Mindfulness and ADHD

Mindfulness?!!!! Have I gone mad? Wait…Don’t close your screen just yet…

Many A-Brainers have an initially strong, negative association to the idea of mindfulness because of an existing stereoype that mindfulness means sitting quiet and still for long lengths of time in the position of a Yogi.  For many A-brainers, especially those programed with a high hyperactivity component…this sounds like a fate worse than having needles poked into your eyes.

Rest assured, I do not believe in torturing anyone.

And yet, if I can point to one of the most transformational interventions my ADHD patients have added to their lives – this is it.  For those who take on the challenge, it can be a game changer when they discover how they can use mindfulness to help their brains perform better, cleaner, with less overwhelm or stress, and greater efficiency.

Does that sound good to you?

If it does, then I have some suggestions for what you do need to know about Mindfulness.

First, mindfulness is a way of directing your mental energy into specific types of awareness of the Right Now experience. That’s it. It does not require a particular length of time – nor does it dictate what you focus on, how you go about it, or where or in what position you must do it.

Of course, these choices can impact how one experiences the mindfulness – and there are certain kinds of mindfulness practice and certain ways of doing it that may give bigger impact for your particular needs – but there is no one size fits all requirement.

The aim for mindfulness is to try to approach the in-the-moment experience differently than we approach most other tasks or experiences in our lives. It activates a different part of our brain to engage mindfully – and in ADHD, this activation can assist the other parts of the brain that can easily get overwhelmed and/or be under-stimulated. Thus, mindfulness practice can be a way of clearing your mind when it gets all pretzeled with too many ideas trying to process at once.  It can also be used to help a sleepy or under-stimulated brain perk up and pay attention.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, research shows that with daily practice of 8-10 minutes (don’t worry about this now, every little bit helps – and if you start small, you may find that you can build to 10 minutes or more over time with great ease)  you may even be able to stimulate new neuronal growth in the brain after 2-4 months of daily practice – actually strengthening parts of the brain that are often weaker in the A-Brain.

Feel like giving it a try?

Key aspects of a mindfulness approach are:

1. Put your mind (awareness) in THIS moment, letting go of thinking about past or future while you are here.  (This is called Singular Focus.)
2. Observe what IS occurring in this moment with a focus on your senses – not on your thoughts about the moment.
3. Open yourself to whatever you observe, and from wherever in you you observe it.
4. Practice non-judgementality in the state of observing.  What is occurring just IS – it is neither good or bad, wanted or unwanted.

In my experience with patients, observing (as best you can) without judgement or expectation is the part most struggle with the most …we live in so much judgement of ourselves and others, or have been judged so much by others, it can be hard to stop at times. But noticing IS the practice – so if you find yourself being judge-y toward your experience, then that is just what you notice. Judging yourself in that moment just IS. But if you can let go of judgement and let your experience be just as it is without the judgement, well then, that’s great – and very refreshing to the brain.

A common form of mindfulness practice is to focus on the breath.  Notice the point where it enters (I find that feeling the temperature of the air entering my nostrils can help snag my focus to my breath when my brain is overly active), and follow it down, as far as you can, until it rises back up and out through your nostrils again. Every breath is a bit different from the last.  By only paying intentional attention to the experience of the breath, one can engage in a mindfulness practice.

For those who are more movement oriented, you can notice your toes tapping, or your wrists moving, or any other form of movement you like or need, instead of targeting the breath for your singular point of focus…and you would not be doing anything wrong. You can observe your movement, or observe your desire to move. You can notice an itch, and you can also notice yourself scratching that itch.

Nothing requires you to sit still if you can’t – or simply don’t want to.  You can even find several guided mindfulness meditations that focus on activities such as walking, running, and eating.

Of course there are many other forms to….but know that if you can engage in a mindful 1 minute or even 30 seconds….you are probably helping, and certainly not harming, your brain.  However much you can do is all you need to do.

Also, it can help to know that there are many free guided meditations apps and websites out there if you like to be able to relax into the role of being led and have someone else direct your brain for a while. (For example, Insight Timer and Breathe are some of my personal favorite apps…but there are many others!)  The mindfulness community is one of the most generous I have ever encountered and you can find many guided meditations (even really short ones) in virtually any form just by searching online or visiting your nearest library or bookstore.

Aim for 1 minute, every day.  And just notice what it is like…in that particular moment, on that particular day.

Enjoy the experience and do not be in a hurry to add more, or place pressure on your mind to do anything “just so.” Instead, trust that your mind will guide you to what it needs and you may find that you start wanting more time in a mindful state.  Grow your length of time naturally – and it will serve you well.

One final note:  If you forget for a day, or two, a week or a month, let go of the forgetting…and start again when you remember.  It’s all good.

You can do it.