Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD; also sometimes referred to as ‘ADD’) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder often diagnosed during childhood and affecting over 9% of children and over 4% of adults. The disorder is characterized by inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity, and treated through a variety of therapeutic and pharmaceutical interventions. Mindfulness references present-moment awareness without judgement. Mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation have been gaining popularity, though they have ancient roots in Eastern religions and philosophies such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Recent research has found secular mindfulness-based interventions and practices can benefit individuals with AD/HD, which makes sense considering that mindfulness can help train attention, and AD/HD symptoms often include poor attention and mindlessness.
Mindfulness helps develop the ability to self-monitor and control attention. If you know the term meta-cognition, then this may seem familiar, as mindfulness can contribute to an awareness and understanding of your own thought processes. This increased ability to attend to paying attention also can assist with emotion regulation and reduce impulsivity. Mindfulness-based interventions are frequently used to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and have also been used to address addiction and improve well-being and physical health conditions. Commonly used interventions include Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). These more formal approaches provide more intensive training and experience, but anyone can learn and practice mindfulness.
While potentially beneficial to individuals with AD/HD, the core symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity may make engaging in mindfulness practices more difficult. Here are some recommendations to facilitate a mindfulness practice for those with AD/HD:
- Establish a routine – if possible
- Setting aside significant time every day to meditate may not be an option. However, spending 5 to 15 minutes every morning or evening listening to a guided meditation or practicing Tai Chi may be feasible. Also, don’t forget about the many moments throughout the day when you can bring your awareness back to your attention and present moment experience. A perfect opportunity to practice this is when brushing your teeth or doing the dishes.
- Engage the senses
- This may mean utilizing visual aids for better conceptualization and visualization, or as a visual target for attention in a focused attention task (such as when using a glitter jar or candle flame).
- There is no need to force yourself to practice mindfulness through seated meditation. In fact, many people with AD/HD find sitting still to be a barrier to even trying meditation. Moving mindfulness practice might be a nice place to start – such as gentle yoga, Qigong, or Tai Chi. Walking meditations are another option, as is using a sensory cue or focus, such as music, a mantra, weighted blanket, or smooth stone.
- Don’t get discouraged
- It’s easy to feel like attempting to meditate or maintain mindfulness is doomed to failure. That’s because the mind naturally wanders and focusing your attention must contend with your usual thought patterns. An important component of any mindfulness practice is the repeated re-orientation of attention – that is, repeatedly engaging in the process of noticing your thoughts have wandered and then returning to the act of monitoring and controlling your attentional focus. And beware the common tendency to be hard on yourself when noticing an attentional lapse. It may help to tell yourself: “Nice job! You noticed that your mind wandered,” before refocusing your attention.
- A mindfulness practice can be particularly challenging to stick with for people with AD/HD, so the key is increasing your tolerance while balancing consistency with trying new approaches. This might mean using a preferred guided meditation until you become tired of it, and then trying out a new one. This also highlights the importance of building tolerance to boredom, which can be facilitated through brief meditations such as the “1-Minute Do-Nothing Practice” on MindfullyADD.com.
Mindfulness training can be helpful for both children and adults with AD/HD, in addition to parents of children with AD/HD. Participants in research trials have noted reductions in AD/HD symptoms along with decreased parental stress. Also, while mindfulness and relaxation are not the same, relaxation is often an additional benefit of mindfulness practices. Furthermore, research has shown that long-time meditators show functional brain changes in areas associated with AD/HD, in addition to increases in dopamine during meditation.
Overall, while mindfulness practices have yet to replace traditional recommended treatments for AD/HD (i.e., medication and cognitive-behavioral interventions), mindfulness is gaining traction as an accessible and beneficial adjunct intervention.
Book: The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals, by Lidia Zylowska
Book: Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn