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Does Mindfulness Help ADHD?

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ADHD, which is usually characterized by a display of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity, has an incidence of 4 percent in the adult population. Both children and adults with ADHD experience two common and persistent daily challenges in their lives – maintaining self-regulation and paying attention. This highlights the fact that any attention training that helps to foster self-control in people would undoubtedly be invaluable and extremely powerful as an effective remedy for managing ADHD.

Interestingly, one treatment strategy that’s perfect for training the brain to concentrate and hold focus better is mindful meditation. Mindful awareness has been around for thousands of years and is also a hot topic at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Centre (MARC). It’s part of several religious traditions such as vipassana, which is a form of mindfulness meditation in Buddhism.

The truth is that mindfulness isn’t just spiritual or religious; it involves focusing your attention on your feelings, thoughts, as well as bodily sensations. It has to do with cultivating a greater awareness of the things happening to you from moment to moment. Mindfulness and similar techniques have helped manage stress, chronic pain, mood disorders, and even lower blood pressure.

What is Mindful Meditation?

Mindful meditation is a mental training practice that enables you to slow down racing thoughts, get rid of negativity, and keep your mind and body calm. Although mindfulness techniques vary, mindfulness meditation generally involves mental imagery, breathing practice, muscle, and body relaxation, as well as awareness of mind and body.

You don’t really need props or preparation (candles, mantras, essential oils unless you enjoy them) to get started. All that you need is to identify a comfortable place to sit, devote three to five minutes of your free time, and have a non-judgmental mindset.

The main focus of mindfulness is on attention, and that’s a skill that can help you to increase awareness of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. This is also why mindfulness leads to increased choice. At the core of mindfulness practice are two main steps:

  • Learning to focus on the present moment
  • Cultivating the attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance – not being judgmental

During meditation, these two steps helps individuals with ADHD to learn to focus on patterns as well as subtle changes that occur from time to time. For instance, through mindfulness meditation, individuals with ADHD may discover that they frequently interrupt while talking with others. As soon as they have become more conscious of their urge to interrupt, they may opt to refrain from doing so the next time the impulse arises.

How Mindfulness Helps Individuals with ADHD

Perhaps the results of the study by Dr. Lidia Zylowska and her team of researchers was one of the things that led to an increase in the use of mindfulness as an alternative form of treatment for ADHD. According to the results of the ground-breaking study, “Mindfulness Meditation Training in Adults and Adolescents” in 2008, there was a reduction in the ADHD symptoms of 78 percent of participants who practiced mindful awareness.

These findings imply that nearly eight out of ten of the participants felt less adversely affected by their ADHD. This is undoubtedly no coincidence, but a clear indication of how effective mindfulness is in managing the symptoms of ADHD. Unlike most ADHD treatments in adults, mindfulness helps you to develop your inner skills. It can actually help to enhance your ability to control your attention.

Mindfulness meditation achieves this by helping to strengthen your ability to self-observe, train attention, and even develop various kinds of relationships to stressful experiences. It educates adults with ADHD on how to “pay attention” to paying attention. So you end up being more aware of your true emotional state, and this further ensures that you don’t react impulsively – a common problem for individuals with ADHD. Here are other benefits of managing ADHD with mindfulness meditation:

  • When we have a specific weak muscle, one of the things we do to make it stronger is to engage in exercises. This rule also applies to the brains and those with ADHD. By practicing mindfulness meditation, you end up strengthening your ability to control your attention. This enables you to observe yourself and focus on something effectively. You can train yourself to bring your wandering mind back into the moment anytime you find yourself distracted.
  • Also, mindful meditation can help you become more conscious of your emotions, which will, in turn, make you less likely to act impulsively. The reason why mindfulness meditation is considered an effective ADHD treatment in adults is that it helps to thicken the prefrontal cortex – a region of the brain that’s involved in impulse control and planning.
  • In addition, it helps to increase the level of dopamine in your brain, which is generally limited in supply in ADHD brains.
  • Apart from helping with the symptoms of ADHD, mindfulness meditation also provides other benefits for individuals with ADHD:
    • It can help you lose weight: Since people who practice mindfulness meditation are encouraged to think more carefully about all the activities they are doing (eating included), it can lead to the shedding of weight.
    • Lowers stress: One of the benefits that people who practice mindfulness meditation enjoy is that it helps to reduce their stress hormones, especially when faced with a situation that often causes anxiety – such as when you’re feeling out of control.
    • Boosts self-esteem: As an adult with ADHD (just like others with ADHD), you may tend to be forgetful and always find it hard to complete tasks on time. This makes people with ADHD very critical of themselves.
  • Treating ADHD with mindfulness meditation can help you tune out the judgmental voice that tries to tear you down.

