ADHD and Anxiety: non-drug treatments everyone can try

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In the past we introduced the topic of ADHD and anxiety with a report of how common forms of anxiety are much more common in people who have ADHD than the general population.  We also gave you a list of physical and psychological symptoms associated with anxiety.    Last month, we outlined the 4 most common anxiety disorders associated with ADHD.  Remember half (52%) of adults with ADHD will experience general anxiety disorder during their lifetimes.

Today we’ll teach you a few things you can do to control anxiety.  Of course we need to start by saying that if your anxiety feels overwhelming or gets worse over time, you should begin by seeking the help of a professional, who might possibly prescribe therapy and/or medication.  There are, however,  easy, everyday things you can do to help control anxiety without taking another pill – that you can start right now!

  1. Exercise
  2. Eat right
  3. Get enough sleep
  4. Practice relaxation

Exercise Exercise Exercise

If you’re a regular Edge Foundation subscriber, you’ll have seen our review of John Ratey’s book, Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain.

In it Ratey explains that regular exercise alone can dramatically reduce symptoms of anxiety:

  • Exercise releases neurochemicals that help you feel better (serotonin, the “feel good” neurochemical, and GABA, an important inhibitory neurochemical that basically gives the command to “stand down”. )
  • Exercise helps relax your body, reducing the resting tension of your muscles and thus interrupting the anxiety feedback loop to your brain.
  • Exercise teaches you that you have control over the symptoms of racing heart, sweating, and elevated breathing. That feeling this way physically is not the same thing as a panic attack.
  • Exercise even helps you unlearn the habit of anxiety.

Diet

We are going to sound like your mother, but she was right.  Be sure to remember to eat regular meals.  You may be able to get by and skip a meal with a little help from caffeine or sugar, but did you know that both of these foods can mimic the sensation of an anxiety attack – and actually trigger one!

Sleep

Irregular sleep habits can actually increase your anxiety symptoms!  Stress and anxiety may cause the body to produce a “no sleep” signal in the brain that heightens arousal and makes sleep difficult. This alerting effect is a cause of more anxiety and may set in motion a cycle of sleeplessness and stress.

Sleep is such a big issue for many people with ADHD that we are planning a future post on the topic.  In the meantime, there is a lot of information on the web about sleep, sleep problems, and how to develop better sleep patterns. Here are a few places to start.

Relax Your Mind

Take a time out and pause to let your mind and body relax. When you are stressing, do something distracting and fun. Take a deep breath.  Or fill your mind with a challenging task like a Sudoku or crossword puzzle and you won’t have room to think about your anxiety

Relax Your Body

Relax your body and your mind will follow – we call this the relaxation response.   Relax your body and your

  • heart rate decreases
  • breathing becomes slower and deeper
  • blood pressure drops or stabilizes
  • muscles relax
  • and your anxiety level decreases

Did we mention exercise?

Exercise can be a great way to release tension in your body.  There are non-strenuous ways to invite your body to relax as well.

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • relaxation excecises
  • biofeedback
  • and don’t forget to breathe.

Anxiety is a real and serious problem, but you don’t have to let it put you on the sidelines or eat you up inside.  It just takes self-awareness that your anxiety is getting the best of you and self-discipline to take steps every day to keep your anxiety at bay.  An ADHD coach can help you figure out which techniques are best for you and put a plan in place to help you stay on top of your anxiety.

Have you found any of these everyday habits have helped your anxiety levels?  Please share your experience in the comments.  We’d love to hear from you.

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