Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common diagnoses that we work with here at Panorama Psychology, both on the therapy and assessment sides, and in all ages. While we know that there are evidence-based approaches to managing ADHD symptoms, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and pharmacological treatment (such as stimulant medication like Adderall), we are always on the hunt for other approaches that can support those with ADHD. In this blog, we explore how mindfulness can be helpful for individuals with ADHD and the accompanying symptoms of restlessness, difficulty directing and sustaining attention, emotional dysregulation, and mood symptoms like anxiety.
While mindfulness is rooted in ancient contemplative traditions, it has evolved into a therapeutic practice in the modern world. We have come to recognize mindfulness as a helpful tool for stress and anxiety, and we are constantly learning about how mindfulness may help with chronic pain, addiction, and ADHD (the focus on this blog). Mindfulness practice generally involves cultivating a heightened awareness of the present moment, observing thoughts and emotions without judgment, and fostering a non-reactive and accepting attitude. It sometimes takes the form of meditation (sitting quietly and observing the breath and flow of thoughts), but also can be practiced in other ways such as walking, eating, or simply practicing present-moment awareness in everyday tasks.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness for ADHD?
1. Empowered Executive Functions:
Mindfulness offers targeted exercises to enhance executive functions, addressing planning, organization, and task initiation. Executive functioning deficits in ADHD can cause a lot of trouble with organizing tasks, keeping track of time, and planning ahead. Mindfulness strategies may help them to slow down their thought process, helping them to navigate cognitive challenges with increased accuracy and efficiency.
2. Anchored Focus and Attention:
It is no surprise that paying attention can be difficult for those with ADHD. Mindfulness practices, such as focused breathing and body scan meditations, provide tools for cultivating sustained attention. When we view attention like a muscle, we understand that when we practice attentional skills, they get stronger. Stronger attentional skills contributes to improved task completion and a reduction in distractibility.
3. Anxiety Alleviation:
Anxiety is one of the most common co-occurring issues with ADHD. Many people with ADHD report difficulty slowing down their minds (especially in the evenings) and often report "racing thoughts." This is an area in which mindfulness can have a profound impact, although it will take practice and patience and practice. Mindful practices can help focus the mind on one thing at a time, and also can help you to "catch" yourself when the thoughts start spiraling.
4. Enhanced Emotional Regulation:
Central to the mindfulness experience is the cultivation of emotional regulation. Through observing emotions without immediate reactivity, individuals with ADHD can develop a healthier relationship with their emotional responses, reducing impulsivity and fostering emotional balance.
Mindfulness Techniques for ADHD
1. Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing serves as a powerful tool for attention, focus, and emotional regulation. By focusing on the breath, individuals can create a space between emotions and reactions, allowing for a more measured and thoughtful response. You can practice by closing your eyes and counting your breaths - inhale (1), exhale (2), inhale (3), etc., until you get to ten. You can practice this in calm moments to be prepared for when you need it in more difficult moments.
2. Mindful Everyday Activities
Pick an activity you do every day. Maybe brushing your teeth, or making your coffee, or pulling out of your driveway. Make a commitment to do that with full awareness and presence every day. So, instead of brushing your teeth while scrolling through emails or thinking about what is for breakfast, pay close attention to the feeling of the brush on your teeth, the taste of the toothpaste, and even the feelings and movements of your body while brushing.
3. Mindful Moments
Set an alarm for a couple times each day. Each time the alarm goes off, take a note of what is happening inside of you. How are you feeling? Where is your mind? How is your body feeling? Take a few calming breaths. If you don't want to set an alarm, write a reminder on a sticky note and put it somewhere you will see it a couple times per day.
Tips for Incorporating Mindfulness into Daily Life
1. Gradual Integration:
Start with short mindfulness sessions and gradually integrate them into daily routines. Consistency is key to realizing the cumulative benefits of mindfulness for executive functioning, focus, anxiety relief, and emotional regulation.
2. Mindfulness Apps:
Utilize mindfulness apps like Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer for guided meditations and exercises. These apps provide structured support for incorporating mindfulness into daily life.
Mindfulness is emerging as an empowering strategy for individuals with ADHD, offering a journey toward enhanced executive functioning, focused attention, anxiety relief, and emotional regulation. By embracing mindfulness in everyday life, individuals can navigate the complexities of ADHD with resilience and balance. And the best news is that you can get started with mindfulness today - just breathe!
Please note that nothing in this blog post should be considered medical advice; while we explore the benefits of mindfulness for ADHD, we recognize that every case is unique and should be monitored by a therapist and/or medication prescriber.