Deep Breathing to Decrease ADHD Symptoms and Anxiety

Slow, relaxed breathing can help ADHD adults and attention deficit children clear their heads, increase focus and attention, and reduce anxiety.

Alternative ADHD treatments for children and adults with attention deficit disorder Sean Sims at New Division

You have to breathe, so why not use your inhalations and exhalations to manage your ADHD symptoms? “Several studies show that rhythmic, paced breathing balances the autonomic nervous system,” says Richard Brown, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

What does that mean to someone with attention deficit disorder? Controlling your breathing can help you become more attentive and more relaxed at the same time.

Many of Brown’s ADD patients have benefited from coherent breathing -- a term coined by author and yoga specialist Stephen Elliott because the technique synchronizes heart, lung, and brain rhythms.

Ethan, 10, has ADD. He couldn’t sit still when doing homework, couldn’t fall asleep, and was difficult to manage. He experienced bad side effects from ADHD stimulants, and cognitive behavioral therapy didn’t work.

So Ethan’s mother, who had used coherent breathing to calm her own anxiety, taught him how to do it. His overall behavior improved in four or five weeks, and he fell asleep without difficulty. Whenever he felt stressed, or he felt like he wasn’t meeting expectations at school or at home -- common occurrences for those with ADHD -- he would do the breathing exercises, whether he was taking a test at school or not getting along with classmates.

“The nice thing about coherent breathing is that, unlike yoga and exercise -- both very good therapies for ADD -- it is portable and accessible,” says Brown. You can do it while you’re at the office, riding the subway, or even in school.

Next: How Deep Breathing Works


This article comes from the Winter 2009 issue of ADDitude.

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