Let me first set the stage for you: I have been a Yoga Teacher and Life Coach for more than 30 years. With a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Wellness, I have been focused on healthy living, well, for forever.
In comes my original attitude: If you can do something without medication, it’s just better.
I totally take antibiotics when I need them, would go to the ER if I had a broken arm, but would rather focus on keeping my body healthy and using “natural” remedies for healing.
In comes ADHD.
Yep, I was completely judgmental towards anyone taking medication.
Believe me, my first thought when I heard of someone taking meds was, “You just need to take better care of yourself.”
Fast forward to present time…
I also didn’t know I had ADHD nor did I really feel that my challenges were a problem. I had always had this brain and was used to the way it works, I thought everyone’s worked that way and I had always “managed”.
Then things got worse, a lot worse.
The past year has been the most stressful of my life. Of course, the pandemic, but life in our house was more stress than I have ever experienced times two. While that is a story for another day ( or perhaps a book), I found my work suffering tremendously.
I remember sitting in front of the computer for hours and accomplishing literally nothing. I would tell my Life Coach, “There’s no reason I can’t get these things done. It really should take me so little time, but it’s like I’m slogging through quick sand – I just can’t do it.”
I have since learned that your executive function, the part of your brain that helps you plan, organize, remember things, the one that is challenged in ADHD, is even more challenged when you are under stress.
I was left with nothing.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”. Here’s the thing, it isn’t really a deficit in attention, it’s a deficit in being able to control where our attention goes. We are easily distracted and lack the ability to prioritize so little distractions may feel like the most important thing to be completed right then and important projects remain unfinished.
At the same time, those of us with ADHD are able to become hyper-focused on something we really enjoy so often people point that out as a “See, you CAN focus.” (And I would say that to myself as well.)
It also makes it hard to transition, shift our attention. So a bevy of little tasks can be super overwhelming while one big task, especially if we enjoy it, is easy.
ADHD also often shows up differently in girls than boys. Boys tend to be outwardly hyperactive so they are more disruptive for families and classrooms. Because their behavior is challenging to those around them, boys tend to be diagnosed as children – so they are less disruptive.
Girls, on the other hand, are more inclined to inward attention issues – daydreaming, doodling – therefore less disruptive to those around them. Plus, girls tend to want to please parents and teachers more so they fight the distractions and strive toward perfection – leading to stress and anxiety disorders.
Because their symptoms are “hidden”, girls are less likely to be evaluated and diagnosed as children.
There are other symptoms that are also common in girls – that might not be what you think of as ADHD. My daughter started mentioning symptoms of ADHD to me this past spring, symptoms I didn’t realize were ADHD AND completely described me.
I Am Diagnosed with ADHD:
I finally relented to an evaluation.
The therapist and I first chatted together and I asked if he would take into account that ADHD showed up differently in girls and boys. He assured me there wasn’t much of a difference (insert eyeroll) so not to worry.
Here’s the thing, I did the whole perfection thing – we are talking graduating second in my class at my high school prep school, graduating with honors from an Ivy League, captain of every athletic team, president of every club, extra classes, extra foreign languages, you see where I am going.
The therapist said (and I quote), “That is not the pathway of someone with ADHD. Usually it’s someone who seems to ‘not live up to their potential’.”
But here’s the thing, all of that “perfection” came at a cost.
At 21, I was diagnosed with neutropenia (low white blood cells, your immune system). I spent 2 days being studied at the Mayo Clinic and the best they could guess was I had stressed away my immune system.
I also began a cycle of chronic fatigue/adrenal depletion that has continued to this day, fatigue, I have come to understand, that comes from wrangling a brain with ADHD. It is simply exhausting to force myself to focus.
ADHD challenges our executive function, the ability to plan, organize, remember, really function and be productive. Stress makes our executive function even more incapacitated.
So, despite the therapist’s doubts, I took the testing – and failed miserably.
Apparently not only do I have ADHD, I have a severe case of it.
Do I Medicate My ADHD?
So then came the discussion of medication and the question – would I medicate my ADHD?
