We all suffer from ADHD. You, at least, suffer from a mild form of it.
It might be easy to notice hyper kids who are having trouble focusing or staying put. But adults who suffer from it know it very well that it is not just the kids.
You notice that you cannot focus. You notice you are restless. And have trouble resting your mind.
Yet as an adult you may have faced hurdles in getting a proper diagnosis. Or a recognition by people around you. Living with ADHD could be very hard.
It may come as a total surprise that a country like France doesn’t recognize ADHD as a disease!
But those of you who experience restlessness, lack of focus and other symptoms, know it first hand that you can use some help.
There is the milder form of ADHD. Then there is a severe form of ADHD.
Most of us who don’t have a severe form of ADHD, take the ability to sleep at night for granted. Imagine not being able to rest at all, even through the night.
Of course, you may experience a sleepless night once in a while. I personally know that even a single night without rest is such a big deal because it has cascading effects lasting for several days.
You wake up tired and cranky. You can’t get things done. You easily quarrel and fight with people.
It becomes difficult for you to go through the day. But what if it becomes the norm?
The amount of catastrophizing your mind can engage at the specter of not being able to rest at night could be devastating. There is a lot of stress that comes along with being ADHD.
You will need an infinite amount of energy, courage and conviction to keep you going because your restlessness and inability to sleep makes it impossible to rest and replenish.
Yet it is not a far-fetched scenario for some of us. It is a definite reality.
What can you do about it? Is it even possible to do anything about it?
Yes, there is something you can do about it. Both for a not so extreme case of ADHD as well as the extreme case.
There are several different ways to cope with it, and one of them is mindfulness. That is through cultivating mindfulness.
Let’s focus on how and why of applying mindfulness to ADHD.
As we have learned earlier mindfulness can be practiced in two ways.
Informal Mindfulness Practices for ADHD
Let’s first talk a little about informal practices. There are several different ways to practice informally.
All you do is whenever you remember you pay attention in the present moment. There are several things available at any moment to pay attention to.
- You can pay attention to the bottom of your feet pressing against the floor.
- You can pay attention the upper legs pressing against the chair if you happen to be sitting in a chair.
- You can also notice the sounds that might be present.
- Or you can notice the thought chain crossing your mind at that moment.
There are many sensory stimuli that are present in any given moment. And you can pick any of them and notice them or bring awareness to them.
You might argue that ADHD is going to make paying attention difficult. Yes, that is true. Compared to a person who doesn’t have ADHD, it is difficult for you to pay attention.
But we are talking about paying attention for a moment. We are talking about at least orienting your attention to an object and start paying attention.
When it comes to starting to pay attention, it is no more difficult for a person with ADHD, compared to a person without it.
It is when you have to sustain attention, ADHD makes it more difficult. When you practice informally, you pay attention for a blink and if you are able to sustain for a few more seconds, you should do that, but if you can’t that is okay.
Set Up Cues that Remind You to Pay Attention
When it comes to informal practices, it is helpful to set cues or triggers that remind you of informally practicing mindfulness. It could literally be any event or a transition that you can set up as a trigger.
For example, I use doorknob as a cue. Whenever I touch a doorknob, it is a reminder for me to come back to the present moment for a second.
I do it when I leave my house, I do it when I enter my house, enter a car or leave a car. Anytime I open or close a door, I pay attention. It has become a habit having practiced it for a long time.
And you can do the same. You can start with a single cue and later on introduce more of them.
That is what you can aim for. Initially, it can be difficult for you to remember to practice informally, but with practice, it can become second nature.
Formal Mindfulness Practices for ADHD
Next is the formal practice. This is where you make time for a formal meditation practice. Which can be a sitting, lying down or a walking meditation.
The formal meditation can be more difficult for people with ADHD. Or at least, it can feel that way.
Informal meditation, you select an object of attention. Like your breath, a sound, a physical sensation or thoughts.
You start paying attention to that object and you try to sustain attention. This is where you may not be able to sustain attention to begin with.
If you are having trouble sustaining attention, it doesn’t mean you can’t meditate. If you remember, wandering thoughts are completely okay to have during meditation.
But this is very difficult for your mind to accept. You notice your breath for a moment and your mind takes off.
You might be lost for the rest of the session. It may easily frustrate you.
Your mind reacts that “I can’t meditate”. Make a note that it is just a thought.
See if you are able to persevere through this initially.
When it comes to ADHD, following two things are more important when you try to formally meditate.
- Setting and reinforcing the intention to sustain the gentle focus.
