Cartoon of a pink-haired character smiling and holding a cup of steaming beverage, with text above reading 'ADHD & SELF-CARE'.

ADHD and Self-Care: Strategies That Truly Work

Finding the right balance in self-care for individuals with ADHD involves creating a structured routine that accommodates both physical and mental health needs. Incorporating regular exercise, mindfulness practices, and a balanced diet can significantly improve focus, energy levels, and overall well-being. It's about personalized strategies that fit seamlessly into your daily life, ensuring sustainable habits that support both your ADHD and your unique lifestyle.

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Written by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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In this Article

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A word form our expert

How to Prioritize Self-Care When You Have ADHD

For many, the idea of self-care conjures images of leisurely days filled with reading, relaxation, or binge-watching a favorite TV show. 🍹While these activities have value and can boost our happiness, proper self-care is more than bubble baths and self-love.

Genuine self-care involves establishing healthy routines and habits that support our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing in a balanced, sustainable way. It's like giving ourselves the same guidance, structure, and encouragement we received as children to eat healthy food or go to bed at a specific time. In a way, it's like 'parenting' ourselves. 🥰

But this essential self-care can sometimes feel boring or intolerable,  🥱 especially for those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who crave stimulation. However, without adequate self-care, our ADHD brains are left vulnerable, and symptoms can escalate, having a massive knock-on effect across our daily lives. Caring for ourselves might not always give us the instant boost our brain needs, but it allows us to function at our best in the long term. 💪

In this article, we'll discuss:

  • The critical role of foundational self-care in managing ADHD symptoms
  • The unique challenges individuals with ADHD face in establishing and maintaining self-care routines due to being emotionally exhausted and physically depleted
  • Practical strategies for taking good care of ourselves and meeting our own needs
  • How taking care of ourselves can pave the way towards belonging, self esteem, security, love and progress in the most important areas of our lives. 

Ready to take back control of your ADHD self care game-plan? Let’s get into it! 👇

Illustration of a blue-outlined character with a worried expression, text reads 'Many people with ADHD (diagnosed or not) have experienced burnout' with the character saying 'I don’t feel so good...'

Self-care is crucial for everyone but especially vital for those with ADHD. Life's daily demands and routines can lead to heightened emotional exhaustion 😢in people with ADHD, so self-care helps us manage our symptoms. Meeting our basic needs equips us to better handle challenges with time management, focus, self-control, stress, and impulsivity.

However, putting our own needs first requires establishing habits - two things the ADHD brain often struggles with. 😬It becomes a vicious cycle; we want to thrive in all areas, but the sheer responsibility can feel overwhelming. 🤯

So, where do we start? ⬇️

Think of effective self-care for ADHD as building a house. 🏡 To construct a solid building, you need a strong foundation. Once that stable base is in place, you can start painting the walls and buying furniture. 😀But those decorations won't matter if the whole house is at risk of falling apart.

Similarly, we must start with a strong foundation of healthy habits. From there, we can add the elements that bring us joy and meaning. But we can only focus on the 'fun' self-care if we have got the basics right first. 👍

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The ADHD Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs categorizes the essential human needs by physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. Arranged in a pyramid, these needs intricately influence our overall wellbeing. Failing to fulfill these foundational needs can have a substantial detrimental impact on our mental and physical health.

However, for those with ADHD, the allure of more rewarding activities can override addressing these core needs. 🧠 Due to our brains constantly seeking dopamine, we often find ourselves unintentionally neglecting the fundamental elements of self-care like sleep, nutrition, and hygiene.

Image of a pink-haired character looking overwhelmed, with text stating '...during hyperfocus you can easily lose track of time, ignore people around you or even your own needs'

In the following sections, we'll explore how ADHD can impact each level of needs and how we can meet them despite our ADHD symptoms. By building a solid foundation, we can work up ⬆️ the self-care pyramid to the most rewarding parts. 👍

1. Physiological

Physiological needs like air, food, water, shelter, warmth, sleep, and sex are basic biological necessities for human survival. Meeting these needs is critical for the body to function correctly. 

Symptoms like forgetfulness, hyperfocus, and working memory issues can make it hard to fulfill these basics. Simple tasks like drinking enough water, eating regular meals, moving around, hygiene, brushing teeth, getting rest, and using the bathroom can become difficult.

Cartoon of a pink-haired character looking faint and another asking 'Did you eat today?', accompanied by text 'It’s quite common for people with ADHD to forget to eat'.

Self Care Strategies For Core Physical Needs

Use Reminders For Basic Self-Care Tasks

Set recurring alarms or reminders throughout the day. Be specific about setting alarms a few minutes before you need to attend to basic needs like eating, sleeping, taking medication, hygiene tasks, etc. 

