Can Mindfulness Help Reduce ADHD Symptoms in Adults?

Health Writer

Most strategies for managing adult ADHD are external, for example, using reminder, timers and to-do lists. Using internal means, such as telling yourself not to be late, don’t usually work. Practicing mindfulness, however, is an internal strategy that shows promise of increasing attention, reducing impulsiveness and lowering levels of anxiety and depression, both common in those with ADHD.

Improving Attention

When you practice mindfulness, you become fully aware of the present moment. You pay attention to what is going on right now.  Lidia Zylowska, M.D, author of The Mindfulness Prescription: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions and Achieving Your Goals explains that when you become mindful, you become more aware of your attention and where you place your attention. By doing so, you can notice when your attention wanders and redirect it. Once you are aware of your attention, or lack of it, you can choose where to focus your attention.

Gaining Acceptance

One very important aspect of mindfulness is acceptance. Although you notice that you are distracted or impulsive, you do so without judgment, for example, you might notice that when someone is talking, you interrupt the conversation. Instead of judging your behavior, you note that it is occurring and you now choose not to interrupt when you feel the impulse. Once you are aware (without self-blame), it is easier to change the behavior.

Dr. Zylowska understands that for many adults with ADHD, self-blame and self-criticism come easily. After years of struggling, adults with ADHD are quick to be negative about themselves and their capabilities. However, she notes that people with ADHD can be taught to be mindful and to gain an acceptance of themselves with practice.

Testing Mindfulness

Zylowska tested her mindfulness program, which was tailored specifically for ADHD, on 25 adults and 8 adolescents at the University of California- Los Angeles. The program started with five minutes of mindfulness meditation and slowly built up to 20 minutes. If participants found it too difficult to sit still, they were able to practice walking mindfulness. Because those with ADHD tend to be visual learners, the researchers used visual aids to help in practicing mindfulness, for example, the trainers used the blue sky to denote awareness and the clouds to denote thoughts. Participants were asked to observe there thoughts and inner experiences as clouds floating by, without judging them as good or bad.

The participants were given tests both before and after the program. Improvements were seen in paying attention despite distractions although working memory was not affected.

Although mindfulness training is a new approach to ADHD, the research is showing much promise. A studypresented at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Developmental Psychology Annual Conference in 2013 showed that mindfulness can help children with ADHD improve their ability to tune out distractions and focus better. Another study found that mindfulness training helped improve executive functioning.

Learning Mindfulness

There are plenty of sites and information (including the links below) on the internet about learning mindfulness. Simply incorporating mindful breathing into your day can help relieve stress and help you regulate your emotions.  If you currently work with a therapist, he or she might be able to help you master mindfulness meditation. If you prefer a step by step approach, Zylowska’s book breaks it down into eight steps, all ADHD-friendly.

For more information on mindfulness:

Infographic: Mindfulness Meditation

4 Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

8 Reasons to Try Mindfulness Meditation