I was so desperate to function, I relented to slow release Adderall.
I received my first prescription on a Thursday night and took my first dose Friday morning.
Why? Because I HAD NO IDEA HOW GOOD IT COULD BE!
It was (and is) so incredible. My brain used to be herding puppies and now it’s a service dog.
Most days I would hope to maybe get one job done and then be exhausted, sometimes for the rest of the day. That first day, I accomplished three tasks…before lunch.
At lunch, I realized I was still feeling energized, not depleted, and I got two more tasks done in the next two hours.
THEN, I had energy in the evening to make dinner and enjoy my family. Often by the time I would get to the evening, I would be so depleted, all I could do was curl up in bed or on the couch and watch TV while my family “fended for themselves” for dinner.
Natural Living Backlash
When I started extolling the benefits of my meds, I received a bit of backlash from my fellow wellness peers:
- “Can’t you use essential oils to solve it?”
- “Can’t you use meditation to help your focus?”
- “What about exercise? I know that helps.”
- “How about gluten. I have heard that cutting that out can help.”
Yes, yes, yes, and not so much.
I have done all of it to help my focus over the years AND it HAS helped. A lot. AND I continue to do it. I just think taking care of our brains is a good policy regardless.
BUT THE MEDS were so incredible, I can hardly describe it. I feel like I can set a few personal goals I have wanted for years – but had no idea how I would accomplish them.
Everything is different.
That said, I will also continue all the things I have always done over the years to help me live with undiagnosed ADHD. I truly believe in the entire package. I am all about the &! Natural living AND medication because the two together is the perfect balance for me.
I want to share with you some of my life tips and the supplements I have used. I feel like these are great tips to help anyone focus better – with or without ADHD.
WHAT HAS HELPED MY ADHD:
TIPS FOR ORGANIZING MY LIFE:
Bullet Journal for ADHD:
One of my greatest challenges was finding a planner that worked for me. I wanted very specific things in it and, even if I found something I liked, by about 3 months in, I was bored with it and wanted a new one.
In comes my bullet journal, one of the first suggestions my daughter gave me. If you aren’t familiar with bullet journaling, it’s basically taking a blank notebook and turning it into anything you want for a planner – monthly, weekly or daily spreads, tracking habits or your mood, tracking finances, birthdays, anything.
In other words, I could change my planner whenever I wanted to.
I LOVE my Bujo and still use it to this day.
Having a System for When Things Get Done:
This system I think is helpful for anyone and I have suggested it to many clients over the years. It began for me years ago, when I first started living with my husband. I would watch the laundry basket fill up and feel the weight of “I need to do the laundry” for days but not knowing when I would do it. I found it so frustrating because it would be on my mind, distracting me.
I told my husband and he suggested that we do laundry on Wednesday and Saturday every week. I couldn’t believe how simple that solution was – so easy! And the result was never having to think about when I would do laundry again – I always knew. (And we still do laundry on Wednesdays and Saturdays – 25 years later!)
Now I apply it to as many things as I can. Since my brain likes to hop topics – all the time – if something comes up that I feel needs to get done, I can’t focus on what I am doing until I go over to that other thing.
So for all of my regular tasks for work, I have set aside a day and a time that I work on it. Each day of the week has an assigned part of my business. Mornings are for “regular tasks” and afternoons are for special projects: preparing new challenges, writing ebooks, setting up something new on my website.
It is such a powerful tool for me. If I get an idea for something in the yoga realm, I know I will do it on Tuesday – Yoga day – and I add it to Tuesday in my bullet journal. I know I have space for it another day and I can go back to what I was working on.
The previous topic – systems – also helps me stick to unitasking. I really can’t do more than one thing at a time. I completely forget where I am, what the priorities are, if I try.
I even need to clean off my desk so there is only one thing on my desk and my computer desktop. (I always have 12 programs open with 42 tabs each.)
When I am working on something, I clean off my desk so it’s the only thing on it. If I’m using my computer, I also open its own window and fill the screen with it to keep me focused.
