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I recommend at least 30 minutes a day of green time.

   
 

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Many adults who have attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) also struggle with anxiety or depression.

Sometimes these comorbid conditions arise independently of ADD. Yet they can also be the result of the chronic stress and discouragement that come from living with ADHD. In women with ADHD, sad, anxious feelings — as well as ADD symptoms — tend to increase during the pre-menstrual phase. Symptoms also tend to flare up in the years leading up to and during menopause.

What's the best way for adults with ADD to overcome anxiety or depression?

The first step is to make sure that you're getting appropriate treatment for your ADD. If there are no complications, having your primary-care physician prescribe stimulant medication can work very well. But watch out: ADD is a nuanced disorder, especially in adults, and many otherwise competent doctors aren't very good at determining the proper type or dosage of ADD medication.

If a primary-care physician has prescribed medication for your ADD but you feel it's not working well, consult a psychiatrist who is experienced in treating adults with ADHD. In addition to making good choices regarding medication, a psychiatrist may be better able to help you manage side effects and to determine whether you suffer from any comorbid conditions.

In addition to medication, certain changes in your lifestyle can go a long way toward alleviating anxiety and depression.

1. Get more sleep

Many adults with ADD have trouble falling asleep, and sleep deprivation can worsen symptoms of the disorder. Sleeplessness reduces your ability to cope and leaves you feeling demoralized.

To improve your sleep patterns, go to bed at the same time every night, and avoid exercise and other stimulating activities for at least an hour before turning in. A hot shower or bath just before bedtime can also help. If sleep problems persist, consult a doctor.

2. Spend more time outdoors

Recent studies have shown that when children with ADHD spend more time in natural settings, their symptoms are less severe. I suspect that the same is true for adults, though it's unclear precisely why adults with ADD benefit from "green time."

For millennia, humans lived in close proximity to nature. Now we've largely shut out nature — spending our days in climate-controlled, synthetic environments. We're just beginning to understand that living this way may have a negative effect on how we feel and function.

I recommend at least 30 minutes a day of green time. That's easy to do on weekends. During the week, you might walk or bicycle to and from work. If that's impractical, pick a scenic route for your commute. Eat lunch in a park. After work, take a walk.

Getting more green time increases your exposure to sunlight — a terrific mood-booster. Yes, we all know that overexposure can cause skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. Yet recent studies suggest that a certain amount of sunlight can help people feel happier and less anxious.

In recent years, there's been a lot of talk about seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a form of depression associated with winter's shorter days. In reality, all of us experience some degree of seasonal blues. Our brains seem to be "programmed" by sunlight. It affects not only our moods, but also our patterns of sleep and wakefulness.

If you suspect that a lack of sunlight is affecting your mood, ask your doctor if you might benefit from using a high-intensity, full-spectrum light. Twenty minutes of exposure a day is usually enough. But don't confuse "light therapy" with sunbathing. The important thing is to expose your eyes to light.

Next: Using Exercise, Diet, and More Solutions to Reduce Stress


This article comes from the December 2005 / January 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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