Do you ever start a project or set up a time to tackle a task but find yourself unable to focus? Suddenly the to-do list that was living in your brain is being pushed towards the front. Reminding you that yes, you have this project to complete but you also have other responsibilities.
This is my reality living with adult ADHD. My brain becomes flooded with invasive thoughts, none of which are about the project that needs to be done.
“Did I get everything I need for dinner at the grocery store earlier?
Does my daughter have enough food for the week at daycare?
I wonder what’s on the news today.
-oh! I need to buy a lamp for this room.”
As a result of all these invasive thoughts, the project that I sat down to do is the furthest thing from my mind. Cue feelings of desperation and frustration.
The Challenges of Adult ADHD
I’ve actually battled ADHD my whole life. **Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder** is defined as a brain disorder that affects how you pay attention, sit still, and control your behavior. It happens in children and teens and can continue into adulthood.
I was first diagnosed when I was five and I was on ADHD medication from that time to about 15. The medication made me feel terrible. I didn’t feel like myself, I felt like a zombie, and feeling that way as a teenager just wasn’t something that I wanted to continue to do. So I stopped taking my medication. Fortunately, the effects of my ADHD remained manageable throughout the rest of my time in high school.
When I started my career my adult ADHD started rearing its ugly head in many different ways. As an adult going through my various different office jobs I found myself to be easily bored with what I was tasked with. In that boredom, I started making more mistakes in the work that I was completing. This resulted in reprimands from my job and frustration on my part as to what was going on, and why I was having a hard time. I didn’t realize at the time that boredom was a symptom of adult ADHD.
When I could focus I was able to knock my projects out of the park and received positive feedback on the work that I was doing. But when I was distracted, my work was messy and it didn’t go unnoticed. This had me feeling insecure. I didn’t feel that I was capable of scaling my career and getting promoted. These feelings of inadequacy caused me to spiral into depression.
I knew I had to do something to improve my focus and manage my adult ADHD symptoms. I also knew that prescriptions for controlled substances for the rest of my life weren’t an option I was interested in either.
The medication prescribed for people with ADHD hasn’t really changed over the years. The main prescriptions are still Adderall and Ritalin, which have their own share of negative side effects. I found that because of my anxiety, controlled stimulants did not mix well with my brain chemistry. While I was able to focus with intensity for hours at a time. I was also easily irritated, nervous, and couldn’t sleep. The cons outweighed the benefits.
Although I didn’t want to take medication, my adult ADHD symptoms continued to disrupt my life. I needed relief so I did some research and started incorporating four things in my life to improve my focus and concentration.
Four Things I Did to Improve My Concentration and Focus Naturally
Regular Exercise and Mindful Movement
I started moving my body and increasing my heart rate in an intentional way. Moving my body has always been challenging. It hasn’t been easy finding a form of exercise that I enjoyed enough to keep doing regularly. In 2018 I went to my first studio cycling class and fell in love. Pretty soon I was doing five classes a week sometimes two classes a day and had more energy, increased focus, and seemingly more interest in life in general. I found that going to spin class in the mornings before work resulted in a more focused and productive day.
Adaptogenic and Nootropic Supplements
I did a lot of research into natural or alternative supplements that I could take to improve my focus. In my research, I discovered a subculture obsessed with Adaptogens and Nootropics. If you’re confused by what exactly Adaptogens and Nootropics are you’re not alone.
An adaptogen is a nontoxic substance and especially a plant extract that is held to increase the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning. Well-known adaptogens include ashwaganda, astralagus, and ginseng. Check out this episode of Balanced Black Girl to learn more about adaptogens.
A nootropic is a substance that enhances cognition and memory and facilitates learning. Examples of nootropics include ginko, caffeine, and rhodiola.
The lack of peer-reviewed evidence supporting the effectiveness of adaptogens and nootropics has caused some speculation, to say the least. But I figured the worst that could happen is that the products I purchased wouldn’t work and I wouldn’t purchase them again.