I have also begun using Do Not Disturb on my phone and turn the screen down so I don’t see it.
The Pomodoro Technique:
Have you heard of the “Pomodoro Technique”? A couple of years ago, I won a planning journal online that changed my life.
I know that sounds dramatic, but it really is true.
I’m using it right now!
The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s as a way of creating productive, time intervals for working.
The essence is easy: You work for 25 min and then take a 5 min brain break.
AND you actually set a timer for the intervals to keep you “honest”, if you will. (Says the person who loses track of time ALL THE TIME!)
[Note: It’s called “Pomodoro” because that is tomato in Italian. Francesco’s timer was initially a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato. :-)]
You are supposed to approximate how many pomodoros (25 min intervals) a job will take and then keep track of how many it actually takes.
I use the Pomodora Technique in two ways
1. I set the timer for 13 minutes instead of 25. Then I know I have 2 intervals before a break. I write what I am working on on a post it stuck to my computer or desk. When the timer goes off, I check in to make sure I am still working on whatever I was supposed to be working on. (And those of you with neural typical brains are thinking, “What the what?” Yes, I found I was forgetting what I was suppose to be doing in JUST 13 MINUTES.)
2. I also use it to begin to learn how long it really takes to complete a repeating project. People with ADHD are notorious for being poor judges of time. I am forever thinking I can complete something in half the time it will really take.
You can read more online about the Pomodoro Technique. Tons of people have written about it and you can get a Pomodoro Timer app. I just use my phone timer.
So now I know it takes about 2 pomodoros to get a podcast published and 2 pomodoros to get a YouTube video published. (Actually 4 – I track 13 min intervals for me.) That is so helpful for me in planning my time.
Sparkly Ideas List:
Not sure if this applies to everyone, but if you get big ideas that are exciting and you want to follow them, a suggestion a Life Coach gave me years ago is to have a Sparkly Ideas List.
I get ideas ALL THE TIME, as in pretty much daily. I have had to struggle to not follow each one – not easy, believe me.
And these are big ideas, not just “I should dust the shelves”. It’s more about where my business is going or where and how I want to retire. These are ideas that will shift the trajectory of my life significantly.
In the past, I would be shifting gears so often, nothing ever came to fruition.
BUT if I capture them someplace where I can find them, I can go back to what I was working on.
NATURAL SUPPORT FOR ADHD:
Now let’s look at the natural solutions I have used over the years to help my focus.
When I was introduced to Young Living 8 years ago, a wellness company with a focus on essential oils and essential oil infused supplements and products, I started experimenting with products that helped me focus so much better. Honestly, at the time I just assumed it was hormonal issues – the foggy brain older women are always talking about. (And, it probably was that, too!)
Whether or not you have ADHD, these products might help you focus:
I have FIVE huge supports for my focus I have used – and will continue to use forever.
Plus, I believe in supporting my brain health in general, with or without ADHD. My family has a strong history of brain disorders: alzheimers, Parkinson’s, etc. so taking care of my brain is smart, preventive care.
These first 5 products had such a profound effect on my focus, using them helped me to start to understand what a focused brain could be. They are all from Young Living.
Oh. My. Really. This supplement made the most amazing difference on my focus and memory. (And I will also add, it really helped my parents, too, who do not have ADHD.) Frankly, I was amazed at how good I felt with it. This supplement created specifically for brain support. It contains so many ingredients you would recognize as healthy for the brain: unsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, CoQ10, turmeric.
It also includes:
- Sacha Inchi: It is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E, and can help to boost muscle growth, protect your brain, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
- ALCAR: Acetyl-L-carnitine is sometimes used for Alzheimer disease, improving memory and thinking skills, treating symptoms of depression, and reducing nerve pain in people with diabetes. (WebMd)
- GPC: Alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha-GPC) and caffeine supplementation have been shown to improve mental and physical performance. Alpha-GPC administration increases the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and facilitates learning and memory. (NIH.com).
- Oh. My. Word. Google for more!
