I know, I know. ADHD and meditation? You’re kidding, right?
As someone with ADHD, I know that focusing can be hard. Intensely hard. To that end, meditation — sitting still and directing your attention for minutes on end — can be incredibly challenging for someone with ADHD.
Still, it seems every day we learn more about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices. Some preliminary research suggests that mindfulness meditation might even help to improve the executive functioning skills in adults with ADHD. I’m here to tell you that having ADHD doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to enjoy the wonders of meditation!
It might take practice — a lot of practice — but it’s possible.
Here are some of my tips for learning meditation and focusing your unfocused mind.
Start small and explore
Many advanced meditation classes can last up to two hours. ADHD or not, this is a daunting place to start. Warm up to meditation with 5- to 10-minute sessions at a time — maybe even shorter — to help you ease into the practice.
See how your brain handles it.
Then, once you feel like you’re ready, start gradually moving into longer sessions. The last thing you want to do is race into this! The point of meditation is to slow your mind, so take your time and explore.
Try guided meditation
Trying to lead your own meditation session probably isn’t the best idea, at least not a first. Without the help of someone to guide you, it can be all too easy to get thrown off course.
Was I supposed to count by twos or threes? What number was I on? 42? Isn’t that a number from a movie? I love movies. What movies should I see this weekend?
If you’re struggling to meditate on your own, get an expert! See if there are any meditation classes in your area that you can attend. If you’d rather be alone, there are also plenty of guided meditation tapes and videos available online.
There are even apps that you can download so that you can meditate anytime, anywhere. Having someone walk you through every step of the meditation process can be helpful and make it easier to follow the routines required for meditating.
These guided meditations usually will also come with their own ambient music that can be helpful with blocking out distractions.
Meditate with sound
Music can be a very helpful tool when trying to meditate. In fact, almost all of the yoga classes I’ve taken have had some kind of ambient or atmospheric music. Here’s the kicker: You can’t use music with lyrics.
In fact, if you use music with lyrics you will probably have an even harder time focusing. My first two years of trying to use music to focus involved using my favorite albums.
I would focus for about 12 seconds and then start jamming out to the music, dancing and singing often included. Spoiler alert: dancing and singing are not part of the meditation process. Use ambient music that does not have lyrics.
I personally recommend classical music, but another kicker is that it should be classical music you don’t already know. Being a musician, I can’t listen to most of Beethoven’s work while mediating because I would start analyzing the music and playing along in my head.
Another spoiler alert: Musical analysis isn’t meditation either. (Come on, ADHD, give me a break!)
Of course, if you’re not a classical music nerd like I am, this type of music should be fine for you while meditating. Two other popular options are binaural beats and atmospheric music.
These two types of sounds are usually simple and transcendental, so they are not distracting. In fact, they can often help drown out external sounds, especially when you’re listening with noise- cancelling headphones.
Lastly, white noise can also be a powerful tool. There are many “white noise generators” online, such as the sound of rain, a fan, static, waves, and more. Find one that helps calm your brain and roll with it.
Count your breaths
One common challenge with meditation is that it requires a sort of stillness, both in your mind and body. My ADHD keeps my mind going constantly, bouncing around from one thought to the next, so the idea of completely turning off my mind is nearly impossible.
One trick that’s helped me with this is to count my breaths. Being able to fixate on counting allows my mind to slow down and just focus on one task.
Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly unfocused, I’ll make the counting task more complicated, like counting in reverse by twos or threes. This keeps me on my toes just enough that I’m constantly focused on a task but isn’t too complicated to the point of being distracting.
Remove distractions. All of them.
In today’s digital world, it feels like there are distractions everywhere. With so many distractions, meditating with ADHD can be nearly impossible.
If you’re serious about learning meditation, remove each and every distraction you can think of. Don’t just put your phone on vibrate, turn it off. Better yet, turn it off and put it in another room.
This includes removing any tablets or laptops, Fitbits or Apple Watches, desktop computers that might make a noise if someone emails you, and anything else.
My ADHD makes me extremely distractible, so putting all of my devices completely out-of-sight and out-of-mind is essential for effective meditating.
Distractions aren’t always just digital. If you live with someone or share a room, ask for privacy or find a quiet area.
Also, make sure you’re comfortable. Being in an uncomfortable position, having an itch, and sitting awkwardly are all distracting things that can make meditation difficult.
The most important tip: Be patient
A meditation practice takes time to develop — that’s why it’s called a “practice.” If you don’t get it right away, be patient and don’t give up. Persistence is key and, in my experience, the benefits are worth it!
ADHD can make meditation seem impossible, but with a keen understanding of yourself and how your unique brain works, a little practice can make meditation very doable.
Remove distractions and find music or ambient sounds that work for you. Try a guided session if you need that extra help, and most importantly, keep practicing.
For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
- Colgan, DD, et al. (2019). Perceived stress mediates the relationship between mindfulness and negative affect variability: A randomized controlled trial among middle-aged to older adults. DOI: 10.1002/smi.2845.
- Mitchell, J., et al. (2018). A Pilot Trial of Mindfulness Meditation Training for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adulthood: Impact on Core Symptoms, Executive Functioning, and Emotion Dysregulation. DOI: 10.1177/1087054713513328
ADHD-US-NP-00059 JUNE 2019