Does Mindfulness Help ADHD?

September 20, 2018

Have you ever watched your child try to do their homework when they’d rather be doing anything else? They’re distracted by the birds outside the window or the sound of the tv in the other room. It may be frustrating to watch, but as most of us know, it’s also frustrating to experience. Not being able to focus can cause problems in school, at home, and with relationships.

This is a common experience for people who have ADHD, and chances are, if you or your child has ADHD, you’ve tried all kinds of ways to help reduce distractions. There’s one technique that’s been gaining some following for helping the symptoms of ADHD – mindfulness meditation.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness has been popping up everywhere from company wellness programs to mommy bloggers, but many of us are left wondering, what is it?

Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” The ultimate goal is to get yourself to a point where you can calmly focus on the present.

How are Mindfulness and ADHD Connected?

While it might seem like a fad, there’s actually some real science to it. ADHD doesn’t just address focus issues, it refers to issues with executive function. Executive function is responsible for focus, but it’s also responsible for areas like regulating emotion, organization, follow-through, and self-monitoring. Mindfulness meditation works to improve all of these areas by improving the adaptability of different networks in our brains.

Some studies show that meditation can change the structure of our brains and improve neuroplasticity. This could be in part due to the fact that meditation is driven by an emphasis on deep breathing and the brain itself is very oxygen dependent, requiring 20% of the body’s total oxygen supply.

Additionally, taking a deep breath in causes your heart rate to quicken slightly. As you slowly exhale, your heart rate slows. Repeating this process will naturally bring your heart rate more in sync with your breath. This can trigger an endorphin release in the brain, which can result in a natural calming effect.

One study, conducted in 2008, took 24 adults and eight adolescents with ADHD and enrolled them in an eight-week mindfulness meditation training. The training included weekly meditation classes and at-home exercises, involving guided meditations.

The results showed that 78% of participants who practiced mindful awareness reported a reduction in their ADHD symptoms. 30% reported a “clinical” reduction (a reduction of symptoms by at least 30%) and, on top of it all, many participants reported a reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms, as well.

Countless similar studies have been conducted with many pointing to similar outcomes. While these studies don’t make any claims to cure ADHD or eliminate symptoms entirely, these results are still significant for a treatment option that’s free, can be done by anyone, anywhere, and has no negative side effects.

Ready to give it a try?

Mindful Meditation Tips for Adults:

If you’re brand new to meditation, aim for a session lasting around 5 minutes. As you progress, you’ll be able to adjust the duration and frequency to what feels right for you.

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable spot where you won’t get interrupted, like in your bedroom or on the couch.
  • You might have trouble switching from “go mode” to “relaxation mode” and that’s okay. Meditation is a practice and you’ll find a groove that works for you. Some people find an external cue can help them switch gears mentally. Maybe you put on your instrumental meditation playlist or sit in the same comfy meditation spot each time.
  • From here, try to focus on only on one thing, whether it be your breath, your music, or a phrase repeated in your mind – like, “slow down” or “let go.”
  • Try to avoid judging thoughts like, “My mind is racing too much” or “I’m not breathing deep enough.” Mindfulness is about acknowledgment without judgment. When these thoughts do slip into your mind, simply direct yourself back to the thing you originally chose to focus on (breath, music, phrase, etc.).
  • From here, meditate for as long and as often as you’d like and make adjustments where you see fit. The important thing is to stick with it!

Mindful Meditation Tips for Children:

There are countless kid-friendly meditation exercises, but here’s a quick and easy one to start with. Get into a comfortable spot with your child. Have them close their eyes and take a few deep breaths before you begin guiding your child through meditation.

  • Have your child think of a place (preferably a place they enjoy). Then have him or her describe the sensations of being there.
  • Ask them to mentally walk through and describe what they see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Remind them to take their time and really try to imagine being there.
  • When they’re done, try to guess where your child is!
Dixon, Casey. “The ADHD Mindfulness Craze: It all Started with One Little Study.” Retrieved from https://mindfullyadd.com/adhd-mindfulness-craze/
Kelly, Kate. “Mindfulness: What You Need to Know for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues.” Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/empowering-your-child/self-awareness/mindfulness-what-you-need-to-know-for-kids-with-learning-and-attention-issues
Rosen, Armin. (2017, July 14). “The Science Behind Mindfulness and Meditation.” Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-science-behind-mindfulness-and-meditation_us_59677a0de4b07b5e1d96eda1