Academic support and self-help for ADHD

Mindfulness-based interventions have numerous benefits. Practices such as deep breathing, meditation, muscle relaxation and guided imagery have been shown to reduce restlessness, tension, distraction and wandering thoughts. Check out our self-help center and Virtual Relaxation Room for more information.

Tips and strategies for dealing with ADHD

  • Managing distractions

    Distractibility is one of the hallmarks of ADHD and may significantly impact academic performance. These are some steps that may benefit students in managing distraction.

    1. Recognize and be aware of situations in which you are more susceptible to distraction such as lectures, conversations or studying.
    2. Prioritize tasks daily in order to determine what is most important to be done that day. 
    3. Routinely remind yourself of your goals and reasons for being at the University. Set reminders such as alarms or even just post-it notes prompting you to maintain focus (e.g., what should I be doing now). 
    4. Mentally focus, which means to transition your mind into work mode. Before exercising, we engage in preparatory behaviors such as stretching or going to a designated place. Try to establish a preparatory routine before studying or attending lectures, including having a consistent place for study.
    5. Be active in learning the information. For example, rather than simply looking at the power points, re-write the material or utilize mnemonics or other strategies to aid memorization. 
    6. Discover what way you learn best. For example, if you describe yourself as a visual person, find ways to make the material more visually stimulating. If you do well listening, get audio versions of the text books and records lectures with permission. 
    7. When trying to focus, limit distractions such as having your phone out. If it won't become distracting, use music or background music to limit auditory distractions. 
    8. Break tasks up into more manageable and shorter sessions, thus reducing the potential to become distracted and sidetracked.
    9. Engage in self-care activities that reboot your motivation and makes you feel good. Burnout is more likely to occur when we push too hard. 
    10. Recognize that it is impossible to sustain attention all the time. Reframe your goal to be more attentive, rather than being perfect.
  • Managing hyperactivity and restlessness

    Hyperactivity, restlessness and constantly fidgeting can be distracting. The goal is to not eliminate the urge to move, but rather do so in a more effective and efficient way.

    1. Recognize situations in which you have difficulty sitting or being still (e.g., tests, lectures, movies, etc.). You cannot apply these steps without knowing where to apply them. 
    2. Make it a goal to maintain a consistent daily habit of being physically active (e.g., hiking, walking a pet, exercise, etc.). This way, you have a designated time and place for physical activity. 
    3. Avoid sugary and caffeinated foods/beverages before events during which you will need to sit for periods of time. 
    4. Do not expect to eliminate the urge to move, rather move in a way that is less distracting. For example, do not be the student who everyone stares at because you are banging on the desk with your pencil, or rattling the desk because you are shaking your leg so intensely. Instead, play with a gadget such as cube, finger spinner, or stress ball that allows you to fidget quietly. 
    5. Let breath be your movement. Focus on breathing and let your breath service as your movement. Visualize a starting point to your breath, visually imagine it being exhaled into your belly, sitting in the belly, and then following out through your nose and mouth into the air. This way, the urge to move is distracted by the movement of your breath.
    6. Practice self-compassion. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to not be hyperactive. Hyperactivity and restlessness are associated with arousal in the brain, and can occur at an automatic and subconscious level. Reframe your expectation to lessen, rather than eliminate restlessness. 
  • Managing impulses

    Most strategies to manage impulsivity are intended to be implemented before the impulse happens. These strategies are designed to hopefully improve your ability to think before acting and inhibit impulsiveness.

    1. Recognize situations that have created problems for you with impulsivity, and anticipate those cues beforehand. For example, if you are impulsive in spending money, bring a set dollar amount with you. If you bring a credit card, set a note on the credit card that reminds you of your spending limit. Put a sticky note on the dashboard of your car to remind you to watch your speed.
    2. Set visual cues reminding yourself of your tendency to be impulsive and your goal to counterbalance it. Use self-talk to proactively be aware of your tendency to act before thinking. 
    3. "Urge surf" means to visually imagine yourself acting on the urge without physically doing so. Close your eyes and imagine yourself engaging in the behavior, the implications or results from engaging in the behavior, and what that feels like. Sometimes mentally acting on the urge relieves the desire and tension to do so. 
    4. Again, have self-compassion as impulsivity is brain-based behavior and may occur automatically and at subconscious level. Let go of the expectation to be perfect, but rather view it as a daily journey of progress.
  • Managing procrastination and avoidance

    Often times, we may avoid tasks that we perceive as too difficult or those at which we do not believe we will be successful. Here are some tips:

    1. Recognize if you work well under pressure. Some students benefit from doing things last minute. However, some students tell themselves this just to avoid the task.
    2. Recognize the negative implications of procrastinating such as added stress, no time to review your work and potentially missing the deadline if something unexpected happens.
    3. Ask for help from your instructor or teaching assistant if you are unsure about how to approach an assignment.
    4. Break down larger projects (e.g., rwn page paper) into smaller sections (e.g., introduction, literature review, methods, results and conclusion) with deadlines for each section. Make sure you reward yourself after completing each section in order to maintain motivation towards the project. Make each section due at a separate times or devote a specific amount of time each day or week (e.g., one hour every day).
    5. Read the syllabi for each class and write down every deadline in a planner.
    6. Create daily to-do-lists for each day. In unscheduled time, add in other responsibilities (e.g., lunch, breaks, work and, most importantly, self-care). This will also allow you to prioritize your tasks.
    7. Have someone close to you help you by keeping you accountable for your work.
    8. Integrate pleasurable activities with less stimulating ones. For example, write a paper in a place that's enjoyable (e.g., coffee shop, outdoors, etc.)
    9. If you continue to experience procrastination or difficulty completing an assignment, take a break and revisit it at another time, rather than forcing yourself to do it.
  • Study skills and strategies
    1. Choose a time and location that is best for you to study. Make this choice consistent and schedule it into your routine 
    2. When studying, utilize short and timed breaks. It can be helpful to set a timer. 
    3. First study subjects that are most difficult and/or less stimulating 
    4. Limit distractions with noise cancelling headphones, background music, sitting in an area with limited visual distractions 
    5. Create flash cards if appropriate for the content: 
      a. Review the flash cards and create two piles, one for the cards you got correct and a pile for the flashcards you missed 
      b. Review the flashcards you missed and write them out 5 times 
    6. Read the materials aloud, almost as if you were telling someone. Be creative and pretend to teach the subject to the class 
    7. Be mindful of your daily habits including sleep, nutrition, and physical activity. There is no point in studying materials when you are sleep deprived and malnourished. Make sure you eat hearty meals before studying. Make sure to drink water while consuming caffeine. Schedule exercise or some form of physical activity ranging from the gym to walking a dog. Doing something physically engaging and of interest. 
    8. For sleep hygiene, learn more through our section on improving sleep.

On-campus resources

Transparency with professors about conditions that may hinder academic performance allows professors to work with you about how to succeed in the classroom. Below are additional campus-based resources you may want to consider.

Disability Resource Center

Meet with an advisor there to determine if accommodations are appropriate. Individualized recommendations, testing accommodations and assistive technology may improve chances to succeed.

Group therapy

Utilize group therapy, such as the In-Focus group, which talks about behavioral and cognitive strategies to improve academic success.

Student Health Center

If you have had an assessment and been diagnosed with ADHD, you can schedule an appointment with a physician to explore possible treatment options using medication. You will need to provide documentation of assessment and diagnosis.

Tutoring Center

Schedule tutoring for difficult subjects and learn ways to better understand the course material by interacting with fellow students.