Not sure meditation can work for ADHD adults?
As an ADHD adult, I know you may think you can’t pay attention. But the real challenge for you is that you pay attention to everything. And this surplus of attention makes it hard to be intentional about where you focus your attention. So, you may have a hard time getting your important work done, right?
You may also have challenges regulating your emotions. If you do, you may easily become angry, excited or sad, and feel these emotions more intensely than non-ADHD adults. This emotional dysregulation can also lead you to be impulsive. If regulating your emotions is one of your challenges, you’d really like to do better. I know.
These, and other challenges related to your ADHD, likely magnify the stress and overwhelm you may be feeling right now. And, if you want to minimize this, you know you need to learn how to work with your ADHD. But, while you know this, you may wonder how, right?
The key is to create a holistic treatment plan. A mindfulness practice, which may include meditation, can help you to manage the above challenges and more. And should definitely be part of your plan. But, if you’re unsure whether a mindfulness practice can work for ADHD adults, you’re not alone.
Read on to see how a mindfulness practice can help you, and how you can start meditating, even with ADHD .
What is Mindfulness and Meditation?
If I asked everyone reading this article to define mindfulness and meditation, I would receive a variety of definitions. And, if you looked up the terms right now, you might also find them used interchangeably. So, let’s make sure we’re on the same page before exploring further.
Take a minute to look at the graphic above. Notice the person on the left has a mind full of many different thoughts. As is true for many adults with ADHD, this may be typical for you right now. That is, at any moment you are thinking about the past and the future. And these thoughts may bring up a variety of emotions.
Contrast this with the person on the right. Her only thoughts are about what is in her immediate environment — the present moment. This is how I define mindfulness.
Meditation, as I am using it, is a type of mindfulness. It is a practice, which has many forms, including walking, visualization, and breathing, just to name a few. I’ll explore this more fully below.
Both meditation and mindfulness can help you to quiet your chaotic mind and be in the present. I know you might be thinking, “I would pay anything to get that!” The good news is, other than time and energy, it doesn’t cost anything.
Why Mindfulness is an Important Skill for ADHD Adults to Develop
While your challenges with focusing your attention are largely due to your brain wiring, there is also a habitual component. That is, because your ADHD makes it difficult to focus and attend, you have developed a habit of not focusing. And, you will do more of what you are used to doing, unless you work on making it different. Make sense, right?
And without a system for bringing yourself back to the present and taking control of your thoughts, actions and emotions, you cannot steer your life. Adopting a mindfulness practice will help you to manage your ADHD symptoms, and become better at focusing your attention.
At the same time, I know your ADHD symptoms may make it challenging to develop this habit. The key to persisting is to remember that your ADHD might make it more difficult, and to be compassionate with yourself. So, you might say to yourself, “I know this is totally worth it, but it is also hard.”
Not sure if it is worth it? See what the research says.
What Does the Research Say About Meditation as a Treatment for ADHD?
As psychologist and ADHD expert Keith Conners notes, “You must be a savvy consumer of your healthcare to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.”
This is especially critical if you are making decisions about your ADHD treatment based on your Internet research. It’s just not easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. Because, while they may look credible when they are all “dressed up” on a website, there are some specious treatment claims out there.
When it comes to meditation, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is an effective complementary treatment for ADHD. And while not definitive, yet, there is also scholarly research to support this. At the very least, the research indicates that meditation can reduce the severity of your ADHD symptoms.
One of the first studies released by Dr. Lidia Zylowska, author of Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD, found that 78% of participants reported a reduction in their ADHD symptoms. And, since that first study, there have been many more done. If you are curious, google the key phrase, “mindfulness-based therapies for ADHD.”
If you’re willing to try it out, keep on reading to see how you can start a meditation practice.
Begin Your Meditation Practice with a Mini-Habit
If you envision needing to sit for long periods of time, you may decide, “I’ll never be able to meditate!” The good news is you can benefit from a meditation practice that is shorter, a lot shorter. But first, let’s focus on helping you get started.
You know that it’s easier to turn on your ADHD brain and feel motivated when an activity interest you. So, the initial excitement about using meditation to treat your ADHD may help you try it the first time. But, when you don’t see the payoff right away, you may quickly lose interest.
And there goes your hopes of starting a meditation practice. At this point I bet you’ve been through this start and stop cycle with creating habits many times, right? So, you may be leery of trying to create another habit. I get it.
To make adopting a meditation practice easier begin with a mini-habit. Stephen Guise describes these habits as ones that are “stupid small.” The beauty of this strategy is, while you are focusing on creating the habit, you will feel very little resistance. Even when the novelty wears off. This is key for your ADHD brain.
As you think about creating your meditation micro-habit consider the triggers that can help you build this habit. These may include location, time, preceding action, and people. Below is one way you can go about doing this.
- Get up first thing in the morning.
- Go to a cushion or chair you want to use for meditation.
- Count your breaths. As you inhale, silently think 1, exhale 2, inhale 3, exhale 4 … all the way to 10. Repeat three times.
- Alternatively, you can also try this one minute guided meditation.
Try doing this for about 3 weeks.
Exploring Meditation Beyond a Mini-Habit
Eventually, if only for a minute, you will experience the reward — a calm mind — of meditating. And with this will come the interest you need to turn your brain on and feel motivated to meditate.
In chemical terms, when the reward is anticipated, dopamine is released to various parts of the brain, activating your motor functions, attention and memory pathway. And, when the memory of this stimulus and associated reward is in place, you will be more likely to meditate the next time.
So, do your “mini-meditation” for as long as you want.
And, when you are ready, try a five-minute meditation. Rather than paying for a subscription, try one of the free resources to start. That way you can figure out what kind of meditations you like or don’t like. Below are a few resources to get you started on your journey
- Read this brief beginner’s guide from the site Mindful.
- Then try this five-minute breathing meditation.
- You can also try this 5-minute meditation, Brief Meditation: Arriving in Mindful Presence.
- If you want to try other meditations, check out Tara Brach and Fragrant Heart.
Remember, “start where you are.”
Stay Tuned for The Next Post
In the next article, I’ll explore how you can incorporate mindfulness beyond meditation into your daily life.