If you have ADHD, sitting still and keeping your mind quiet might sound like a ridiculous idea. Plus, who has time for that when so many things on your to-do list?
But, meditation isn't just a passive process where you sit and think of nothing. Mindfulness meditation can be active and lets you flex your brain muscles (or physical muscles).
In this article, we'll dive into how meditation can help you feel better mentally and physically in everyday life and get more done in your day. Plus, you'll get specific, actionable tips for meditating with ADHD.
How can mindful meditation help people with ADHD?
An ADHD Magazine survey found that 42% of adults said mindfulness meditation is highly effective for managing ADHD. Doctors are also noticing the benefits of meditation, with 33% of the survey participants' doctors recommending meditation to reduce Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms.
Mindfulness helps you create more mental focus and manage your emotions using the principles of observations and being present in the moment. On a physiological level, mindfulness meditation training releases dopamine which is known to help people with ADHD feel calmer and more emotionally regulated.
But those are only a handful of the benefits of meditation for ADHD. Let's take a look at some more.
- Decision making
- Impulse control
- Switching to different tasks
- Negative self-talk
What if you can’t keep your mind focused?
There’s no right or wrong way to meditate - just different styles. Some styles of meditation aim to have you clear your mind or sit in silence. But, having a busy mind while meditating is normal and known as the "monkey mind."
Meditations for a busy mind:
- Choose an anchor - Pick something you want to focus on. That could be a sound, object, movement, breath, mantra, or sensation.
- Guided meditation - If your mind easily drifts and you need support being in the moment or feel like it's too overwhelming, try listening to a guided meditation. The audio will direct your thoughts and lead you step-by-step through the process.
- Body scan - In a body scan, you move through the parts of your body one at a time while paying attention to each piece (tensing and relaxing the muscles). You can find some excellent body scan videos on YouTube.
- Music or sounds - Choose a sound that's pleasing and helps you focus your attention. Popular choices are nature sounds or recordings of soothing music like Tibetan Singing Bowls.
What if you can't sit still?
Sitting still when you have ADHD can feel like a chore. You want to move around, get out some energy, and avoid being frustrated when you can't relax in one position. Well, here’s some good news…
Meditation isn't about sitting down in the lotus position (or sitting at all). For example, Sufi whirling is dancing as a form of meditation, expression, and spiritual work. Some groups use meditation for spiritual rites, but many forms of meditation are for emotional and physical wellbeing.
Types of moving meditations:
- Walking - When doing a walking meditation, pay attention to the things around you like your feet hitting the ground, your breath, smells, sounds, or what you see.
- Water - If you have access to a pool, try swimming laps. The shower is a great substitute. Focus on the sensation of the water on your body, or let your mind wander and note your thoughts.
- Yoga or Qigong - These gentle forms of movement help you become more aware of your body, thoughts, and breath.
- Daily routines - Take advantage of the moments you have in your everyday life. As you cook dinner, brush your teeth, or pick out food at the store, tune into the current moment. This helps you practice being present and focused in tiny bursts.
General ADHD meditation tips
There is no one size fits all type of meditation or way to meditate. The secret is making meditation work for you. Try different kinds of meditations and see which one you like the best.
- Mini meditations - Think of the beginning stages of meditation as a sprint, not a marathon. Start in small bursts. Even 1 minute is perfect. Slowly build up to five minutes or more.
- Throw out the rule book - Stop getting in your way by thinking you’re "doing it wrong." There are no rules when it comes to meditation. Just look at all of the varieties of meditation techniques we already talked about!
- Mindfulness buddy - Working on a new habit alone can be tricky. Get an accountability partner. You can support each other in following through on your plans. You do not have to meditate together, but you can talk about your challenges, experiences, and share tips. A habit coach can help you create a custom plan and will always come from a nonjudgmental space.
- Habit stacking - Build micro routines into habits with less stress. Pair mindful meditation with something you’re already doing, like washing dishes or crafting. Learn more about habit stacking here.
- Reminders and tracking - Use an app like CoPilot to schedule your meditation plans and a reminder system. You can check off the task (a bonus dopamine hit) and keep tabs on your calendar when you finish meditating. This can help you identify patterns of days or times that are harder or easier to keep up your habit. Adjust your routines accordingly.
- Keep it up - While a single meditation session can have a calming effect, you need to be consistent with meditation to see the maximum benefits. This is where accountability, tracking, and reminders come in handy.
Step by step meditation plan for ADHD
- Choose a time - Pick a time in your day where you can regularly get in your meditation. Remember to start small (it’s okay to keep it short, long term too). Another option is doing a couple of mini-meditations during your day if you want to get in more meditation time.
- Silence your phone - The allure of the notification bell can be hard to ignore. Put your phone on silent and if it's still too tempting, tuck your phone away in a drawer or another room.
- Know your goal - Note down how long you want to meditate and what type of meditation you want to do.
- Set an intention - What are you hoping to get out of this meditation? What are you going to focus on?
- Grounding and anchoring - Create a ritual to get your brain into meditation mode. Over time this will help your brain get into the zone easier. Try using something sensory like a sound, smell, or visual cue. You can also create a routine using the same space or time which you’ll associate with your mindfulness practice.
- Accept thoughts and move on - Having thoughts pop into your mind is a normal part of meditation and should not be viewed as a failure or not meditating correctly! The trick is acknowledging the thoughts that come up. Recognize it as a thought and try to be neutral. Ex. “I'm thinking about feeding the cat."
- Return slowly - When you're ready to wrap up, give yourself a few moments to come out of the meditation. Some people like to wiggle their fingers and toes. Or you might say out loud, "I'm done," and take a final slow breath in and out.
While research has shown mindfulness meditation can be a helpful tool for ADHD, it's not a quick fix solution. It takes time and practice to find the best meditation for you. And you might need to use a couple of different styles depending on the day or how you’re feeling.
Getting started is the hardest part, just like any other routine you want to add to your life. Take it slow and easy. Pay attention to the moment, even if it's just 10 seconds, and continue to build from there. Take failure and perfection out of the equation because there's no right or wrong way to meditate!
If you want to make mindfulness meditation a habit but need some accountability and a way to track your progress sign up for a free trial of CoPiot. Your dedicated habit coach will help you create a custom routine plan that fits into your day. You will also get coaching around exercise and nutrition, which people with ADHD say significantly help them feel more focused, emotionally regulated, and less stressed.