For full transparency right off the bat, I am an adult that has been diagnosed with both ADHD and depression. After a small stint trying a variety of different prescription medications to manage these “disorders”, I made the very personal choice not to take any medications for either. My interest in writing about mindfulness practices for ADHD and emotional regulation stems from personal experience with a hope that what I have found to bring a sense of ease and control in my daily life can be helpful to others.
If you’ve found yourself reading this article, you may have struggled with or know someone who struggles with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADHD). So many of us, (rapidly growing numbers of both adults and children), find it challenging to keep our minds focused and in the present. We time travel, maybe hundreds of times throughout the day backward into the past and into the future. Daily challenges of those with ADHD can include (but certainly are not limited to):
- Inability or difficulty concentrating
- Becoming easily frustrated
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- Difficulty remembering
All of these struggles combined can lead a person to feel a full sense of overwhelm in getting by day to day. Introducing mindfulness techniques can, over time, build a well-rounded and helpful toolkit for someone who lives with ADHD.
Mindfulness is a practice that invites a person to take an inward journey. It involves paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in the present moment. When we pause and pay attention, this practice of mindfulness can support:
- Identifying and regulating emotions
- Gaining and improving self-control – it can help us respond instead of react
- Decreasing anxiety by reducing ruminating thoughts
- Improved relationships and relationship satisfaction
- Improving memory
- Increasing compassion, kindness, and empathy
How to Become More Mindful with ADHD
Luckily there are plenty of mindfulness techniques for ADHD that we can integrate into our daily habits. But before we get into those, it’s important to remember that we are all wonderfully unique individuals. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to mindfulness practices. It’s important to embrace your uniqueness and individuality and create a system and practice that works for you. For those with ADHD, following a routine can be extra challenging and that’s ok! Similar to a painter, you will curate your own color palette in order to create a mindfulness practice that is supportive and helpful in your life and wellbeing.
Five is the Magic Number
You can come to this practice when you notice that you’re feeling overwhelmed. First, find a place where you can sit or stand safely. Take five full rounds of breath -inhaling all the way to the top, and exhaling fully. This can help regulate your breath and nervous system. Then, using as many of your senses as you can, take a moment to notice five things. Focus on something you can see, and say it, either out loud or silently to yourself.
“I see a red flower on the tree.”
“I hear a bird chirping, it sounds close by.”
“I feel the cool breeze on my arms; it’s giving me goosebumps.”
“I smell fresh-cut grass.”
“I see a cute dog running around in the field.”
This is a practice of being in the present. You have stopped to notice five things in your current surroundings. It may seem small, or insignificant, but you’ve taken a step forward in redirecting your attention into the present moment.
“When chopping onions, just chop onions”
The kitchen is a great place to practice mindfulness because of all the senses that can be awakened. Author and researcher, Michal Pollan, said in his book Cooked, A Natural History of Transformation, “When chopping onions, just chop onions”. Similar to the previous mindfulness practice, this one involves paying attention to what you can see, smell, hear, taste, and feel. The strong pungent smell of the onion and the tingling it brings to your eyes and nose. The smell of the coffee and the warmth it brings to your body with the first sip. Hear the sound of the whisk as you stir, or the warmth of the water on your hands as you wash the dishes. Each time you stop to notice, you are redirecting yourself to the present moment.
Sitting still for a 15-20 minute meditation may seem intimidating and challenging to someone with ADHD. As both a yoga instructor and meditation instructor, this is one of the biggest fears that plagued me when I was making the decision whether or not to teach. Could I actually stay focused enough to teach an hour-long class? How could I possibly sit in stillness (and ask others to do the same!) for an hour while we all sat together in silence?
Doing walking meditations is where I started. It allowed me to move my body when I could feel an abundance of physical energy that needed an outlet. So I invited my meditations into the forest, my second home. Walking without rush or sense of urgency under the trees in absolute awe of the beauty and diversity of the natural world, fully immersed in the present. Walking, in silent observation of what’s going on around me. The next time you feel energy rising, asking to be released, take yourself on a walk, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes. Notice shadows on the ground and the way they’re positioned. Notice how the light dances from the leaves blowing in the wind. Notice the feel of your footsteps each time they touch the ground. Even better, if it’s safe to do, walk barefoot on grass or in the dirt. Let your feet connect with the earth.
Meditating Through Touch
Those with ADHD, especially children, may really find comfort and safety through gentle and healing touch. You’ll use your dominant hand to move and trace each finger of the other.
1. Starting at the base of your pinky finger, you’ll trace upward as you breathe in.
2. Take a brief pause at the top of your finger and then trace down the inside of your pinky as you exhale.
3. When you reach the space between fingers, take a brief pause and then trace upward along the side of your ring finger as you inhale.
4. Pause at the top and then continue in this pattern until you reach the outside of your thumb.
5. You are welcome to continue the practice, tracing back until you reach the outside of your pinky finger. When you’re finished, take a moment to notice any shifts in your thoughts, energy, and/or emotions.
When we integrate mindfulness practices into managing the challenges of ADHD, we are training ourselves to return to a more grounded and regulated state. We are training our minds to pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment. As we introduce these techniques, we subsequently cultivate self-compassion and kindness towards ourselves and others. We stop seeing our challenges as “bad”, and we can shift our mindset that we have a disorder that makes us different or incapable. Over time, as we curate our paint palette of helpful tools, we build resilience and confidence in our originality and uniqueness and can more freely share our gifts with the world around us.