People that know me well understand that I’m a workaholic and ask me how in the world I juggle so many responsibilities as a student. What they’re unaware of is that I struggle with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I didn’t even know I did until earlier this month, but as I reflect on the past few years, certain signs appeared. The dots finally connected: reading over textbooks and not remembering a single thing, having difficulty working on homework for long periods of time, struggling with distracting thoughts, forgetting simple things like appointments, losing my phone or car keys…
You get the idea. the list goes on. But I never once thought these habits had a medical explanation until I found out more about my family’s medical history and a doctor told me that I have (albeit milder than a lot of people) ADHD.
Even though I take medication, I still manage my ADHD naturally. As a result of this new knowledge, I’ve developed strategies that help me stay successful as a student.
1. Break up school work
Yes, sometimes you only have one solid block of time in the day for homework. Although some students can pound out two straight hours of studying, we’re not wired that way. We need those small breaks and even a 10 minute break can give us the recharge time necessary for optimal academic performance. I’d even suggest breaking up what you work on. For example, work on a paper for one class for a half hour, then read 30 minutes for a different one, and finish with a quick, 15-minute study session for a quiz. I’ve found that I finish work faster with this method instead of working on the same paper for two hours.
2. Have a designated spot for items and don’t change it
I can’t count the number of times I’ve lost my phone, glasses, and even my swimsuit because I just throw them on my desk or dresser. I now have a designated spot for each thing. My phone goes either on my desk or in my bag. Nowhere else. My swimsuit always hangs in the same place. It’s tempting to toss things around, but you’ll thank me later.
3. Find something that helps clear your mind
Most doctors will tell you that exercise helps with everything. And it’s true. According to Scientific American, the exact reason isn’t clear, but it probably comes from increased blood flow to the brain, which results in more oxygen and energy. Plus, if you’re like me and find solace in exercise, it becomes an escape. Thoughts often bombard my head like little bullets, but the battlefield clears after dive into a swimming pool. It’s like magic. The key is finding the activity that works for you. Some prefer running, while others like stretching or dance. Try out a couple different things and stick with an exercise method that transports you to another world.
4. Get a stress ball, fidget spinner, pen, or other item to channel restlessness
It’s easy to spot a student with ADHD because they’re usually tapping their foot, shaking their leg, or drumming their fingers on a table. I’m no exception and will often circle my ankles or shift positions throughout even short lectures. And I’ve noticed my professors aren’t sure why I’m always moving. Pens are my item of choice. I’ll usually hold a pen in my hand and spin it. Doing this actually sometimes helps me focus because I’m not distracted by jitteriness. I sometimes even doodle when I take notes because it helps me concentrate.
5. Put appointments and important meetings on a calendar or in a planner
As much as you think you’ll remember that doctor’s appointment, chances are you won’t. I’ve actually double booked a cardiology appointment and a gastrointestinal appointment at the same exact time. Oops. It was really awkward when I missed one of those. Avoid this embarrassing situation and plug important dates into your phone or a written calendar. If you choose a Google calendar, you can also set reminders.
6. Don’t do homework or any sustained mental task right before bed
Guilty as charged. As a workaholic, I literally work right up until I sleep, but I’ve tried to break that habit this semester. Finishing assignments late at night makes it difficult to fall asleep because your already hyperactive mind races with thoughts. Try to finish all schoolwork an hour before bed if you can. I find I finish assignments best during the morning, right after I wake up. It’s when my mind is most at ease and when I focus best.
7. Speak slower in conversations
I work at a cafe on campus and customers often ask me to repeat something because I said it too fast. I’ve also noticed confused looks on my classmates’ faces when I give presentations because I didn’t give them enough processing time. Hyperactive brains accelerate speech, so even if you don’t think you’re talking too fast, it’s a good idea to speak at a slower pace.
8. Take advantage of class breaks and walk around
“Alright, let’s take a 10 minute break,” your professor says. Most students will either sit on their phones or go grab a snack. I, on the other hand, walk around campus. It relaxes my mind and relieves all that pent-up energy. Plus, it’s extra exercise. Overall, walks are a win-win routine.
9. Push invasive thoughts aside
My to-do list or situations that happen at work always appear at the forefront of my mind during the worst times, such as when I’m in class and trying to listen. I’ll think about how I messed up someone’s order at work or about that chapter I need to read for my literature class. Tell your mind “no” and listen during lectures. It sounds hard, but try and focus on what the person is saying.
10. Take detailed notes during class
There’s always those students who can remember everything from class without jotting down a single stroke on paper. People with ADHD are jealous because we usually can’t remember half of what our professors said during class. That’s why I take detailed notes. It keeps my hand moving, so I’m not fighting my body’s constant energy, and I also review the lecture material later.
11. Keep the phone or other distracting things away
I’m infamous for not checking my phone at important times, but I’m always on my phone if it’s right next to me. For example, I’ll check my Instagram after practicing flute scales because I’m using a metronome on my phone. People will find a way to reach you if they really need you. If you’re worried about missing an important call, keep the phone far enough away, such as in your bag, so you can’t easily grab it.
12. Reward yourself with a social media break after you finish projects
Completing tasks become momentous occasions for people with ADHD because we often start something and take a while to finish, or work on multiple things at a time. It’s okay to check Pinterest or Facebook after you’ve worked on a paper for an hour, but make sure it doesn’t become an hour long session. I give myself five minutes for browsing Pinterest and then start studying again. These little distractions can actually improve focus because they satisfy the impulse to check social media.