Ways to Sustain Attention with ADHD

Ashley Henshaw, Done Team

One of the key symptoms that many people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with is right in the name itself: attention deficit. People with ADHD often get easily distracted and have trouble staying on task, which can be disruptive at work or school and may potentially cause issues in their social life.

Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that can be used to help maintain attention when you have ADHD. Read more about the root causes of inattention and the best ways to overcome it.

What Does Inattention Look Like in People with ADHD?

There are actually three types of ADHD, and two involve significant symptoms of inattention: inattentive ADHD and combined inattentive/hyperactive ADHD. (The third type of ADHD primarily involves symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.)

In children, symptoms of inattentive ADHD usually include the following:

  • Easily distracted/short attention span
  • Changing from one activity to another often
  • Struggling to stay on task, particularly with tedious or long activities
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Not following instructions
  • Appearing not to listen
  • Frequently losing things or being forgetful
  • Challenges with organizing

Inattentive ADHD in adults can show up in different ways. Adult ADHD symptoms of inattentiveness typically include the following:

  • Lack of attention to detail
  • Not finishing tasks before moving onto new ones
  • Frequently losing things or being forgetful
  • Inability to prioritize and poor organizational skills

Why Do People with ADHD Have Trouble Paying Attention?

The inability to sustain attention is fairly common among people with ADHD. Despite what some may believe, however, this ADHD symptom isn’t attributed to a lack of understanding or defiance.

Instead, ADHD-related inattentiveness is actually caused by differences in the brain. The prefrontal cortex in the brain, which plays an important role in regulating attention, typically exhibits weaker circuit function and structure in those with ADHD. This can contribute to someone being very easily distracted since this area of the brain isn’t as capable of maintaining focus on one topic or task.

Another biological cause for inattention with ADHD in adults and children has to do with the neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemical messengers are released at certain times to communicate with different parts of your body. One type of neurotransmitter is dopamine, which provides reinforcement or motivation to do something through a pleasurable feeling, almost like a reward system.

People with ADHD tend to have a higher number of dopamine transporter proteins compared to others. These proteins focus on removing dopamine, so people with ADHD often don’t experience the same effects since the dopamine is removed too quickly.

Without that typical reward system from dopamine, people with ADHD are less motivated to sustain their focus. Their brain starts seeking out stimulation to get a dopamine reward, which makes them easily distracted and prone to risky behaviors.

Strategies for Maintaining Focus with ADHD

If you struggle with inattentive ADHD, there are a number of ways you can work on sustaining your attention. Some of these are classic treatments for ADHD in adults and kids, while others lifestyle changes. It’s a good idea to try out various methods for maintaining attention to discover which ones work best for you, but keep in mind that traditional strategies like medication are highly recommended by healthcare professionals.

Medication

Stimulants can increase dopamine levels, which tend to be lower in people with ADHD. As explained above, those lower levels of dopamine can be a major contributor to shorter attention spans. This is why stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta are among the most common types of ADHD medication for adults and children.

ADHD medications for adults and children are safe and effective. Most people respond almost immediately to stimulants, which help to minimize symptoms like inattention and lack of focus. If you want to talk to a doctor about medications for adult ADHD or ADHD in children, you can get convenient, online treatment with Done.

Therapy

People with ADHD can also participate in specialized therapy to help learn how to maintain attention. For kids, behavior therapy is strongly recommended. This process involves the parents so they can help instill useful skills and strategies for overcoming ADHD symptoms through positive reinforcement.

If you have ADHD as an adult, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help address some of the symptoms that often plague people with ADHD. Additionally, ADHD coaching can be used for additional support in developing useful ADHD coping skills, particularly in regards to inattention.

Timers

A practical way to train your brain to maintain attention is by using timers. This can help you break up tasks into smaller chunks and measure how much time you actually spend on one thing.

There are plenty of apps and devices you can use to set a timer. But how long should you set it for? The Pomodoro technique uses a system of 25 minutes staying task followed by a five-minute break. You can repeat this cycle up to four times, then take a longer break of 20 or 30 minutes. The Pomodoro technique can be beneficial for people with ADHD since they focus best in short bursts.

Thought dump

This term refers to the method of writing down potential distractions that come to your mind so you don’t forget about them later. With an ADHD brain, it’s easy to get sidetracked by a random thought. But instead of being pulled away from the thing you’re focusing on, keep a “thought dump” notebook handy where you can quickly jot down the distracting thought and come back to it later.

Tidying

Visual distractions can be just as disruptive as mental ones. By keeping a tidy space, you can minimize the risk of getting sidetracked. Try to remove clutter from your line of sight, especially in your office or any other place where you need to focus.

Meditation

Working on mindfulness activities like meditation can actually help you develop better focusing skills over time. Plus, it can help release stress and anxiety. Feeling calmer overall could help you avoid some distractions when you’re trying to focus on something.

Exercise

Exercising helps to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter that can improve attention. Getting in some physical movement every day can help you sustain higher dopamine levels for improving your focus. Test out different types of exercise, like walking, running, lifting weights, yoga, or playing sports, to see which ones give you the best attention-boosting effects.

Fidget Tools

These “toys” aren’t just for amusement. They can have a real impact on children and adults with ADHD by helping them to maintain attention on a task. By giving your hands something to stay busy with, it allows your brain to focus more on what you’re trying to concentrate on. Experiment with different options, from handheld toys to wobble seats to even just chewing a stick of gum, to see what works for you.

You don’t have to let ADHD symptoms like inattention rule your life. If you’re ready to get a diagnosis and take on your ADHD, reach out to Done. We make ADHD treatment simple, affordable, and accessible through our convenient telehealth services. Start with our one-minute assessment, then we’ll connect you to a licensed ADHD clinician to get the expert care you need.

 

 

Resources:

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/adhdadd

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/symptoms/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2894421/

https://psychcentral.com/adhd/neurotransmitters-involved-in-adhd

https://psychcentral.com/adhd/what-to-know-about-adhd-and-dopamine

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/behavior-therapy.html

https://chadd.org/for-adults/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/

https://chadd.org/about-adhd/coaching/

https://psychcentral.com/adhd/how-to-adapt-the-pomodoro-technique-adhd

https://psychcentral.com/adhd/adhd-tips-to-fire-up-your-focus

https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/adhd-tips.html

https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/adult-adhd-and-exercise

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