Mindfulness Meditation to Soothe Squirming Souls
What is mindfulness meditation for ADHD brains? It is practicing simple breathing techniques and setting intentions to help you stay calm, present, and judgment-free.
By now, you’ve heard of mindfulness meditation. Everyone is doing it, not just yoga teachers and monks sitting cross-legged on a mountain top. But what exactly is it — and how is it supposed to help your ADHD?
Mindfulness meditation means noticing the present moment without judgment — not something adults with ADHD do very well. We’re either living with our heads in the clouds or so hyperfocused that we might not notice volcanic activity.
However, as I highlight in Mindfulness Meditations for ADHD, research shows that meditation may help the ADHD brain improve executive functioning. Except that… I’m sorry, did you say meditate? Have we met? I have ADHD. Sitting still and thinking of nothing is impossible.
Here’s the good news for us squirming souls: Meditation comes in many forms — from simple breathing to exercises you can do at your desk, to ones that send you wandering in a park or forest to take in its colors and sounds. Here is how I make it work for me.
3 Mindfulness Meditation Techniques for ADHD Brains
Mindfulness Technique #1: Set Your Intention
Before beginning a task at work, tap the desk and set an intention: I’m at my desk to finish this assignment. I’m going to use a version of the Pomodoro Technique, turn off the internet, take two-minute stretch breaks, and do a minute of deep breathing every 20 minutes.
Mindfulness at work means checking in with yourself (you might need to set timers to develop the practice) to notice the moment: Am I within my intention or has my brain drifted off-task? How does my body feel? Do I need to shift positions, hydrate, or fidget?
Mindfulness also means letting go of judgment. If you have drifted so far off task that you got next to nothing done, just notice it. Then regroup and try again. No need to beat yourself up. Negative self-talk doesn’t help you do better—it only tricks your brain into thinking it’s true.
Mindfulness Technique #2: Challenge Your Assumptions
Many with ADHD struggle with rejection sensitive dysphoria — an automatic assumption that someone’s irritability, forgetfulness, or indifference is intentional and directed at us. She hasn’t returned my text all day. She doesn’t like me. I didn’t get invited to the dinner party—they disapprove of my parenting. I wasn’t included in the meeting — my boss thinks I’m lazy. Sometimes, our perceived rejection is so strong that it causes us to lash out in anger or turn inward in depression, saying or doing things we may regret. But we aren’t mind readers, and often the signals we interpret as someone’s dislike are way off base.
Practicing mindfulness meditation allows us to pause and consider whether our sensitive reaction to rejection is real or perceived. Perhaps my friend has just been busy. Maybe the dinner party is a work event. Maybe the meeting at work isn’t relevant to my responsibilities. Breathe in, consider your assumption and the discomfort it brings. Consider possible alternatives to your assumptions, and whether you can let go of the sensitive reaction.
Mindfulness Technique #3: Practice Pausing
If your child has ADHD, maybe you’ve reacted angrily or in frustration to his or her behavior. Consider starting your morning with a moment of mindfulness. Set your intention for how you want to parent that day. Breathe in and visualize asking your child clearly for the behavior you want, and reacting calmly if you don’t get it the first time. Develop a practice of pausing before responding to your child’s emotional dysregulation or defiance.
Checking in with your body, and breathing into your frustration, can give you the moment you need to reflect on that parenting intention and meet it.
Mindfulness Meditation for ADHD: Next Steps
- eBook: Mindfulness & Meditation for ADHD Symptoms
- Blog: “How I Learned to Meditate (Even Though I Can’t Sit Still)”
- Learn: Meditation for the Bored & Restless: How to Practice Mindfulness with ADHD
Merriam Sarcia Saunders, LMFT, is the author of Mindfulness Meditations for ADHD: Improve Focus, Strengthen Self-Awareness, and Live More Fully (Rockridge Press).
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