- Putting in the clock time and not worry about how many times you were lost, unfocused or caught up.
Your ADHD doesn’t prevent you from carrying out above mentioned tasks. Of course, you will experience the frustration during the formal meditation.
If you find yourself miserable you can take the gradual path. Start as low as a minute and focus on progressively increasing the clock time for your meditation session.
All I Can Do Is Become Mindful of My Restlessness
So how can this help you with ADHD? At times, you will feel that ‘all I can do is become mindful of my restlessness’.
That is true. When you bring attention to your condition, you realize that all you can do is realize how restless, fidgety and unfocused you are.
Paying attention is not going to fix your focus right away. But remember that by making the formal and informal practices, we are building the muscle of attention.
In the long run, this muscle will bulk up and it will become easier for you to stay focused.
But this just a superficial benefit of practicing mindfulness for ADHD.
Here is something else that can happen.
Taking the example of the inability to sleep or rest through the night. At the surface, there is the inability to rest. You notice that you can’t easily become still.
Not only during the day but even at night. You might notice that you are tired physically. And you are exhausted mentally because your mind has continuously churned during the day.
Right when you expect to catch up some rest at night, you notice you can’t. The restlessness continues. The lack of stillness continues.
Restlessness Is the Urge to Rest
You can bring awareness to the restlessness. You can also use awareness to investigate what might there be beneath the surface.
You notice restlessness through the urge to rest. The restlessness can only arise if there is a strong desire to rest.
You want to be able to rest. But you are unable to. That is what you call restlessness.
Your body and mind need rest. You have to able to rest just in order to survive. There is nothing wrong in wanting to be able to rest.
In fact, the desire to be able to rest kicks in automatically and it stays under the radar of conscious awareness. This is something we tend to take for granted.
It is obvious to be able to rest, isn’t it?
The automatic inception of this urge to be able to rest is very crucial. Imagine if desiring or wanting to be able to rest were completely voluntary phenomena.
Say only when you consciously decided that you were going to rest, you actually rested. In other words, you never felt fatigued, tired or restless.
Would that be such a blessing? If you were to have the same physical body that you have now, imagine the consequences.
It is as if you had to consciously remember to breathe? What if you forget! You are far too unreliable and distracted to have your life depend upon you breathing.
Just like that when the body or the mind needs rest, there are automatic signals which let us know that we need to rest. These signals make us desire to rest, automatically, when we need it.
When such urge arises, it drives us to do something about it. If it is physical fatigue, it prompts you to stop the physical activity. If it is mental fatigue, again this signal prompts you to do something about it.
You may distract yourself from the mental activity, you try to engage in activities that you think will relax you mentally. It activates you as soon as the fatigue is experienced you automatically set out to do something about that fatigue.
It is very much like feeling an itch. As soon as you start feeling sensations of an itch, instantaneously an urge is activated whereby you set out to do something about it.
This ‘wanting to do something about the itch’ is driven by our innate relationship with the discomfort and not wanting to feel the discomfort. The discomforting experience of an itch.
You may not realize and such reaction becomes conditioned. And over the period of time, it becomes highly automatic.
You never fully feel an itch. As soon as the itch starts you feel compelled to drive it out.
You scratch it. And in scratching it automatically and instantaneously you never get to know what an itch really feels like.
You Can Either Fight the Fatigue or You Can Befriend It
Similarly as soon as you notice the fatigue, you reactively try to scratch the fatigue and you become restless.
And in becoming restless, you are not actually fully feeling the fatigue, but you are fighting with the fatigue.
And when you start fighting fatigue, you create additional discomfort in the form of fighting or resisting on top of the underlying unpleasant feeling of fatigue.
And it is this interface between you and your fatigue, which can become an object of curious investigation through mindfulness. How it is that you relate to your physical and mental fatigue.
You can work towards resolving your fatigue without fighting with it. How?
By not resisting the fatigue, but by opening up to fatigue. By befriending the fatigue.
Sounds impractical? It is not easy, but it is not impossible. It is relating to your fatigue in a different way compared to your habitual or conditioned ways.
And you can use mindfulness to first investigate how you currently relate to the fatigue and later realize different possibilities of relating to the fatigue.
Informal and formal mindfulness practices can improve focus and concentration.
With mindfulness, you can explore your relationship with fatigue and discomfort.
Awareness can help you take the resistance or fight away from feeling restless.
Mindfulness can help you uncover possibilities in dealing with fatigue and discomfort.