Honestly, with Ningxia Red, I just function better. It helps me feel more energized – not from a stimulant, but from helping the body function better so I have natural energy, energy the body should have.
Why it’s awesome:Ningxia Red is made from the wolfberry, a type of goji berry. There are many reasons it is a superior form of antioxidant – it uses the entire berry, it is a liquid (more easily absorbed by the body), and more.
- Antioxidants. Such a powerful tool for supporting overall body function. They essentially “eat” free radicals which muck up the works in your body. Think of free radicals as the natural by-product of living, like exhaust from a car. We all have them but have significantly more if we have a lot of stress (ahem…2020), are exposed to toxins (we all are), and/or eat processed foods (again, me, too 🙂 ). Free radicals basically throw off healthy communication in the body – and that affects every system in the body. Antioxidants consume the free radicals so they support every system in the body, including the brain.
Created specifically for cognitive function. This was the product that really made me feel for the first time like the shade had gone up on my brain. In fact, I was shocked at how great I felt and how much better I was able to focus. The basis of it is Ningxia Red so you have a good dose of antioxidants and additional support specifically for cognitive alertness and mental fitness.
- It contains a bit of caffeine from green tea – a great source of caffeine for the brain – so there is a bit of energy boost from the caffeine. BUT it’s about the same amount you find in a cup of green tea, 35 mg. Not much.
- It also contains d-ribose. A good thing to google to find out more. The effect of d-ribose in me is that I don’t get jittery from the caffeine like I can often feel from caffeine.
- It also contains Korean ginseng, a fabulous herb for brain support and essential oils that not only make it tasty but also support brain function.
Peppermint Essential Oil:
A sniff of peppermint oil lights up the prefrontal cortex – the focused thinking part of the brain – within 6 seconds. AND, it’s this oil that helped me appreciate a truly, therapeutic grade oil vs any ole’ oil. When I sniffed Young Living’s oil, I could FEEL my brain brightening. It isn’t the SMELL of peppermint that gives us an awesome boost, it is the nutrients in the oils that do. You need an oil that contains the nutrients, not just the aroma.
I just keep a bottle next to my computer, pop the cap and sniff when I need it.
Clarity Essential Oil Blend:
My experience: It’s my favorite to diffuse during the day when I am working at my desk. I just feel more focused. It includes many oils that support focus, including Peppermint and Rosemary which is traditionally known to amplify mental ability and boost alertness.
Want more information about Young Living and order these products?
You can find out more about Young Living here:
Order the products I shared here:
OTHER THINGS I’VE USED:
I have always used exercise to help me feel good. I was in 8th grade when I discovered how good exercise made me feel and how much more I enjoyed my days when I did it. (I didn’t realize that, too, is a symptom of ADHD!)
Exercise releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is in short supply in an ADHD brain.
Exercise also helps with stress, improves impulse control, and enhances executive function – the part of the brain that doesn’t work well in people with ADHD.
Staying hydrated has a powerful effect on the brain – with or without ADHD. On days when I am dehydrated, my memory, focus, etc is highly affected.
I make sure to start my days with water (I drink 24 oz before breakfast) and drink about 70-80oz every day.
FINAL THOUGHTS – I’M ALL ABOUT THE &:
I’m all about the &. I totally believe in wellness, taking care of ourselves, supporting our bodies with good supplements, good foods, reducing the amount of harsh, toxic chemicals in our lives.
I also believe the better care of ourselves we take, the healthier we will be. Wellness is a verb – it’s what we can do to improve our health
AND, I believe medications can totally be the right thing, too.
I’m very grateful I changed my mind, that my daughter kept pursuing an evaluation, that I am now on meds. Life is very different for me now, the trajectory of my life is different.
Inspired Living Guru
Inspiring Life Coach + Yoga Educator
Let Laura inspire you to step into YOUR Extraordinary Life! Enjoy the life you are already living AND feel the excitement about the Big Dream that you are creating!
Laura uniquely blends her Life Coaching knowledge and vast experience with Yoga to create programs, classes and workshops that truly do bring mind and body together for positive change, inspiring people to live their most authentic life.