The first company I tried is called Moon Juice. They are a trendy LA-based wellness supplement company touted by celebrities as a modern-day apothecary for millennials. Their branding was really cute, but the prices were astronomical. I found that the products offered didn’t suit my needs, they didn’t taste good, they didn’t dissolve in hot liquid. I didn’t feel any different or more focused after taking the supplements for a period of time and wasn’t impressed with the overall experience.
The second brand I tried is called The Apothékary they tout themselves as being ‘mother nature’s pharmacy’. After my negative experience with Moon Juice, I was definitely hesitant to explore another quite expensive route to improve my focus concentration. But I was already on this journey and I was determined to find something that worked for me. I ordered The Apothéary’s Mind over Matter supplement which you can mix with coffee or just about any hot drink, it is branded as being nature’s Adderall. So of course I was interested.
I started taking it every day two times a day once in the morning with my coffee and once in the afternoon with my alternative coffee beverage. The positive effects were noticed almost immediately. I had a certain clarity when I was attempting to complete a task and I was able to focus on it for a long period of time. The brain fog that I was experiencing when I was only drinking coffee was lifted, and I felt that I was approaching projects with clarity and efficiency. I’ve been taking the supplement for a little over 8 months and really enjoy the way that it makes me feel, and the way that it helps me function throughout my workday.
Creating a Ritual
Personally, I would say that it’s a bit of a reach when they refer to it as nature’s Adderall. With that being said, this is a very efficient way to increase cognitive function without a controlled substance. The supplement is tasty and I love the way that it makes me feel. I plan on keeping this brand in my cupboard as part of my daily ritual for the foreseeable future.
My positive experience with The Apothékary had me inspired to start taking more supplements
Every day I take Lions Mane mushroom, Ginseng, Chorella, Reishi Mushroom, Organic Chaga, and Ashwagandha. I highly recommend doing your own research before taking any type of supplement but I have felt a significant impact after introducing these mushrooms and herbs into my diet.
Regularly Timed Meals and Nutrient-Dense Foods
It may seem obvious but in order for your brain to function properly, it needs nutrients. I’m notoriously don’t eat breakfast. I often wait until I am starving to eat something and by that point I am lightheaded, I can’t focus, and I’m obsessing about what I’m gonna eat for lunch.
After eating lunch I’m really tired and sluggish and it’s hard for me to be able to get everything that I need to get done in the afternoon. Through some self-discipline, I started making sure to eat something within an hour of waking up and made sure that the thing that I was eating was whole food.
Prioritizing my nutrition with leafy greens, eggs, and a complex carb has really helped me stay focused by allowing me to work on projects without thinking about my hunger. Eating at regular intervals prevents feelings of sluggishness and distraction. Feeling satiated helps you stay focused on the task at hand.
Listening to Lo-Fi and Binural Beats
I’m a big fan of listening to music. When I was listening to my favorite tunes that had words I was singing along to the lyrics. When I should have been focusing on whatever project or writing that I had to do. In comparison when I sat in silence my mind was wandering a lot. I was thinking about stuff that definitely wasn’t my task at hand. The happy medium for me was finding a Lo-Fi playlist on Spotify. I also started listening to binaural beats to help me focus. Personally, I found great success with these methods. I work more efficiently. Without the distraction of my environment.
What I Learned About Improving Focus with Adult ADHD
During the process of trying to figure out a practice that worked for me. Preparedness, having a ritual, and sticking to it are the key ways to effectively increase focus. I don’t recommend people that are on meds to get off of them. If you’re looking for some alternative options when it comes to your adult ADHD don’t feel defeated. There’s a path to healing, it just might take some trial and error to get there.
The fact that I found practices that work for me has been a relief. I went from feeling hopeless and fed up to feeling capable and productive. It may seem small to some but being able to complete a project and focus on what I needed to do has really increased my quality of life.