Adult Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder

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Attention helps us to concentrate and focus on what we want and need to do.  Some of us experience problems in maintaining our focus on most things, but maybe also have the ability to focus REALLY well and for long periods of time on things or activities which really interest us.

 Adults and young people with ADHD can therefore struggle in several key areas, as a result of a neurobiological imbalance which itself arises mostly due to genetic factors.  These difficulties can impact on our mental health, causing stress & frustration, anxiety, depression, and low self esteem.  Individuals with ADHD may also experience relationship difficulties, debt, and can also have a vulnerability to substance misuse. 

However, the news isn’t all negative!  There are thought to be many positive factors to ADHD, including high energy, creativity, innovative thinking, high motivation, the ability to hyper-focus.  Many celebrated innovators of past and present are known or thought to have or have had ADHD.

The symptoms in girls or women can vary substantially from those experienced by boys and men, with girls being quieter, and having less hyperactive symptoms, but maybe more inattentive and thought of as “daydreamers”.  The problems are often much less likely to be noticed or addressed.

In spite of these challenges, it is possible to learn techniques to help us deal more effectively with every day events and lead successful lives.  Use these techniques as you need to.  For instance, if you don’t impulsively spend money, and have no financial concerns, then you can ignore the section on “budgeting”.



Is this (thought) fact or opinion?

This is the ADHD talking – just because I have ADHD doesn’t mean it has to be this way…..I can make wise choices about how I react…

What advice would I give a friend about this? What advice would a trusted friend give me? What’s the bigger picture?

Don’t believe everything you think! Thoughts are just thoughts

Be understanding and compassionate to yourself, rather than self-critical (see self esteem)

For help with other problems, please visit this page the Self Help page and click on these links: Depression, Anxiety, Anger, Stress, Low Self Esteem, Substance Misuse

Attention Training
The brain is “plastic”, or able to develop and change – think of it as being like a muscle. The more we stretch and use it, the stronger and more flexible it will become.

Attention training exercises, or using mindfulness, can help us improve our ability to focus or hold our attention for longer periods of time, help us improve our listening skills, make less careless mistakes etc.

Set aside a short time to just notice your breathing. You don’t have to change your breathing in any way, just to notice it. Noticing sensations of breathing in your chest and belly. Other thoughts and distractions will come to mind, that’s ok. Just notice when your attention has wandered, then gently bring your attention back to your breath.


Mindful activity (see below for NOW and Mindfulness)

Do any everyday activity or exercise mindfully, such as walking, eating, showering. E.g. when washing up, notice the temperature of the water on your hands, the sensation of the crockery, the bubbles.

Notice the sounds of the washing up, including the bubbles! Notice any smells, notice the way your hands and arms feel and move, and your spine and body as it supports you etc.

Meditation and mindfulness training
Make it part of your daily routine. You can gradually increase your meditation time every week – start small and build up slowly.

Attention exercises

Set a timer for 5 minutes (increase by 5 minutes a day) and focus your concentration on one activity. Take a 2 minute break before continuing (increase break by 2 minutes each day).

Memorise information such as poems, quotes, jokes or words of a new language.

Counting exercises: count backwards from 100 in 1s, then 3s, then 7s.

Use your senses – focus on each sense in turn and think about what you can see, then hear, then touch, then smell and/or taste

Go through the alphabet thinking of countries, towns, boy’s names etc for each letter

Visualisation exercises – Combine deep breathing with imagining successfully doing something with the ability to maintain focus of attention (e.g. at work or school), or successfully dealing with a difficult situation (e.g. conflict or anxiety situation).  (Use the mp3 downloads)

Attention Training exercises for children

Play music statues – freeze for 10 seconds, then gradually increase (can take turns of parents being the statue)

Puzzles, colouring, painting etc. May need to make a race or competition to e.g. finish first or use most colours

Board games – when child’s turn, pause a little more

Coin game – create a pile of assorted coins, cover with cardboard sheet, use timer. Choose 5 coins from pile and put in sequence, asking child to look carefully, then cover. Set the timer, and ask child to create the same sequence. Repeat until done correctly. Increase difficulty (number of coins) gradually.

