Mindfulness and ADHD
Updated: Aug 17
What is mindfulness?
regret past actions or worry about the future?
lose track of what is happening at the present moment?
judge yourself for everything you do not accomplish?
feel stressed about the way things are?
So many of us reach the end of the day without knowing where our day went. While we are at work, we are thinking of our after-work errands, then while running errands we are thinking of all the chores that await us at home.
Mindfulness offers a solution and teaches you to:
pay attention to the present
approach each situation with curiosity and open-mindedness.
respond vs. react
Mindfulness practices help us increase awareness of the present moment in a non-judgemental manner. It enhances cognitive flexibility and increases focus while causing a reduction in stress. If your mind wanders from the present, you learn how to gently bring it back to the present just like you would gently guide a child away from something that they should not be doing. A practice of mindfulness leads to a reduction in stress so you can live each day to the fullest.
My journey with mindfulness
When I was first diagnosed with ADHD, medication wasn’t an immediate option. It was left to me to devise systems and strategies that supported my new understanding of my brain. I turned to my South Asian roots to see what solutions it had to offer. I couldn't be the first one with this challenge, could I?
What I found was a treasure trove of wisdom on mindfulness and meditation. Over three years, I undertook an intense study of foundational and advanced courses into the Hindu philosophies from which mindfulness comes and took input from my spiritual teacher, an expert in mindfulness and meditation.
Through my studies, I found practical ways to apply this knowledge to my specific ADHD symptoms. Little did I know that mindfulness practices were strengthening my prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain which allowed me to quiet my overactive mind, regulate my mood, increase my focus and improve my executive function. This blend of eastern wisdom and scientific research motivated me to make mindfulness a cornerstone of my practice to benefit others.
How does mindfulness help those with ADHD?
A few ADHD characteristics are:
struggles with organization and prioritization
difficulties in regulating emotions
These challenges are caused by a difference in the structure of certain parts of the brain, neural networks, neurotransmitters and overall neurochemistry.
Mindfulness practices can
prefrontal cortex which is associated with executive function and self-regulatory skills. Skills like task prioritization, organization, and emotional regulation.
hippocampus which is part of the limbic system and is associated with learning and memory, monitoring attention conflicts, and is very susceptible to stress
anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) where self-regulatory processes. Processes like managing attention conflicts for more cognitive flexibility.
Decrease the size of the amygdala which is our body’s “fight or flight” center. It is also the home to the emotions of fear and anxiety
Improve neural pathways like the ones between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex which can lead to lower reactivity and increased memory and concentration.
Quieting of Default Mode Network (DMN) which is also referred to as “monkey mind”. This DMN network is active when our mind is not engaged in any specific task and is jumping from thought to thought. This jumping leads to increased rumination and consequently decreased happiness. Quieting this networks increases our ability to move past things consequently increasing happiness
Just like one cannot go from a sedentary life to running a marathon the next day mindfulness practices also have to be practiced regularly. Over time this allows us to:
Cultivate awareness of the present and notice when our thoughts are in the past or future
Accept the present as it is whether we like what is happening or not.
Be curious about why we do the things we do
Reprogram the conversation with yourself
Reduce ruminating and worrisome thoughts
Enhance overall focus and cognitive flexibility
Increase overall satisfaction in relationships
With the current medication shortage or for those who do not use medication, mindfulness can offer options to living a calm and fulfilled life with ADHD.