25 Everyday Brain Boosts From Our ADHD Experts
Fish oil. Meditation. Breaks from screen time. And more little, important daily brain games and boosts that our ADHD expert panelists use to stay sharp.
Ned Hallowell, M.D.
Best-selling author and a leading authority on ADHD
I allow time for daydreaming (without screens), thinking, or staring off into space. This is “waking sleep,” and science has shown it’s actually good for us. Just a few minutes of waking sleep will give you a huge brain boost to get through the rest of your day!
I get massive daily doses of what I call “the other Vitamin C,” which is Vitamin Connect (human connection). I have many “human moments” every day. I make eye contact with people who pass by. I offer smiles, and try to get them in return.
An app called Calm (calm.com) has got me meditating regularly. I love it, and so does my brain.
Supplements that help my brain and body are vitamin D, fish oil (Omega-Brite, specifically), SAM-e, NAC, acetyl-l-carnitine, rhodiola, and vitamin B complex.
I give and receive positive energy. The more I do this, the better my brain feels. We live in a world that is starving for positive energy. So let’s all join the Positive Energy Brigade!
My top brain boost involves improving my mindset, which improves my brain. As a therapist, coach, podcaster, speaker, and entrepreneur, I take on a lot. Which means that sometimes, I drop a ball and fail. Because emotions sometimes hijack my ADHD brain, I have developed an intimate and trusting relationship with failure. I embrace failure, because it gives feedback. When something doesn’t work out, I seek to understand why, and I try to learn from my missteps.
I listen to audiobooks and podcasts. My brain needs a constant flow of new information and ideas. I am an integrator, meaning that I take things that I learn and apply them to my personal and professional life. Learning fuels me. It charges me up.
I do fun types of exercise. This year I bought a crazy piece of exercise equipment called an ElliptiGO (elliptigo.com), a cross between a bicycle and an elliptical. Exercise sharpens my brain, but I also know how important it is, especially for people with ADHD, for exercise to be fun. This bike-elliptical crossbreed turns heads, which is sort of interesting and fun.
Terry Matlen, ACSW
I love nature and I love my dogs. I enjoy both when I walk the dogs in a park nearby. Studies show that spending time in green spaces is good for you and your brain. My brain feels much calmer afterward.
I’m an amateur, self-taught musician. When I need to recharge my brain after a day of intensive writing or other related work, I head to my home music studio and sing my heart out while strumming my guitar.
When I need to get away from it all, but also need a creative outlet to stimulate my brain, I paint or make mosaic pieces. With ADHD, I am in constant search for mental stimulation, and these activities help me shut out the world yet still be productive.
My favorite brain-resting activity is lying in my hammock and reading an engaging book. My body rests while my brain floats into the author’s world.
When my ADHD brain gets tied up in knots, I get out in nature. This can be as simple as hiking an urban trail or as ambitious as a long hike through the woods. Research shows that getting outside helps reduce ADHD symptoms. I’ve always loved being outside, and now I know why: It helps my brain.
I make sure to put down my phone. Electronic devices are like crack for people with ADHD, with their instant gratification clicks and quick transitions. While I love my phone and need it, I’ve found that taking time away from it gives my brain some relief from the need to go in 12 directions at once. My brain refreshes itself.
I spend a lot of time cajoling my brain to pay attention and remain on task. All this brain coaching can be stressful. My brain de-stresses when it is allowed to do what it longs to do — wander. Some activities are safer to do when you let your thoughts roam. I walk where there is little traffic, lost in thought, for three miles on most days.
I engage in hobbies in which being lost in thought is OK, even advantageous. I love backpacking and rails-to-trail cycling, but my favorite hobby is surf fishing. When I surf-fish, I stand on a beach, pole in hand, and allow my thoughts to roam freely. After a day of surf fishing, my brain feels ready for anything.
When I’m at my most restless, it’s beneficial to go out for long stroll. Not only is the exercise good for me, but the pace is slow enough to allow me to think. More intense exercise tends to fill my mind and shove to the side the things that are bothering me, whereas walking allows me to focus. Regardless of how large or small the challenge is, walking while problem-solving is a form of meditation that leaves me refreshed, invigorated, and with greater focus.
Those of us with ADHD are so used to fighting distraction that it seems counterintuitive to invite it in. However, keeping myself focused and on task is draining over long periods of time. I find it beneficial to let my mind spin and wander for short periods. I might play a video game, read news on the Internet, or do things that I consider fun and relaxing. I set a timer, however, so that I don’t lose track of time.
There are times when I can’t go out for a walk or plunk down on the couch for a quick break, because I have a deadline to meet. That’s when I use white noise to block out distractions. Instead of limiting myself to sound waves that sound like static-y radio stations, I like to pump dance music into my ears. The constant beat and excitable tunes ramp me up so that I can engage hyperfocus and get my work done.
Sandy Maynard, M.S.
Getting aerobic exercise is not innovative, but it works well for me. Getting more oxygen to body and brain energizes me, and improves my ability to focus while reducing stress. We all know that increased stress causes the spinning ADHD brain to go even faster, so a good workout is a great way to short-circuit that stress.
What really helps my brain a lot is “turbo meditation.” When faced with a difficult or stressful task, I sit quietly and as relaxed as I can, take a deep breath, set my timer, and do a quick two-minute meditation. I may not feel like the Dalai Lama when I’m done, but my mind is a lot calmer and I’m less likely to be impulsive.
Founder of the ADDiva Network
My dogs make me do it — get up in the morning and go outside, that is. Research shows that if our eyes are exposed to morning sunlight, we feel better. It’s a great way to start the day, although I am less than enthusiastic some mornings after I have stayed up too late. The spectrum of morning light rays striking the back of the retina wakes up my brain.
When my ADHD is out of control, I head for the medicine cabinet for a couple of Focus Factor tabs. Focus Factor contains an extract of a flower, plus a mix of vitamins. Though research is not conclusive as to the positive cognitive effects of the flower essence, it works for me. I also take zinc and fish oil capsules.
My brain and its dopamine receptors demand fun-fun-fun. Fun for me is to wrestle with problems that require research, comparisons, and evaluation, like shopping for geeky computer equipment. I research for hours to find the right-sized hard drive and peripherals. I know it’s an addiction, but I don’t care. My brain needs positive addictions. I’m keeping this one.
Sleep. My brain craves it, and I regularly forget to get it. My ADHD tendency is to stay up late — whether working or piddling — then wake up with a sleep deficit hangover. When I get seven to eight hours of sleep, I am happier, I get more done, and my brain works a lot better. One of my best friends is the afternoon nap.