Mindfulness does for the brain what exercise does for the body. It can be thought of as cognitive fitness training and like other fitness activities, it takes time and practice to be good at it. For someone with ADHD, mindfulness is a natural way of training the brain to recognise when thoughts are wandering and bringing the focus back to the present moment.
Mindful meditation can be used to alleviate certain symptoms of ADHD. Actually, it can be beneficial to anyone, including people who have not had an ADHD assessment but suspect they have signs of ADHD.
“the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Mindfulness is about taking note of our thoughts, feelings and environment. It can help people to gain a different perspective and move through life at a pace that suits them.
It’s possible, using mindfulness to train your brain to focus better on what’s happening now. ADHD adults or even kids with ADHD can use this to refocus or to maintain focus on what they should be doing.
The best way to really understand mindfulness is to try it. It’s something that everybody already has, but by practising it, you can learn how to access it in a way that is useful for you.
Mindful meditation is not new and is part of many religious traditions, such as vipassana in Buddhism. Although mindfulness does not have to be religious or spiritual, it is a great way to connect the mind and body internally.
The benefits of mindfulness
Here are some of the benefits of mindfulness:
Lower stress levels
Mindfulness can help to reduce stress by improving emotional regulation, leading to a better mood and being able to handle stress more effectively. As mindfulness focuses on the present, it allows the mind to remove itself from past or future situations which cause stress.
Less severe depression
Mindfulness provides the tools needed to step back from intense negative emotions, identify them, and accept them instead of fighting them. Mindful thinkers are better able to regulate their emotions, leading to better coping and management of depression.
Improved general health
Mindfulness has been positively linked with lower blood pressure, cardiovascular health, weight loss, recovery from chronic illness and making symptoms of illness more manageable.
Mindfulness and ADHD
It is believed that mindful meditation can train the brain to improve focus and concentrate better. Mindfulness training can help people to gain control over paying attention and self-regulation, both of which are persistent daily challenges of ADHD in adults and children.
Mindfulness develops an individual’s inner skills. It improves the ability to control attention and to develop different relationships to stressful experiences. It can also make people more aware of their emotions and in doing so make them less impulsive.
It’s completely natural for the mind to wander but mindfulness allows an individual to recognise when this is happening and re-focus on the present moment. This emphasis on re-directing attention is what makes mindfulness so effective for ADHD symptoms.
You might be wondering if it’s even possible for someone with ADHD to meditate, especially if they are hyperactive! It is possible, as there are different ways to approach mindfulness training and it can be built up gradually over time. Like anything else, it’s about finding what works on an individual basis.
Does it really work? While more research is needed on the effectiveness of mindfulness on ADHD symptoms, it’s looking very promising so far. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Centre (MARC) conducted a study involving 25 adults and 8 adolescents, half of whom had the combined (both inattentive and hyperactive) form of ADHD. The results showed significant improvements in both inattention and hyperactivity. In cognitive tests, the participants got better at staying focused, even when different things were competing for their attention.
The basic practice is very simple. Just sit down in a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed and spend around five minutes focusing on the sensation of breathing in and breathing out – pay attention to how it feels when your stomach rises and falls. Soon, you may notice that you’re thinking of something else – your job or some noise you just heard or your plans for later in the day. Label these thoughts as “thinking,” and refocus your attention on your breath.
Do this mental training daily. Every couple of weeks, increase the length of time you spend on the exercise — 10 minutes, 15, up to 20 or more if you feel you can. Try the same thing throughout each day in different places; focus on your breath for a few minutes as you walk from place to place, or when you’re sitting at the computer.
You can even practise mindfulness during a conversation with others. Turning on the mind-awareness state at any time during your day, even if only for a few minutes, is great training. It’s essentially letting go of your busy thinking and bringing your attention to what’s happening in the present moment in everyday life.
Essential Mindfulness – Lesson 1
During this training, you will learn to strengthen your Executive Functions. These are cognitive processes that include working memory, flexible thinking, time management, self-control and organisation.
Here is Alexandra Loewe, ADHD coach and Mindfulness coach from The ADHD Centre, talking about her personal experience of the benefits of mindfulness:
Getting ADHD treatment – how mindfulness practice helped me
Mindfulness is especially relevant at the moment, due to heightened stress levels caused by the global pandemic. The ability to remain calm and focused is always useful, but particularly so at times when anxiety and emotions are elevated.
While practising mindful meditation has many benefits, it does not offer a complete solution to challenges faced by people with ADHD and its success rate varies considerably between individuals.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that it wouldn’t have been used for so many years if it didn’t provide people with considerable benefits.
The following links provide further information about Mindfulness:
Updated April 2021