Simon Says game

Kim’s Game – memory game using tray of objects. Remove one object each time and ask child to identify the missing object.

Picture puzzles – ask child to find hidden objects
Word games


Plan for success every day

Set small achievable goals every day

Reward yourself or tick them off at the end of the day

Set goals for each problem area – break each goal down into smaller steps

Identify problem areas

Make a list of all the areas in your life that need changing, perhaps using broad headings e.g. home, work etc.


Decide which of those problem areas on your list are the most important or most urgent. Do the most important item first.


Problem Solving Skills

Identify the problem

Break the problem down into smaller steps

Brainstorm possible ideas

Consider pros and cons of each possible solution

Choose one solution that looks most likely to help with fewest

Plan out step-by-step what you need to do. Consider what resources or help you need.

Do each step!

Review how it went. Did you achieve your goal? What did you learn. What could you do differently?

Improve organisation

Use a l
arge clock

Create more space

Identify which items are necessary and discard or store other items

Boxes, folders, shelves, baskets etc  (By the front door for work or school items
Important items – keys etc

To do – bills, homework etc

Wall calendar (or smartphone/computer calendar)
Weekly events e.g. evening class
Special events
Appointments, exams, assignments etc

Use a whiteboard or messages on the fridge for reminders / to do lists

Prioritise what needs doing, when. Do the most important thing first, then the next important

Use different lists for different areas of life, or break down into smaller lists

Daily routine / chore chart & tick off completed activities

Check school / work bag

Pet care

Household chores

Deal with post, calls etc as they come in rather than leaving for another time

Budgeting  - Budgeting Worksheet

Make a list of all your weekly/monthly income, and all your expenses for the same period – approximate as closely as you can e.g. food, fuel, divide quarterly bills by 3 (monthly) or 13 (weekly) etc. You may choose to keep receipts or a diary, study bank statements etc. for one month to find this information.

Subtract expenditure from income to see how much is left over (or how much of a deficit you have).

Assess how you can make savings in particular areas, then plan how to make those savings

Write out your weekly/monthly budget

It can be helpful to write down your daily spending to help you keep track. Some people find it helpful to put a weekly allowance into separate tins (purses etc).

Pay bills online or via regular payments (direct debit or standing order)

Online banking helps reduce need to check through paperwork to balance books

Set up notifications on your bank account so you receive a message when your balance falls to a certain level

Many companies or banks offer “non paper” billing to help reduce post.

Create one folder/box for receipts. Once a month, sort them into recycling or put those you need to keep in an envelope and label with the month/year.

Manage impulse spending
     Use cash only – leave cheque book or cards at home
     Use only one credit card (destroy/cancel all others)
     Use a shopping list and stick to it
     Use a calculator (on your phone) to tally your purchases on the go

Reduce online spending
     Set a daily budget
     Write down your spending (diagram for visual impact?)
     Use only one payment method for online purchases
     Change account settings on websites e.g. remove option for “one click” purchases
     Remove shopping apps from your phone
     Block certain websites
     Block advertisements
     Sell items to make money and pay the income into one account (e.g. particular paypal account for ebay selling). Then use only that account for purchases.

Time Management

Plan ahead

Aim to arrive 10-15 minutes early and set reminders to leave on time

Use a watch or other timer and set reminders and alarms – perhaps 30 minutes before planned departure, 10 mins before planned departure, at time of planned departure

If you have a smartphone, you can make use of the calendar app

Say no to others or check diary before committing yourself!

Allow more time than you think you’ll need - add ten minutes to every appointment or task that you think will need 30 minutes (add 20 minutes for every hour)

Do one thing at a time

Set an hourly reminder on your phone to let you know about the passing of time (if you have a tendency to lose time and get caught up in one thing)

Structure / Routine

Start by timing activities to see how long you need for each one, then make a schedule for every day.

