“I can’t meditate.”
I can’t tell you how many times I hear this, read this, see this…especially from ADHDers. When meditation is one of the top 3 strategies for managing ADHD besides medication, what’s a girl to do?
HAHAHA lucky for you, I’ve got some good info for you. And, as always, totally willing to share. We’re going to start with a little secret that you need to know. You ready for it?
Yes, Seriously. No one’s mind stays perfectly focused. Everyone’s mind wanders. No one is perfect (or even good) at meditation. Especially not when they first get into it. “But my mind is constantly distracted! I just can’t do it.” I promise you can, you just need a little help. Read on and I’ll show you.
But first, why even bother learning to meditate if it’s so hard for women with ADHD?
There’s a reason it’s one of the top three natural strategies to manage ADHD. It improves focus, helps regulate emotion and anxiety, improves impulse control and working memory, reduces stress, and help you sleep better.
So it basically helps improve many of the biggest ADHD challenges we experience. Is it any wonder that it’s one of the most encouraged natural activities for ADHD management?
The most important thing to remember and practice when it comes to mindfulness meditation for ADHD.
Your mind WILL wander. It just will. The fact that it wanders (even when it wanders way more than it stays focused) does not in any way mean that you are doing wrong, that you are bad at it, or that you cannot meditate.
In fact, you should expect it to wander. That’s part of the practice of meditation and we set ourselves up when we expect that our mind should just naturally stay put. It won’t. And when it wanders, because it will, you are still meditating. You are still doing it right. Wandering is part of the practice.
The key to making it work for you is not in how well your mind “stays put” but in how you handle it when it wanders. Think of it this way…
Your Wandering Mind is Like a Puppy and you HAVE to be gentle.
Have you ever had a puppy? A lot of times, puppy parents first teach potty training to a new puppy by the use of puppy pads. When you’re teaching your puppy to use the puppy pad it just stays put the first time you put him on the pad right?
HA! As if (to kick back to the 90s).
You put the puppy down, he runs off.
Do you chase him down screaming at him to get back on the stupid pad before you cut his leg off? You might, but I hope not. If you scream and berrate your puppy, he will learn to fear you and sometimes even to fear the puppy pad. Then he never wants to be on the puppy pad or in the same room with you and never learns to potty train. You’ve sabatoged your goal.
Instead, the most effective way to teach your puppy to use the pad is to pick him up when he runs away and gently bring him back to the pad. He will run away again and again.
Each time, you go get him and gently return him to the pad. Your patience and gentleness with your puppy greatly increases your chances of him learning to use the pad.
The mind is very similar. It will wander just like the puppy does. And that is….NORMAL!
When trying to meditate, if you berate yourself every time your mind wanders and get disgusted with yourself for your “failure,” you’re more likely to teach yourself to avoid the practice altogether because it’s too emotionally painful for you. The shame sabatoges you and makes it even harder to even attempt to focus your mind.
If you, instead, treat your mind like that puppy and patiently and gently bring your attention back each time you notice that it was gone, over time your mind is much more likely to focus and stay focused for longer periods of time.
The moral of this story is that shame is counter productive and all that negative self talk is shame.
So bypass the shame and practice patience and gentleness and you’ll, in time, teach your mind to get better and better at meditation. If you struggle with the shame and have a hard time letting it go, I can’t recommend this workbook enough. If you follow my blog, you’ve seen me encourage it multiple times because it’s phenomenal. It’s one of my all time favorite self help resources.
Practicing Mindfulness is Also Kinda Like Strength Training.
I like to think of it like this: Each time my mind wanders and I bring it back, it’s like a rep in a strength training set–it’s a training opportunity. Each rep is an important part of getting stronger whether we’re talking about a workout routine or practicing meditation. So your mind wandering is a good thing because it’s a training opportunity in growing your mindfulness muscle.
In it’s simplist form, Meditation is doing one thing at a time and intentionally focusing all of your attention on that one thing.
Yes, it’s hard. The mind likes to wander. Even the neurotypical mind likes to wander when it comes to meditation. It’s not natural to us, especially in a western culture where we value multitasking, to do one thing at a time and focus exclusively on that one thing. But what’s that old adage? The best things in life don’t come easy.
With this view of what meditation is, the options for how to meditate are as broad as they seem, which is good news for us.
Some of the options for practicing mindfulness meditation for ADHD may be more practical or useful to us than others. Experimenting with different ways to meditate can be really helpful. You may hate one way but love another.
My Best Strategies for Practicing Mindfulness Meditation for ADHD
For me personally, I hate the “focus on your breathing” types of meditation. They usually go one of two ways for me: I get too bored and hate life or I focus too much on my breathing and start feeling like I’m hyperventilating. Those are not for me. You should try them, though, because you may love them. If you don’t, try one of these…
▶▶ 1. Guided Meditation.
