Ask the Experts

Q: How Can I Clear the Cloud in My ADHD Brain?

Many college students with ADHD describe the sensation of sitting down to study and feeling a thick cloud descend around their brains, preventing any information from filtering in or out. Here, Leslie Josel offers studying tips to help lift the haze for good.

Q: “I am a college student in my last semester of nursing school. I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) when I was 20. Being extremely active and always having a busy schedule when I was younger helped to mask signs and symptoms. Lately, I have been feeling very ‘cloudy;’ I never feel clear headed, which is frustrating before I sit down to do an assignment or exam. I feel as if I have a blanket between my thoughts and mind, and I am fighting to get to them but I can’t. I am also very sleepy all the time, no matter how much sleep I’ve had and even if I take my Adderall. I am so close to being able to get this nursing degree but I am failing a course right now and if I fail, I get kicked out of the program. Any tips would help and be greatly appreciated.” — ADHDinNursingSchool

Hi ADHDinNursingSchool:

Let me assure you that you are not alone. What you describe is very common. Before we dive in, I have to ask if you are taking care of yourself. Are you eating well? Getting enough sleep? Exercising? All those factors contribute to the optimum well being of an ADHD brain. Even perhaps getting your medication checked or adjusted may help.

But I want to focus on something you mentioned as a past antidote: being active! To infuse your homework and study routine with productivity and energy and clarity, research shows that you need to get moving! Movement helps us stay on task and lay down learning.

One idea is to set a timer to work on one subject at a time. Once the timer goes off, finish whatever question you are working on, take a break, and when you return to work, move to another subject! By switching subjects regularly, you are less likely to drift off and lose focus. You may end up shifting back and forth between assignments several times before the work is completed. However, giving yourself the mental break from one subject or assignment by starting another is one key to being productive.

Put some “energy” into your studying by standing up to read or walking your dog while you review notes. Hang giant Post-it notes around your room to write on while working on an assignment or find a “study buddy.” By adding energy and fun into your daily routine, you will begin to clear away the brain fog you are experiencing.

Have you changed your environment recently? Environment can have a major impact on our thoughts and mental clarity.  Have you tried working in a different spot in your house or on campus? Have you tried where others are working, too? Think dining hall, library, even the local coffee shop. Sometimes that “body doubling” (being in an environment where others are doing what you’re doing) helps to clear away the brain fog and stay on task.

Good Luck!

[7 Tips for Taking Better Notes]

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to Dear Organizing Coach here!