Set times for certain activities e.g. chores, shopping, meals, getting up or going to bed

Deal with mail and email every day – set aside a 10 minutes or so.
     Act on it (e.g. pay bills)
     Delete or shred it
     File it (if appropriate / once actioned)

Limit time on eg. Computer  (set an hourly alarm to remind you of the passing of time)

Set up a filing system

Different folders for different types of documents

Use labels or colour-coding

Make time for fun or relaxation
     alone and with friends/family

Hobbies or interests

Exercise regularly

Use weekly planner:   Weekly Planner PDF or  BACE weekly planner PDF

Nature as Therapy

Reduce distractions

Make a work place at home to minimise disturbances

Desk facing the wall

Clear desk of clutter

Set up voice mail to answer your calls

Turn mobile phone to silent and put it in a drawer

Let others know you don’t want to be disturbed

Write down any ideas or thoughts you don’t want to forget, but haven’t got time for right now. Keep a notebook or pad on your desk (or with you).

If attending a large meeting or conference, aim to sit near the speaker and away from people who you know might distract you

Take a break at an appropriate time. Move around – walk or jump on the spot. Activity increases our ability to focus.


Be attentive and polite

Repeat back important communication to check you have heard correctly

Write things down / make notes (carry a note bad or use your mobile phone)

Put things in your diary/calendar as soon as you hear about them

Learn active listening skills to help you reallly listen to others talking

Don’t interrupt others (practise if necessary)

Use appropriate eye contact

Ask questions rather than talking about whatever comes to mind

Ask for a copy of any materials e.g. presentation handouts, meeting agenda

SELF CARE  - Positive Steps to Wellbeing

Make sure you get enough sleep

Create a quiet bed time routine

Go to bed (and get up) at the same time every day

Avoid caffeine late in the day

Exercise every day and spend time outdoors

Schedule in fun, enjoyment and relaxation every day

Eat healthily, including:
     Small meals and often
     Avoid too much sugar or caffeine (which can increase symptoms)

Learn to say no! Don’t take on too much.  (See Assertiveness & Saying No)



Notice:            Where my attention is


Observe:        What I'm doing.  Think: "I am walking", "I am sitting", "I am breathing", then notice those sensations in your body 

Wise Mind  What now?   How shall I continue?   Doing or Being?

NOW:  Mindfulness for Busy People leaflet




  • Choose an activity to do mindfully throughout the day, for one, two or five minutes. For example:  Drink a cup of tea.  Walk.  Wash the dishes. 

  • Whatever you are doing, be in that moment, right now.   See, hear, smell, touch, feel, breathe.

  • Simply notice whenever other thoughts and sensations come to mind, then re-focus on your chosen mindful activity.

  • Be patient and compassionate with yourself.

  • Describe - rather than judge good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.

  • It is as it is.

Everything Flows.  Nothing is fixed.   Heraclitus



Use STOPP skill to incorporate many strategies

STOP - just pause for a moment


Take a breath - one slow deep breath


Observe - there's the mind bully again.  My body and mind is reacting to the thoughts and distressing feelings.


Pull back - this is just the anxiety talking.  Don't believe everything you think!  Let's stick with the facts - these thoughts are just opinions (Fact or Opinion).  These feelings are normal - it's just the body's alarm system doing its job, when it doesn't need to.  These feelings will pass.    


Practise / Proceed - What can I do right now?  


I can use these strategies:

Where can I put my focus of attention right now?  (Mindfulness & mindful activity).  What else can I do that would help me tolerate these thoughts and feelings without reacting to them?


Complete your own STOPP  Worksheet


This Adult ADHD guide by Carol Vivyan & Naomi Cottam

Learn effective skills to help manage ADHD online - The Decider Skills for Self Help online course


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Further Self Help Resources

Self Help mp3 downloads

NOW:  Mindfulness for Busy People leaflet


Flexible Thinking

Mindful Breathing


Self Help Books

You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!

Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder

The Adult ADHD Tool Kit

Mastering Your Adult ADHD: A Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Program Client Workbook

Taking Charge of Adult ADHD