ADHD doesn’t only affect attention. Better considered an executive function and self-regulation deficit, ADHD affects the whole person — the mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social self. It increases daily stress and chips away at a positive sense of self. It interferes with self-care and makes it hard to keep healthy habits.
This helps to explain why ADHD is linked to chronic stress, burnout, anxiety , mood disorder , sleep problems , substance use, and other conditions and issues. The reverse is also true: chronic stress and anxiety can worsen ADHD symptoms.
ADHD impacts the whole self, so is treatments must likewise target more than inattention and impulsivity. Integrative medicine is growing in popularity because it’s a treatment approach that addresses symptoms and promotes general health and wellness. Integrative Medicine for People with ADHD: Index of Topics
What Is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine considers the whole person and leverages all options — holistic thinking , complementary therapies , and conventional treatments — in devising a patient’s care plan.
Studies exploring the effectiveness of integrative approaches for ADHD specifically are limited. Moreover, the most common treatments for ADHD are the conventional – medication and psychotherapy. Still, just as ADHD affects many aspects of wellbeing, a variety of treatments and approaches can do the same.
As an integrative practitioner, my approach for treating patients with ADHD is this: If the ADHD symptoms are significantly impairing, I start with medication, and then phase in other strategies, often outside of conventional care. If the ADHD symptoms are mild to moderate, the non-medication and lifestyle approaches can be tried first.
Over time, as the other skills and strategies are employed, the need for medication can be re-evaluated and the dose reduced.
An example of an integrative medicine plan for ADHD may combine psychotherapy (a conventional strategy), stress-management skills (holistic thinking), and omega-3 fatty acids (a complementary supplement).
Conventional Treatments for ADHD
- Parent training
- Executive function or ADHD coaching
- ADHD medication
- Psychotherapy (CBT, DBT, and others)
Holistic Wellness and Lifestyle Approaches for ADHD
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
- Brain-gut health
Integrative Medicine for ADHD: Combining Holistic & Conventional Care
Most of the following approaches address ADHD’s secondary symptoms — namely stress, anxiety, mood, low self-esteem, and emotional dysregulation. Treating these factors can help decrease the severity and impairment of ADHD’s core symptoms.
Stress Management and Executive Function
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps patients develop a greater understanding of their ADHD symptoms and teaches skills that help with executive dysfunction.
CBT aims to improve patients’ problem-solving and stress-management skills by setting realistic goals and teaching organizational and time-management skills to achieve them. This type of psychotherapy can also improve balanced thinking and communication skills by focusing on one’s unique challenges (e.g., history of trauma or other comorbid mental health conditions).
Like CBT, coaching helps individuals meet their goals and develop skills to address ADHD-related barriers along the way.
Mindfulness — a practice that includes meditation as well as awareness shifts in daily activities — has been shown to improve both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, as well as selected measures of attention, emotion regulation, and executive functions1.
By analysis of automatic habits, the practice allows you to change them in the moment. For example, mindful awareness may help you realize that you are procrastinating, and help you tune in to the emotions that are driving the procrastination.
A facet of mindfulness, practicing self-compassion is particularly important for mental health. Offering yourself some validation and kindness — “This is hard. I’m stressed. I’m struggling” — will make a difference in how stress is experienced.