THE CDC estimates that in 2015 it is estimated that approximately 9.5% of children under 18 and 4% of adults over 18 in the United States have the diagnosis of ADHD. While the symptoms of ADHD are varied they include an inability to focus, disorganization, restlessness, difficulty organizing things and tasks, difficulty listening to instructions and remembering details, or trouble with completing tasks. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can affect performance and relationships at home, school, and work. As a result, many also suffer from low self-esteem and a feeling of shame at not being able to do what those without ADHD are able to do. While it may seem that mindfulness mediation would be very challenging for people with ADHD, research has shown that training can be adapted for those with ADHD and can help significantly with concentration and other symptoms. The encouraging research also shows that the benefits can be seen relatively soon and can help with self-regulation and focus.
Mindfulness or Mindful Awareness improves your ability to control your attention by teaching you to pay attention to your attention. By practicing mindful awareness we also become more aware of our emotional state and learn to control our reactions and act less impulsively which can be a symptom of ADHD. Scientific evidence has shown that people who meditate have different EEG patterns especially in the region of the brain involved with ADHD and also increased levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This suggest that those with ADHD can improve this area of the brain and increase the low levels of dopamine common with ADHD through this practice.
Lidia Zylowski M.D. a board-certified psychiatrist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine cofounded UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. After she conducted pioneering research in mindfulness and ADHD, she wrote the book The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD which is an outline of her 8 week program to help strengthen attention, manage emotions and achieve goals. The program adapts the traditional Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) designed by Jon Kabat Zinn MD, to work for people who struggle with focus and even hyperactivity. In her book she outlines the program called Mindfulness Awareness Practices for ADHD (MAP) conducted in her clinical study in which participants improved in areas of attention and hyperactivity in addition to showing improvement in paying attention during cognitive tests. The research also showed that many of the participants felt less depressed and anxious after the 8 weeks. The program starts with short 5 minute sitting practices and even allows for this to be done as a slow walking practice. Because many with ADHD are visual learners the program also incorporates visual aids to teach concepts like awareness.
Techniques to Incorporate Mindful Awareness
1. Start with short breath awareness practice. Either sit, lie down or walk very slowly while gazing down . Breathing normally use the breath as a focal point or anchor for your awareness. When your mind wanders simply and gently come back to your breath. Start with a few minutes a day and gradually increase. This practice will help settle the body and begin to improve concentration. Most likely the mind will wander off many times but as you will begin to catch it wandering, the awareness comes from returning to the breath. If this is too difficult, Zylowski suggests keeping most of the attention in the foreground and letting the busy thoughts move to the background.
2. Check in with yourself throughout the day by taking short breathing breaks while noticing how you are feeling physically, emotionally and mentally. This will help you become more present in your life.
3. Mindfulness is a way to develop compassion and patience for your self and others. Using a phrase such as “ May I be patient,” “May I be calm,” or “May I be free from self criticism” can help calm the mind and refocus you from habitual negative thought patterns
While these studies were done with teens and adults, there are new programs being developed for younger children with ADHD. For more information and additional resources about ADHD, Mindfulness or ADHD Coaching please join me for a free one hour workshop on Wednesday October 21st at 6pm or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .