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E26. Mindfulness for ADHD Brains

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today we're going to talk about ADHD and mindfulness. Now, I think a lot of people with ADHD are repelled by the term mindfulness, especially mindfulness meditation, because it sounds a little formal. Maybe it sounds boring, or we think we're going to be bad at it. Honestly, it might not sound that important.

In a bit, I'll address those objections, but before we do that, I wanted to talk about what mindfulness is. With mindfulness, we're not always talking about the same thing. For me, I consider a formal practice, a time set aside to be mindful, as valuable. But mindfulness is not just limited to that time. Being mindful is basically paying attention to the present moment. We can do that by paying attention to our body feedback, our senses from our body, doing just about anything.

Have you ever read the suggestion that when you're anxious, try to find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, and so on? You're basically picking a sensory input and noticing what's going on around you. You notice what you can notice, and it's grounding. That's the heart of mindfulness: getting grounded in that present moment.

In my groups, we actually do some specific mindfulness training. Even with my one on one clients, I'm always weaving mindfulness, or that kind of awareness, into our work. It's so powerful.

I specialize in working with women who are diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood. That means by the time someone's working with me, they've had a long time of living with unsupported ADHD. That can mean that they have all kinds of assessments about themselves, their capabilities, and the world that have become "grooved in" and are on autopilot. There's often so much self-judgment there.

Mindfulness is this great way of taking away that judgment, we're just noticing. I use that all of the time when somebody is working on a new strategy. I'll apply mindfulness principles to that because when you shift off of that judging habit and move to noticing, you actually come up with solutions.

When it's not "I am good or bad", "I have nailed this week or failed this week", then you start to see patterns and see possibilities for yourself. What I'm talking about with this is mindfulness application. I'm doing this backwards. Later on, we're going to talk about some of the more concrete mindfulness meditation practices that are really valuable to practice.

That "mindful mindset" is something I really find valuable and powerful as a coaching tool. Mindfulness becomes a huge tool when we're looking at our emotions. We're looking at noticing our emotions rather than judging them and responding to them.

Let's say that I'm angry, that's going to trigger me into thought hyperdrive. If I'm angry, my mind goes right to all kinds of things: judging my anger, "Oh, good moms don't get angry about this situation", or judging the behavior of the people that I think are responsible for my anger, "Oh, my husband was so crabby. He's getting on my nerves", or even the situation "Oh, this is not fair!".

Your brain goes from the experience of an emotion to the thoughts about the emotion, and this is a loop. It's hard to say what is first in any one situation with this thought-emotion loop, your thoughts are feeding your emotions, your emotions are feeding your thoughts.

If we want to kind of interrupt that loop, mindfulness has us go in a different direction. You're not going from anger to thinking about the anger; anger to making meaning of that anger; you're going from anger to noticing the anger in your body.

Rather than debating whether or not the anger belongs, I'm noticing that my jaw's tight, I feel pressure in my chest, I feel heat rising to my face, whatever you notice, you just notice. It's not good. It's not bad. You're not trying to change it. You're not trying to change the body sensations. You're not even trying to change the emotion: that's mindfulness.

Why does this matter so much for those of us with ADHD? Most of us deal with some amount of emotional dysregulation, so any tools that we have that help us manage and regulate our emotions are some of the most powerful skills that people with ADHD can develop.

The objections are still there. I get it, because when you first look at mindfulness meditation and ADHD, they seem very incompatible. Let's talk about common objections when it comes to prioritizing mindfulness meditation and mindfulness practices for ADHDers.

Why do ADHD brains tend to resist mindfulness?

  • We don't see it as valuable.

Number one is that it's not valuable or not valuable enough. Maybe it seems positive, enlightened, whatever, but you're knee-deep in house stuff, bills, work projects, and you don't have time for the fluff.

I definitely understand that objection. I'm going to give you what the research says so far about mindfulness benefits. Mindfulness meditation reduces rumination. Now, if you're not familiar with the term rumination, it's that sticky "thought loop" that you find yourself in when you're upset about a situation. Your mind just goes back there like a magnet, it's just pulling you back.

You end up practicing the conversation that you had before, only this time you say something different and you make your ultimate point. You're stuck there, you're just looping there. That's one example of rumination; these negative intrusive thought loops that we get stuck in. The research suggests that mindfulness meditation helps with that; it helps decrease that.