Effectiveness of Mindfulness Therapy

In a bid to understand the effectiveness of mindfulness therapy, a team at UCLA MARC developed a mindfulness program (a flexible and gradual program) for individuals with ADHD. During the program, the participants began to meditate for only five minutes at a time and gradually increased it to 20 minutes. The participants were permitted to engage in mindful walking if they found it difficult to sit.

Mindful Awareness Practices (MAP) for ADHD programs makes use of visual aids since most individuals with ADHD are visual learners. During the program, the participants had to learn to observe their inner experiences from a non-judgmental and witnessing stance. The program also has an educational component that helped to address issues of self-esteem that individuals with ADHD were experiencing.

It focused on helping them to observe negative emotional states without even identifying them. The use of “lovingkindness meditation” helped the participants to practice positive emotions – it involved wishing themselves and others well. After the program, the participants reported significant improvement in attention and hyperactivity. A battery test was conducted before and after the program to help measure the level of cognitive impairment and attention among participants.  It revealed remarkable improvement in conflict attention as well as some of the inhibition-implying measures.

The effect on working memory was not strong. But what showed the most significant improvement was the “conflict” aspect of attention – being able to remain focused regardless of distractions. It’s important to mention that more research is required to help validate the findings of this study in a controlled setting. But this study helps to highlight the fact that mindfulness meditation is an excellent way to treat ADHD.

How is Mindfulness Meditation done?

If you discover that many things are running through your mind, you can control this by practicing simple mindfulness meditation. Picture a blue sky which has fluffy white clouds. In this case, the clouds represent your thoughts while the sky represents your awareness. Now, focus your attention on the “space” between the clouds to help redirect yourself.

You can actually choose to walk slowly instead of sitting in one place, especially if you are finding it hard to stay still. The moment you notice that your mind is being distracted or wanders away, slowly bring your attention to the sensations you feel on the soles of your feet. This is a simple way to practice mindfulness meditation.

You can also practice mindfulness by sitting down and making yourself comfortable. Then for about five minutes, let your focus be on your breathing technique. Observe the kinds of sensations going through your body as you inhale deeply. Now focus your attention on the rising and falling diaphragm. If you find out that your mind is fast drifting towards a task you have to finish, don’t get angry about this – it’s perfectly normal. All you have to do is to notice such thoughts and refocus on your breathing.

It’s possible to practice mindfulness meditation alone, but going for mindful therapy is an excellent option. Just as exercise is always easier when you have a buddy to keep you company during workouts; hiring a therapist to help you practice mindfulness meditation can help you stick with it and even increase the level of results you get.

Why a Personal ADHD Specialist?

There are several medications for managing ADHD symptoms, and a good number of them are very effective with impressive results. However, medication may not help you resolve certain issues associated with ADHD symptoms. For instance, individuals with ADHD may find it hard to maintain good relationships with others unless they learn to control their actions.

Medication may help with focus and impulsivity, but if you still struggle with organization, time management, and self-esteem (issues that could affect various aspects of your life negatively), then having a personal ADHD specialist could be the best option. An ADHD specialist is specially trained to assist adults as well as kids and teens with ADHD to manage their relationships better and live more meaningful lives.

A good personal ADHD specialist can lead you to your goals by assisting you to develop:

  • Time management skills
  • Clearer judgment
  • A greater sense of self-efficacy
  • Healthier self-esteem and relationships
  • Self-motivation
  • Planning and management skills

You can increase your chances of achieving these goals based on the quality of the coach you have. A prospective ADHD specialist should not just possess the right qualities for working with clients but also needs to have an excellent knowledge of ADHD. Another crucial factor that determines success is the chemistry between the two of you. While one coach may leave you frustrated, another can motivate you. So, when hiring an ADHD coach, ensure that you hire someone who actually specializes in ADHD.



About the Author: Andrea Conn is a freelance author, a mother of two daughters, and a teacher who writes stories and articles based on her personal experiences on how to cope up with ADHD and living her life freely.

Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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