M Word: ADHD and Meditation

“I have more thoughts before breakfast than most people have all day.” ― Unknown

If you have ADHD and you flinch each time you hear this M word, called Meditation.

Here’s want I’d say you’re not alone.

Self-regulation isn’t a word we often use in daily life, yet it describes something we do many times each day. It’s also an essential concept in understanding ADHD and mindfulness.


It’s tough

It’s a common situation I see in clinics. *Humph* *Smiles* “Yeah, right! “and" oh please, doctor” are the typical responses I get whenever this M word is brought up with people with ADHD.

Don’t be confused if mindfulness doesn’t work for you or someone you know. To utilise any self-help strategy, one requires essential psychological reservoirs. To make use of it, there are a series of neural processes such as impulse control, emotional regulation, and metacognition, aka executive functions.

I see a variety of attitudes towards inferring the concept of mindfulness practice. This is why it’s important to take a an in-depth approach while working with the neurodiverse population.

Unfortunately, any (well-intended) interventions could do more harm by "othering" those with neurodiverse approaches as an ln iatrogenic consequence.

One vital component missed in such interventions is the neurodevelopmental approach and what works best for those who operate differently. I often tell people it’s not a نخرہ (the person is not being picky or lofty).

The thing to remember is that you don’t have to:

  • Sit in the lotus position at all
  • Say still
  • Sit down to meditate
  • Stop moving
  • Have a mantra, a guru
  • Trek to mountains

Source: https://pin.it/23xtzzU

What works

The idea is that you don’t pay attention to every thought you get. What I have seen is that:

  • Some people find logging mindfulness sessions helpful. It’s like you gamify the process. 🎯 🎮
  • Some people are more data-driven, so it’s the graph and bars that excite them as progress. 〽️
  • Another example is understanding the science of meditation has helped people with ADHD. 🔬
  • For some people, writing or coloring could be an example of mindfulness. 🎨 📝
  • Many keep a pack of inflated balloons and blow two balloons each day. 🎈
  • Some use apps like Headspace, Insight Timer, and Smiling Mind.📱
  • For some sensory seeking or movement-based practice works such as sound bath restorative yoga, movements, or good yoga. 🧘🏻
  • For some external cues help, such as watching a video or listening to an audio frees up brain space or this gif 📼

“Living with ADHD is like being locked in a room with 100 televisions and 100 radios, all playing. None of them have power buttons so you can turn them off and the door is locked from the outside.” ― Sarah Young

Give your brain some break

Your focus attention needs to be free and floats once a day. But what about this thing called focused meditation?

Well, the idea is that you focus on sensory stimulation or scan your body and not your thoughts.

It’s important to understand that where we place our attention is what shapes our lives. The mindfulness attribute is associated with five main facets:

  1. Being non-reactive
  2. Observing with awareness
  3. Acting with awareness
  4. Describing with awareness
  5. Being nonjudgmental toward experience

Isn’t “being in a moment” what causes problems for people with ADHD?

It’s true that if you have ADHD, it’s easy to get distracted n what you’re doing or attend to the undue cue, depending on what grabs your attention from moment to moment.

This bouncing brain often jumps around automatically, and you may spend much time doing something different than what you initially decided to do.

Mindfulness is a practice of awareness and remembering. You not only bring your awareness to the present moment, but you learn to pay attention to where your attention is going.

When you notice your attention wandering from the task at hand, you bring your attention back to the intended task, again repeatedly monitoring and remembering. This is called meta-awareness.

It is basically training the brain that could help you stay connected to your goals and resist distractions and diversions.

Because sometimes my brain needs a time out

Even if you get lost in the moment, with m @ indfulness, you realize it sooner and can self-correct.

Accountability is not about guilt or failure. It is about not letting the goal drop, working to accomplish it, and celebrating little victories and big ones.

If you forget to practice meditation for days, or even weeks, you can get back on the horse at a better time. This brings us to self-regulation.

Common self-regulation strategies:

  • Ignoring, suppressing, or pushing down an uncomfortable thought or feeling
  • Facing the unpleasant feeling
  • Self-talk for guidance or motivation
  • Using reminders or alarms
  • Inhibiting a response
  • Removing the distraction
  • Getting away physically from a situation
  • Eating to feel better

Art: Henck van Bilsen

Self Regulation

Meditation could also be very stressful. Although successful self-regulation sometimes requires staying with the unpleasant situation, at other times, it helps to move away from it. Take a moment and reflect on the following questions:

  • What self-regulation strategies have you used?
  • What works for you?
  • Which ones don’t work?

It’s like being a cat with 100 people with laser pointers.” ― Jamie Hynds

Many ADHD symptoms happen automatically as well; for example, you may be interrupting without knowing you are doing it, agreeing to do something as a knee-jerk reaction, acting impulsively, losing track of time, or overreacting emotionally over and over again.

My favorite is this one 👇🏻 where you look for mean-talk that goes on in the brain 🧠 💬

Observing judgmental thoughts: Become curious about critical thoughts that come up for you during your day. They may be directed at yourself or the people around you.

As a mindful exercise, try counting your judgmental thoughts in one day—you may be surprised at what you find.

As you observe judgmental thoughts, you may notice judgmental thoughts about having critical thoughts, such as, “I am so horrible for having all these pessimistic judgments!”

That’s OK—notice it as another judgmental thought.

Doing what works for you while deciding the strategies and taking time instead of adopting a "quick fix" without considering the impact might give a good start, but the effect is questionably sustainable.

Now, it’s also important to understand that little change is quantifiable and immediate. Therefore, exploring whether a specific mindfulness training is a right fit requires knowing what works best for you per your unique needs.


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Dr. Aisha Sanober Chachar

Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist; Co-founder & Director @synapsepk Mental Health Entrepreneur. Recycled Stardust.Balint Group.Psychoanalysis.Grit 🇵🇰