There's also evidence that supports that there's a reduction of anxiety, depression, and stress with a regular mindfulness meditation practice. Now, to me, those are benefits that make some intuitive sense, because we are not focusing on the past or the future. We're in the moment, so we're not anxiously thinking about the future. We're not focused on difficult things from the past. All of those make sense to me.

But I also found research that suggests that a mindfulness meditation practice helps with working memory (our ability to hold information in our heads for short periods of time) and cognitive flexibility (our ability to be able to see things from different angles and be flexible in our thoughts, change our plan, change our thoughts about things).

These are two areas that are definitely impacted for people with ADHD. Benefits in these are a big deal for us. Another documented benefit is less emotional reactivity, which also makes sense when we're talking about creating more space just to be with an emotion versus jumping into action. That's the heart of mindfulness.

Other benefits that the research indicates are improved health of the immune system, heart health, and cognitive skills. Mindfulness can be helpful with reducing pain, and they're even looking at how it affects cell aging. They found some promising things that might indicate that it has an impact on how we age.

  • You have to be still.

Okay, enough about why it's valuable. I've got to move on to the next objection, which is that you will have to be still, and that's just not true. You don't need to be still, there are a lot of people with ADHD who find they focus best when they're doing other things.

I don't mean multitasking, because it's been shown that we don't actually multitask, we just switch between activities. None of us are technically great multitaskers, but I've noticed that a lot of people with ADHD seem to focus better when they have a "non focus task" (like something that's physical) along with a "focus task" (like doodling while you're listening to someone or crocheting or when you're taking a walk). This might be when you're getting your best ideas. This is something that people with ADHD often find to be true. You might prefer starting with a more dynamic practice of mindfulness.

I know for me, that it really makes it much easier for me to focus on my body sensations if I'm moving or doing something else. There's plenty of mindfulness exercises that you can find that allow you to do that. In fact, the practice of mindfulness lends really well to something like washing your dishes, eating, or an action in which you're getting tons of sensory input.

  • It's boring

As far as the objection about it being boring... maybe. It can be, but it doesn't have to be. It's not as stimulating (in that traditional sense) for brains that are used to running really fast, and it can feel uncomfortable to us for that reason. It can also be centering and restful. My advice is to experiment. When I first started mindfulness practice, I had strong preferences, and I pretty much just did those.

  • It's hard

The objection that it's hard; well, it is. We're used to things being hard and it being about our ADHD, but mindfulness does not come easy to anyone. We have busy brains, our brains want to make meaning. They want to think and analyze things. This is not intuitive to most humans on the planet, but that doesn't mean that it's inaccessible to us.

When we looked at that list of benefits of boosting working memory, less emotional reactivity, cognitive flexibility, reduced rumination- that was out of the ADHD playbook. These are things that are tough for us. With ADHD, we have even more of that fast brain, that elevated activity, and so it might feel uncomfortable.

Acknowledge it! Acknowledge that it might be difficult, it might feel uncomfortable, and don't feel bad about it. Also, go slow. Start with a minute, or three minutes, or five minutes. Don't do the thing when you're like, "Oh, mindfulness is great! This is a great idea. I'm all in! I'm buying a meditation cushion and I'm going to set aside two hours a day to do mindfulness."

Don't do that. Just like when you're building endurance or muscle, you strengthen your ability to do this little by little. If you want to start practicing mindfulness, there are so many resources out there that are designed for beginners. There are guided meditations and apps that do a great job of providing that, like Insight Timer, that has a lot of free meditations, free mindfulness-based meditations that you can use.

You can create your own mindful practice by doing mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful breathing, mindful yoga, it doesn't have to be a formal practice. I enjoy doing both formal practice and the informal practice and oftentimes find a lot of benefit from doing the informal practice. As I'm doing other activities, I'm being mindful with them.

Okay, so wrapping up today on mindfulness meditation and ADHD. I hear your concerns. I hear your objections. I don't disagree with you, but I do think that this is a really useful practice that can translate in a big way in helping us support our brains and managing life with ADHD. So, that's all for today. Thank you so much for joining me.


Interested in learning more about my group coaching program, Embrace Your Brain? Considering 1:1 coaching or have other questions for me? Please feel free to contact me here.

Learn how to use sensory input to change your energy and focus! Register for my FREE Sensory Strategies for ADHD workshop here.


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