-ADHD brains, and behaviour training helps everyone speak the same language at home.  Behaviour training can be delivered from a clinician or from an ADHD coach, both with specific training in ADHD (always ask what their experience and training has been). 

Medication levels the playing field – it brings low dopamine levels up to the similar  level as a non-ADHD brain. It doesn’t do much more than that – it doesn’t make someone ‘high’, it doesn’t give someone the skills they need to stay organized. It allows an ADHD brain to reach the same ‘as expected’ levels of concentration, motivation and impulse-control as anyone else that person’s age.  If you are near-sighted, you use glasses to see like everyone else.  Stimulant medication similarly can be described as ‘glasses for the brain.’

Psychotherapy is helpful to help someone deal with having lived a long time (usually) with all of the fallout from having undiagnosed ADHD. Kids with undiagnosed ADHD receive a negative correction from the adults in their lives at a rate of 25:1 every single day of their wee lives. 25:1 folks. So, yes, by the time they are teens, anxiety and depression aren’t such a surprise.

The rest of a complete treatment plan includes proper sleep, exercise, good nutrition and incorporating mindfulness for regulation (and peace of mind).  My 15 tips below are about how to manage all the rest of it. 

15 ADHD PRO TIPS!

ADHD Pro Tips in Caledon and Ontario Dig A Little Deeper Psychotherapy
  • EATING: Consider Saturday or Sunday meal planning, grocery shopping, organizing cabinets and the refrigerator, meal preparation for your week ahead. Shop online or use a prepped meal delivery service 1 or 2 nights a week if you have the means. 
  • Eating every single day – optimally three or more times a day. Many ADHDer’s overeat because a lack of planning has led them to binge, or because their medication causes loss of appetite and they are only finally hungry at the end of the day.
  • Have only 2 or 3 ‘go to’ meals to choose from so you don’t have to waste brain power on the spot, trying to figure out meals.
  • No need for special diets (according to the research) – eliminating carbs, sugar, or even gluten from your diet does not cure ADHD. Following the usual principles of healthy nutrition are all you need, ensuring your protein intake is adequate every day.
  • Supplements: You don’t need to take them unless your blood test shows a specific deficiency (you could ask your doctor to check iron, vitamin D). The only exceptions are Omega-3 fatty acids (1000 mg EHA/DPA), which have been shown to help improve cognitive function in those with ADHD. (Important: Omegas can thin your blood, so please talk to your doctor before taking). Some research has also encouraged zinc, magnesium and iron supplements for ADHD. 
  • Science is still emerging about how food affects our brains. For now, we know your brain’s cognitive engine requires a lot of food-based fuel to perform well, so regular, healthy eating will help your brain function at its best.​
  • SLEEP: if the world were perfect, what time would you go to bed each night so that you get enough sleep before you have to wake up in the morning? Set that time as your goal to be in bed and work backwards from there. 
  • Begin a nighttime routine, about 45 minutes before you’d like to be asleep: lights are low, no screened devices, meditate, engage in relaxing wind down activities.
  • If you are constantly going to bed too late, search for what is getting in your way. Maybe your nighttime routine takes you longer than you thought it would?
  • Try to not take naps.
  • Avoid caffeine, especially after noon.
  • Use your bed for sleep and sex only. Try really hard not to play games, watch Netflix, work on your laptop etc.
  • BREATHE: Mindfulness is an “ADHD-friendly form of meditation” and ADHD brains can actually be better at it than non-ADHD brains.
  • Research into mindfulness as an extra treatment for ADHD shows these benefits: Increased attention control, resistance against distractions, increased ability to manage your thoughts and actions, better working memory, less impulsivity, better stress management, improved relationships and parenting, improved mood, less depression and anxiety.
  • EXERCISE: Exercise increases beneficial brain chemicals, like dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that is low in ADHD brains. Dopamine helps our brains focus and provides precious cognitive fuel. 20 minutes of sustained exercise daily has been shown in studies, beneficial for ADHD symptoms. 


​People with ADHD are often running on empty, and can describe themselves like having low batteries, empty gas tank, all wrung out, exhausted, weighed down. The point is that when you get tired and are running on empty, the problematic symptoms of ADHD become even more pronounced and harder to deal with.

Activities that you thought would go quickly seem to take a lot longer, decisions that should be simple to make suddenly appear complex, small annoyances appear as huge impositions, and you either can’t seem to get started, or don’t know when to stop. 

In order to keep your ADHD symptoms as manageable as possible, you need to manage your energy.

Finally, do only one thing at a time!

Wait, who are we kidding? We know ADHD brains don’t really ever do one thing at a time. You might be inspired to meal plan, perfect your sleep routine, join the gym, and start yoga and meditating.

​First, breathe, and then decide where to start. I suggest focus on building one new skill a month (at the most). To really make it stick, use a natural inclination of an ADHD brain – meaningfulrewards

Studies indicate if you’ve had low dopamine levels your while life, your ADHD brain might be less sensitive to the pleasure that comes from getting a reward. This means, ADHD brains might find it more difficult to be motivated by a reward, especially one that is in the distant future (it can’t be something too far off, like a vacation).

​The solution is to create an intentional, specific, and immediate (or close enough) reward for positive new behaviours. To make a change in your life that sticks, you have to do something over and over until it becomes automatic, and also reward yourself over and over! Grab a whiteboard, and write out your goals AND the rewards that go along with them!  Really important to ALSO include the things you already do really well, to remind yourself of how well you have managed this already.

You gotten this far, you’ve definitely got what it takes to continue on. 

READY FOR PART II?

​MORE RESOURCES

VISIT THE HUB! ADHD RESOURCE PAGE

​Christina’s starter course, for the newly diagnosed:
The DIY*ADHD online course –  you can enrol today!

ESSENTIAL ADHD READING

Dig A Little Deeper does receive a small referral fee from these links as an affiliate. 

  1. Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder by Dr. Edward Hallowell, John Ratey.
  2. The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals. by Lidia Zylowska, Daniel Siegel 
  3. Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers by Suze Yalof Schwartz​​

OR TRY OUR CURATED YOUTUBE PLAYLIST ON ADHD

READY FOR ONE ON ONE SUPPORT?

MEET THE TEAM​If you prefer talking to a human to help find the right therapist for you,Call 

905-584-8963,or email 

admin@digalittledeeper.ca
You can expect a reply within 24-48 hours, Mon-Fri, during regular business hours.

REFERENCES

Canadian ADHD Practice Guidelines, 4th Edition, 2018. After an extensive review process, the 4th Edition of the CADDRA Guidelines is now available to purchase in a print copy or to download it for free as a PDF.

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Picture of ​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP, (S-Cert) OAMHP (she, her)

​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP, (S-Cert) OAMHP (she, her)

Registered Psychotherapist, Validated Clinical Supervisor, ADHD Therapist & Coach Podcast Host The Christina Crowe Podcast Christina is a Canadian Registered Psychotherapist, a member of CADDRA's Advocacy Committee and relentless mental health advocate. Christina believes great mental health information should be available to everyone, loves creating content that makes invisible things VISIBLE and finding new ways to bring healing experiences to as many people as possible.

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