I actually really like these. You can find some good ones on Youtube or various free apps but these are the ones with a person telling you to imagine something. I prefer the ones that have you imagining a relaxing or even exciting outdoor scene or activity.
My favorite guided exercise was from the Stop. Breathe. Think. App (I think). It had you imagining peaceful water filling your body and as it did, it relaxed every part it touched. I was imagining a place that I stumbled upon in the woods a few years ago with serene water that instantly relaxes me when I think of it. I love that one.
Guided meditation for ADHD can be nice because when your mind wanders, it can be a bit easier to reorient your mind to the voice you are hearing. Plus, some of the things you are told to imagine can be interesting (and we all know that interesting=greater focus for the ADHDer).
As bonus, if you do grab that workbook I mentioned on Mindful Self Compassion, it has some really great guided meditation exercise. My favorite is the affectionate breathing meditation. It combines guided work with breath work and even for someone like me who doesn’t usually respond well to the breathing activities, it really works. It’s lovely.
Here are a few app options, in case you are looking for options:
- OMG I Can Meditate
- Stop Breathe Think
- Insight Timer
▶▶ 2. Creative Activities.
The most meditative I get is when I’m painting or writing poetry. I can get so absorbed in creative activities like this that it almost feels like the world ceases to exist and all that is left is me and what I’m working on. I always leave a creative session feeling calm, focused, and content.
You may not think of this as meditation but revisit that definition above. Doing one thing and focusing only on that one thing. That’s meditation and creative activities can be a more natural and effective way to practice it.
More than just obvious creative pursuits, creating something in general can be mindful. My husband’s best mindfulness strategy is building a fire. He always leaves that activity calm and content because his whole attention is on that fire and figuring out how to build and sustain it.
Let your mind run wild here. The options are pretty endless.
▶▶ 3. Physical Activities.
Yoga is probably the most obvious application to using a physical activity as a mindfulness practice. Yoga has you focus on one move and one breath at a time. For those who really hate the sitting still aspect of meditation, a physical strategy may be what you need in practicing meditation with ADHD. Yoga for ADHD may be exactly what the doctor ordered.
While Yoga is the first activity most people think of, it definitely isn’t the only application. You could easily do that with dance or any other preferred exercise so long as you intentionally focusing your mind on the activity you are participating in and not just letting your mind do whatever the heck it wants to do.
For those who struggle to stay mindful even with activity, it can be helpful to start with a more intense exercise. You know, those exercises that are so difficult that all you can think about is how hard it is? That’s meditation too, just not what people usually think of
For me personally, I use gymnastics as a way to be meditative with physical activities. It’s something I enjoy and while I’m teaching myself something new, that’s all I’m focused on. I focus on how it feels when I balance and how it feels when I know that my handstand hasn’t started off in a way that will allow me to balance.
▶▶ 4. Use Your Hyperfocus.
Another potential benefit of the ADHD Hyperfocus is that, yes, it can offer ways to be meditative. Especially when we are hyperfocusing on something we are interested in and not just momentarily tricked ourselves into obsessing over something.
If you are really really interested in something and you pursue it and only it for a period of time, focusing your mind exclusively on that one thing, it could be meditative.
I don’t recommend doing that with television (I know I’m not the only one that hyperfocuses on that ha!) or anything that causes anxiety to run wild (I hyperfocused on medical diseases for a long period of time once. It was interesting but also anxiety producing so I don’t recommend that one!)
The opportunities here are limitless. I’ve hyperfocused on hair care and styles, gymnastics, learning to crochet, cooking, singing, learning an instrument, various research interests, and so on. Just remember, with hyperfocus, we often have a hard time coming out of it so make sure you time it when it works best for you. Probably not right before you need to leave for work
Some of these ideas are not what you think of as a way of practicing mindfulness meditation, but that’s ok. They are some of the best activities for ADHD.
ADHDers are creative right? It’s one of our many wonderful traits and it can come in handy when we are looking for a way to meditate knowing that it’s often harder for us than it is for others. These strategies can be mindful if you make them so by focusing exclusively on them in the moment.
They can also be better ways of practicing such an important and helpful strategy for those of us with ADHD. Even if you don’t even try to make them meditative, these strategies are also just helpful activities for adhd in their own right. I just think doubly so when we add in that mindfulness aspect!
Now, I want to know your top mindfulness meditation for ADHD strategy! What way do you practice that works best for you? Which are you most interested in trying?
And don’t forget to let me know how it goes!
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