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Mindfulness And ADHD — What Works For Me (And What Doesn’t)

Reading time | 4 min

When I first encountered mindfulness, I was deeply skeptical. It reminded me so much of all the unsolicited advice I’ve gotten over the years to try alternative “treatments” that never worked. One of the first things that people ask when I tell them I have anxiety, depression, and ADHD is whether I’ve tried meditation. Mindfulness and meditation are awfully similar — and my early attempts at meditation didn’t go well, so why would mindfulness be any different?

To put this in perspective, let me give you a quick breakdown of what happened when I first tried meditation:

The instructional video said, “Clear your mind of all thoughts and take deep cleansing breaths.”

And I thought to myself, “Oh no, the video started! Okay, clear my mind. Oh no, I forgot I have somewhere to be. I have a deadline! The dogs need to be walked. I’m hungry. Oh, wait, clear my mind. Yep, clearing — oh wait, look at that. No, stop, I’m supposed to be clearing my mind! Oh, the exercise is over. I’m exhausted. Meditation is too hard.”

As you can see, that went horrifically.

It also doesn’t help that people love — I mean love — suggesting treatment options to those of us who live with chronic illnesses. It’s like they simply can’t resist. When they see someone struggling with a symptom, it’s like a signal goes out. They suddenly feel the need to share their opinionated thoughts on what that person should do to make their illness better.

Think about how many times you’ve been asked these seemingly innocent questions: Have you tried exercise? Have you tried vitamins? Or, by the way, have you tried meditation?

I’ve heard everything under the sun — from a warning to avoid red dye in foods to a serious belief that ADHD is simply caused by “spiritual issues.” That’s why I’m often skeptical of any trend. I try to keep an open mind, but I also maintain a healthy sense of skepticism. In general, I think my skepticism comes from being protective of myself and others like me. No one should ever feel pressured to listen to unsolicited advice.

Anyway, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of once again experiencing the kind of aggravation I felt while trying to meditate the first time. But then, I started to see so much great research about mindfulness being published — and it changed my mind.

The benefits of mindfulness

Scientists have done some incredible work to find good evidence that mindfulness is helpful for people who live with ADHD. Some of the early research was kicked off by this feasibility study in 2008, which found that adults who did an 8-week mindfulness training program had self-reported improvements in their ADHD symptoms. The adults also performed better on tests that measured attention and cognitive inhibition, and they had notable improvements in anxiety and depressive symptoms.

It’s amazing to think that the study participants were affected so positively by attempting mindfulness! Can you believe it? I couldn’t. For me, this meant that mindfulness was something worth looking into, despite my previous attempt — and epic fail — at meditation.

My journey to mindfulness

Learning about mindfulness hasn’t always been a straightforward journey. But along the way, I found some great approaches that work for me.

Here’s what I found on my personal journey to mindfulness:

Deep breathing works for me

Deep breathing has been amazing for my mental health. Along with my ADHD, I have pretty severe anxiety. For me, one of the classic symptoms of panic and anxiety is short, shallow breathing. Some mindfulness practices focus on helping you to breathe deeply and evenly. This type of practice really slows my body down and helps me to feel calmer. I’ve even — finally — learned to do guided meditations. Even if you find it hard to rope in your unruly mind, it’s still possible to find ways to benefit from deep breathing.

Mindfulness is a good investment

Time spent being mindful is an investment in myself. Living with ADHD can feel like being on a hamster wheel. In other words, I’m running very fast but I’m staying in one spot. It’s maddening, and I get very frustrated with it. I see mindfulness as a chance to step away and invest some time in me, which I don’t often get to do.

Mindfulness can be fun

Trying alternative practices can be fun. You just need to have a sense of humor about it. Of course, I felt silly the first time I couldn’t clear my mind. But you know what? It was something new. Once I realized that, I could let go and have more fun with it. Plus, having that experience led me to work on finding some mindfulness practices specifically for ADHD. I find using mindfulness exercises and practices that were developed for people with ADHD — people whose minds aren’t easily cleared — to be incredibly helpful.

Finding my center helps me

Mindfulness can help me find my center on my bad days. Those are the days when I’m having a seriously rough time attempting to concentrate and be productive. Taking a minute to pause, regroup, and refocus means everything when I’m feeling frustrated. Mindfulness is like a temporary break for my brain.

The takeaway

If you haven’t tried mindfulness yet, ask yourself why. For me, the practice has been useful, helpful, and fun. I can’t encourage it enough. Take it from someone who was once skeptical as well: Sometimes it’s worth it to try something new.

ADHD-US-NP-00014 MAY 2018