“It’s OK to Be Not OK, According to Mindfulness”
“I’ve learned that resisting and pushing away the unpleasant reality I may be experiencing does nothing to improve it. Curiously observing and accepting my anxiety and ADHD doesn’t make it go away, either. But it takes a lot less energy.”
Wow, has it been a doozy of a year. I would like to blame it on the pandemic, as its ever-present loom has certainly made things difficult. But really my troubles trace back to my ADHD and anxiety medley.
I feel nervous all the time. I can’t seem to put together a plan. I forget everything. Basic tasks seem difficult. Social interaction feels unnatural, because words to represent thoughts evade me. I’m comparing myself to other people like it’s my job. I feel stupid. I feel stupid. I feel stupid.
Here’s the thing, though: Everything in my life is how I want it to be. I’m a stay-at-home mom and happy to be that for the time being. I have the friends I want. I have the spouse I want. I live in the community I want. I have the hobbies I want. In other words, my life matches my values.
So, why this anxiety?
I keep coming back to the ADHD and anxiety playing off one another, as if engaging in a masochistic ping-pong match. One gets bad, the other gets worse, and down we go. Do I have an anxiety disorder separate from ADHD? Probably. Do I have ADHD separate from an anxiety disorder? Probably. Do they get all scrappy with each other, tangling into a nasty hairball? Yes!
This can all be described in my blog post “ADHD: I Fouled Up. Anxiety: Hold My Beer.”
Here, though, I hope to encourage the benefits of mindfulness to address whatever you might be going through — if, in fact, you’re going through anything similar to what I’m going through.
Mindfulness, to me, is the art of accepting whatever is, simply because it is already there.
I didn’t learn to “accept whatever is” overnight. There is a daily practice I commit to, every morning conducting a mindfulness meditation for 20 minutes with a guided audio recording. It might look different for you. Perhaps you take a few minutes in the car to focus on your breathing while waiting for your kid’s karate practice to end. Or in the moments before you drift to sleep at night, you pause to find your center.
Whenever and however you do it, choose a time each day to allow your body and thoughts to be just as they are while focusing on something that’s not a worry (breath is a good one!).
There are three different conditions into which your body, thoughts, and feelings may fall: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Formal mindfulness practice suggests that it doesn’t matter into which category you fall. What matters is that you are fully present and accepting of that mind and body state in each moment during the formal meditation.
With my swirl of anxiety and ADHD, I find myself often in the ‘unpleasant’ category. I’m confused, nervous, down, and insecure. Mindfulness teaches me to expand my observation and acceptance of this reality, simply because it is my reality.
I’ve learned that resisting and pushing away the unpleasant reality I may be experiencing does nothing to improve it. Let me give an example: Let’s say that you have a ton of anxiety at the moment, perhaps related to your ADHD, perhaps not. You do not know what to do with yourself and you feel awful. The natural instinct is to want things to be different than they are: “Go away, anxiety/ADHD. You’re terrible, and I don’t want you here.”
Does your inner resistance make it go away? For me, it doesn’t. What if, instead, you said to your anxiety/ADHD, “I see you. I know you’re here. I accept that you are here.” Does your inner acceptance make it go away? For me, the answer is “no” again. But there is a pivot in my energy. Instead of spending energy resisting — which is a negative approach — I am curiously observing and accepting — a positive approach. The latter takes less energy.
Internalizing and even saying aloud, “It’s OK to not be OK” is brave and honest and true. It is also very much consistent with the practice of mindfulness. Keep observing and accepting your inner experience, and hopefully you will see the difference I see.
Mindfulness for ADHD and Anxiety: Next Steps
- Read: “Is It Selfish, Shallow, or Frivolous to Worry About Your Own State of Mind During a Pandemic?”
- Download: Make Mindfulness Work for You
- Read: Anxiety Is Our New Normal. Surrendering to It Is Not.
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