Schedule them in your phone calendar or use apps that allow custom reminders. If needed, break these down into tiny action steps. Crossing completed items off your list triggers a dopamine rush, which helps motivate you to keep up the habit. If you find technology helpful, use a fitness tracker or smartwatch with habit tracking. Many models allow you to set reminders to move or exercise, drink water, etc., which prompt you throughout the day. ⏲️

Use Visual Cues 

Visual reminders like a day planner or whiteboards can help you remember tasks. Place reminder notes on your bathroom mirror for hygiene habits, or keep medications beside items already part of your everyday routine, like a coffee machine or house keys. 🔑

Simplify Mealtimes

Use meal delivery services to simplify meal planning and prep. 🥑Many services deliver pre-portioned foods rich in essential nutrients and recipes to your door, taking the work out of planning/shopping. If this isn't an option, try batch cooking and freezing meals. Cook large batches of healthy food on weekends when you have more time, and freeze individual portions to reheat during the week. 🍳

Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help

Ask a friend or family member to check in periodically for accountability. Have them remind you to attend to the basics such as food, medication, sleep, etc. Also, seek support from a mental health professional or ADHD coach to develop personalized strategies. They can help tailor plans and cues that work for your unique needs.

2. Safety

When it comes to Maslow's hierarchy, safety needs are all about feeling secure and having stability. These safety needs become a priority once we have met our core needs, such as sleep, water, and food. We need to feel we have  order and control to regulate our nervous system; otherwise, we can experience a lot of anxiety and find ourselves in 'fight or flight' mode. 😰

Drawing of a cheerful pink-haired character with text explaining 'Many people with ADHD are very sensitive to sensory stimuli' and notes that intense stimuli can lead to sensory overload.

However, DHD can make this a bit of a challenge. Our intense emotions, issues with stress management, strained relationships, and poor time management can make us feel like we are on a constant rollercoaster. 📈 Sometimes, it's like we're jumping from one crisis to another because we forget stuff or miss important dates. Anxiety can jump in, too, especially when we worry about losing jobs due to ADHD issues or messing up essential payments. 💰

Drawing of a cheerful pink-haired character with text explaining 'Many people with ADHD are very sensitive to sensory stimuli' and notes that intense stimuli can lead to sensory overload."  "Illustration of a pink-haired character holding a sign depicting a puzzle piece fitting between 'ADHD' and 'ANXIETY', with text 'ADHD and anxiety are closely linked'

Self Care Techniques For Safety

Learn How To Manage (And Prevent) Stress

Living in a constant whirlwind of problems isn't great for our stress levels. We need a break from all that chaos. The thing is, many of us with ADHD can end up using stress as a way to get things done. Try finding ways to manage stress – figure out what keeps stressing you out and tackle it head-on using specific stress management strategies for ADHD. Many stress management techniques include tending to our body, such as getting enough exercise and working with a therapist specializing in stress and burnout.  🧨

Automate Important Tasks

To make life feel more secure, think about automating tasks that stress you out. Create automatic payments for bills so you don't miss any, or ask a reliable partner or family member to handle essential household expenses if possible. You can also automate other routine tasks like prescription refills to ensure you never run out of medication. 💊

3. Belongingness and Love

Belongingness and love needs relate to our fundamentally social nature, including the yearning for meaningful connections, community, and a sense of acceptance within a group. 🥰 These needs include friendship, intimacy, trust, acceptance, and the exchange of affection and love.

ADHD comes with its quirks that can impact our social interactions. Traits like hyperfocus, impulsiveness, distraction, and forgetfulness can affect how we connect with others.

Cartoon of a pink-haired character looking at a phone with a 'SEEN' message, with text saying 'When you realize you accidentally ghosted someone for weeks...'

Self Care Strategies For Positive Relationships

Resist The Urge to Isolate

ADHD can make us feel distant from others 😞and under pressure to hide parts of ourselves to fit in. But being authentic and finding acceptance for who we are is an essential part of finding genuine connections. Where possible, spend time with people who understand your neurodiversity and love you for it. ❣️Having a support system that understands you is invaluable. It's okay to lean on loved ones during tough times, and it doesn't make you a burden.

Image of a pink-haired character with a cloud of shame saying 'I’m not talented', 'I’m stupid', and 'I’m worthless', with text 'People with ADHD tend to feel ashamed a lot. Years of shame can make you feel unworthy of love and kindness...

Set Boundaries

Healthy boundaries can be tough with ADHD. However, boundary setting skills have an active role when learning how to maintain positive relationships. Due to our fear of rejection, we can be prone to being ‘people-pleasers’ in order to connect with the outside world. However without boundaries, relationships suffer. Learning how to set limits takes time, but it is crucial for managing fulfilling, sustainable connections. 👨‍❤️‍👨

Get Professional Help

Therapy can be life-changing. It provides a space to explore managing ADHD in relationships. Learning to navigate how past experiences have impacted your ability to connect with others can give you the tools to sustain long-lasting relationships.

