With contributions from Alexandra Loewe BMus, MA, DipTCA. Alexandra works as an ADHD and Mindfulness Coach for both adults and children at the ADHD Centre. She has over 25 years of experience in education and mentoring. She has worked in schools as a mindfulness practitioner and has developed a vocal health strategy incorporating mindfulness and confidence building. Alexandra runs workshops on Resilience and Emotional Intelligence, as well as one-to-one life coaching, and a parenting skills course for parents with ADHD children.
Mindful meditation is a way of focusing on what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, in a non-judgemental way. It’s a technique to bring the mind back to a state of calm and is highly recognised as an effective way to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In this article, we explain how mindfulness practice can be easily embedded in our lifestyle and ease symptoms of ADHD. Specifically, we consider how mindfulness can improve our executive functions. These are mental processes that enable us to think clearly, remember and organise our thoughts, cope with emotional stress and navigate the ordinary challenges of the day. It’s common for an ADHD brain to struggle to control and master executive functions.
What Is Mindfulness And How Can It Help ADHD?
Initially, it seems unlikely that mindfulness, a practice associated with calm and deep thinking, would benefit someone with ADHD, which is often characterised as being unable to sit still. However, many studies and scientific evidence have shown otherwise. The skill and technique of settling the mind and practising coming into the present moment through breathing, has huge benefits for people who struggle with focus and attention, scattered thoughts and changeable emotions.
The image below links executive functions to mindful strategies and outlines what this could look like for an adult with ADHD. The image was created by Alexandra Loewe who has summarised executive functions into the following six areas:
- Emotional Control
- Flexibility Control
- Focus And Attention
- Working Memory
The mindful meditations linked to these executive functions are discussed further in the rest of the article.
We can become dysregulated both physiologically and emotionally. It’s what happens when you feel stuck in your mind and you don’t know what to do next. Your thoughts may be going round in circles or you may experience brain fog that just stops you from doing anything. It can be really difficult to express your feelings and you may find yourself having a flight or fight or freeze response. To help to move away from this state of panic, however mild or intense, we need to self-regulate. Three-Step Awareness is a mindfulness method that helps you to break things down and bring you back to a state of calm. This is how it works:
Step 1 – Physical Awareness
This involves becoming aware of our physical position and points of contact, such as our feet on the floor or our arms on a table or our back leaning on the chair. It’s a way of bringing our awareness to what we are physically doing right now.
Step 2 – Auditory Awareness
This is noticing which sounds we can hear. Start with the sounds closest to you such as your own breath or other sounds in the room. Then, think about what sounds you can hear further away, such as birds singing or traffic in the street. Just notice with curiosity rather than analyse or get lost in some distraction. Simply being aware of sounds around you helps the brain to shift focus and become less anxious.
Step 3 – Breath Awareness
Focusing on the breath coming in and out of the body can bring a sense of perspective with regards to where you are at the present moment. Self-regulation is about allowing ourselves the time to pause and work out our next step. It pauses a racing brain and allows us to move forwards with whatever we need to do next. As with all techniques, it takes time to see the effects, allow yourself to take that time.
There is much more awareness now of emotional intelligence and the connections between ADHD, rejection sensitivity dysphoria, anxiety and depression. It’s certainly helpful to be aware of our own emotions and those of others in our lives. By exploring our emotional intelligence, both how we recognise and manage our emotional states as well as how we sense and relate to others and their emotions, we can develop and strengthen our understanding of relationships. Loving Kindness Practice is a mindful strategy that can help with this. It involves showing kindness that starts with yourself and then is focused on other people. It takes practice to send love and kindness this way, but it can increase your self-acceptance and improve your relationships with others.
One simple way to start loving kindness meditation is by choosing a phrase or a number of phrases that have meaning for you and that feel authentic, for example, ‘I wish you well’ or ‘I wish you happiness’. Loving kindness practice involves focusing our thoughts on one person and saying these phrases slowly and with intention. Choose a quiet moment to repeat these and let the well wishes sink in. It helps to strengthen emotional connections and you can focus on yourself, people you know, people you don’t know well and even people you have a difficult relationship with. By recognising and regulating our emotional responses in this calm and personal way, we enhance the parts of the brain involved in emotional processing and control.
Here is more information and further examples of some of the mindful meditations mentioned above:
For Breath Focus Breath Meditation: A Great Way To Relieve Stress
Loving Kindness Meditation How To Practice Loving Kindness Meditation
The Sunshine Body Scan 4 Health Benefits Of Body Scan Meditation And How To Practice It
Mindful Movements Getting Started With Mindful Movement