ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are household terms these days, defined as inattention or hyperactivity, where symptoms exist before 7 years of age, and the child (or adult) experiences clinically significant impairment in a social, academic, or occupational setting. The implication is that the disorder is inherited (although I think this is debatable).
Attention Deficit Trait (ADT)
However, ADT, or Attention Deficit Trait, is clearly not inherited, but is entirely a product of the environment – particularly the common culture of the American workplace, filled with myriad distractions, high pressure, noise, and multitasking. These people find it difficult to prioritize, stay organized, and manage time effectively. This leads to a downward spiral of decreasing productivity, and increasing angst. Very commonly patients with apparent ADT tell me that they “can’t shut off their brains,” especially at night – they lie awake for hours, or wake in the wee hours of the morning, trying to solve the problems that confront them during the day. They tend to be anxious and irritable, and while some tend to take this irritability out on their coworkers or loved ones, others will turn it inward, blaming themselves.
Fortunately, there is a better answer than Ritalin (or Xanax, or Prozac). Think of these symptoms as an early warning system. If the problem is your environment, medicating yourself so that you can better cope with it is sort of like turning off the fire alarm when your house is on fire, instead of grabbing the extinguisher. Eventually the house is still going to burn down, whether you sleep through it or not.
The “extinguisher,” on the other hand, looks something like this. There’s the basics, of course:
- Get enough sleep. Not only does sleep help to improve your memory (due to neuroplasticity, the process by which new information is consolidated in your brain during sleep), it also improves performance at whatever you do. This latter benefit is likely due to the fact that during waking hours, a byproduct of neuronal activity called adenosine builds up, leading to fatigue and exhaustion. (And by the way, caffeine works by blocking the affects of adenosine, but only short term) Sleep gives your body time to clear out the debris, as it were, and make way for a new day.
- Eat real food (not processed crap.) Certain nutrients, especially B vitamins, are necessary for the production of neurotransmitters. However, B vitamins are found in dark leafy greens (not exactly a staple of the Standard American Diet) and whole grains (but not white flour, which has been stripped of nutrients). Not only does white flour lack B vitamins of its own, it actually depletes them during the process of digestion. On top of that, white flour and sugar both lead to a glucose spike and subsequent crash, which also sets you up for fatigue and irritability. So eat your complex carbs: veggies, fruit, and whole grains, along with plenty of protein and healthy fats.
- Take your fish oil. Essential Fatty Acids increase transmission of neurotransmitters, inhibit the death of brain cells, improve communication of cell membranes (which are sort of the “brains” of your cells), and decrease inflammation. Everybody needs to be taking fish oil. (Just make sure you get a good one – they’re not all created equal)
- Exercise. This is the most potent natural antidepressant out there! It induces production of neurotransmitters that elevate mood, and increases blood flow to both muscles and the brain. Increased blood flow also increases delivery of nutrients and oxygen to those tissues, and eliminates waste products, faster than would happen at rest. If you don’t have time to hit the gym for an hour every day, simply incorporate movement into your day at regular intervals. Here’s a great video that will give you ideas of how to do this – you’ll be surprised at how good you feel after just a few minutes every hour or so.
To combat ADT specifically:
- Connect with others. One of the most powerful ways to reassure yourself that there’s nothing “wrong with you” is to talk to others in a similar circumstance. That’s one of the reasons that support groups work so well. The Bible says that we are designed to carry each other’s burdens (although each is supposed to carry his own “load”, Galatians 6:2-5), implication being that while a load is small enough that we can handle it ourselves, a burden is too large to shoulder alone. Helping, cooperative workplaces or groups promote positive emotions and interdependence, rather than codependence.
- Make a list of priorities for each day, and keep it short. If everything is a priority, then nothing is. A list, even one you have created yourself, keeps you from the moment-by-moment crisis of wondering which task to attend to first. If the priorities aren’t immediately apparent to you, just pick something. Write it down, and stick to it. Cross off the tasks as you complete them, so that you can see that you’re making progress.
- One task at a time, and in bite-sized intervals. My favorite way to handle this is via a spreadsheet. For big tasks or projects that will take more than one day to complete, I structure my time in hour increments, two at most, before I move on to the next project or task – whether I’m finished or not. While attending to a task, though, it’s important to do your best to prevent distractions. Close Facebook. Close GoogleChat. If it’s an option, turn off your phone. Structure time at regular intervals to check email and voicemail, and only do it during those allotted times.
- Schedule time for yourself every day, and guard it. Treat this time like an appointment. It’s not negotiable. Try not to set too many expectations for this time, either, or it may become just another “task” – if you spend half an hour just staring at the wall at first, that’s fine! The point is just to slow down. Eventually, you will fill the time with activities that you look forward to every day. Remember, it is your responsibility to take care of yourself – nobody is going to do it for you.