Practice Communication

Be open about your needs and challenges, even if they're not the 'norm; this might include communicating needs around noise sensitivity or managing plans. Let loved ones know how they can best support you. Clear communication is key for any relationship. 💬

4. Esteem

The esteem tier involves cultivating self-respect and earning regard from others. However, as people with ADHD have  trouble trying to maintain focus, this can make it challenging to engage in activities that require sustained attention. 

Drawing of a pink-haired character proudly showing a paper, while another, frowning, says 'That was not the assignment!' Text reads 'People with ADHD receive many negative feedback about their traits...'

We may struggle with comparing ourselves to others who learn things quickly, leading to feeling behind in education, career, and other areas. When we think we can't 'stick at' anything, this can affect our self-esteem and self-efficacy and how we perceive our ability to achieve goals. 

Cartoon showing three characters each with a thought bubble of self-deprecating remarks, with text stating 'Years of negative feedbacks can have devastating effects on confidence...

Self-Care Strategies for Boosting Esteem 

Embrace Your Unique Strengths

Rather than focusing on what's challenging, focus on what you excel at. Dive into mastering a special interest or gather knowledge in various areas, like languages, sports, history, art, and more. Our diversity of skills makes us intriguing and valuable both personally and professionally. 

Explore Diverse Hobbies

By trying out different hobbies, we nourish our self-esteem. Engaging in activities we enjoy boosts our confidence and adds excitement to life. 🥳 If you switch between pursuits, try not to be too hard on yourself. It's okay to try many different things - it's one of the many things that often makes people with ADHD such exciting people to spend time with! You can take this one step further by exploring hobbies in a social setting, such as a foreign language club, knitting club or book club. 📖

Illustration of a pink-haired character with hands together in a heart shape, smiling. Above the character, text says 'But we can find solutions to regain our self esteem!' with encouragement 'You can do it!' in a speech bubble.

5. Self-Actualization

When adults reach 'self-actualization, they experience frequent peak moments filled with immense joy and transformation. They have an ongoing appreciation for the wonders of everyday life, fully accept themselves and others without holding back, and can logically problem-solve. They have a strong sense of independence and enjoy moments of solitude for personal growth. They're all about embracing spontaneity and following their unique perspectives, all while being driven by purpose and empathy for others.

Sound familiar? 😂Due to our unique traits, many of us with ADHD already possess the potential to be self-actualized individuals. But here's the thing – we must ensure our foundation is solid to find this fulfillment. 👌Like setting up a strong base before building a towering structure, tending to our basic needs through self-care lays the groundwork for achieving this personal fulfillment and keeping our symptoms in check. ☑️

Illustration of a pink-haired character with hands together in a heart shape, smiling. Above the character, text says 'But we can find solutions to regain our self esteem!' with encouragement 'You can do it!' in a speech bubble.


Taking care of ourselves requires establishing sustainable habits and practices that nourish our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing holistically. 

Due to our unique wiring, for adults with ADHD, the path to effective self-care starts with prioritizing our most fundamental needs. By creating stability at the pyramid's base, we build a foundation to move upward. Though developing the habits needed to meet our physiological, safety, and connection needs takes work, it allows us to find balance and fulfillment. This solid base equips us also to nurture self-esteem and pursue self-actualization.

As we address higher needs, maintaining our core wellbeing remains crucial. By caring for our minds and bodies, managing symptoms, and leveraging our strengths, we position ourselves to reach our potential. When we meet our basic needs, we can find the unique potential and power in our diagnosis.

A simple drawing of a character with pink hair and a small smile, set against a white background. Above the character, text reads 'Always remember that ADHD is complex...' and below, it continues '...and can be experienced in many different ways.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do people with ADHD struggle with self-care?

Yes, taking care of one's physical and emotional wellbeing can be challenging for those with ADHD. The demands of daily life can lead to emotional exhaustion and heightened ADHD symptoms. Establishing consistent habits requires structure, which the ADHD brain struggles with. The tendency to seek stimulation and dopamine can also override essential self-care needs like nutrition, sleep, and hygiene. However, these habits are vital for managing ADHD, making it imperative to find strategies that work.

What is the best self-care for ADHD?

The most effective self-care approach starts with foundational physiological and safety needs before moving to higher needs like esteem and self-actualization. Build a routine focused on meeting basic needs first. Helpful strategies include: Using reminder alarms and calendars on a daily basis Meal delivery services Designating household responsibilities Putting organizational systems in place Seeking professional support. Once core self-care habits are in place, you can incorporate more fun, indulgent self-care activities as bonuses. Balancing structure with flexibility and compassion is key.

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