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Ronald Alexander, Ph.D.

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Mindfully Managing ADHD

Posted: 11/22/11 08:32 AM ET

Even though it was only diagnosed about 50 years ago it seems that most people today have either dealt with or at least heard about ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Now there are variations of this disorder, including AD/HD and ADD, but basically the key behavioral signs in children are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Adults with ADHD often exhibit signs of depression, mood swings, anger and relationship issues, poor time-management skills and procrastination. The severity of these symptoms can vary, and there are many adults who aren't aware that they are mildly-afflicted with this disorder. Research indicates that it is caused by a genetic chemical imbalance in the brain and therefore can be inherited, although there are some who believe that factors like food additives contribute to the disorder. Most do agree though that triggers such as stress, anxiety and diet can intensify the symptoms.

As a therapist in Los Angeles I've worked with many patients with ADHD, especially in the entertainment industry. When I recommend they consider starting a mindfulness meditation practice, usually the first objection I hear is, "Oh, I could never mediate -- I'm too restless to be able to sit still long enough. Besides, it could stifle my creativity and dull my mind." I assure them that on the contrary, mindfulness meditation has proven to be a very effective tool in dealing with this disorder and takes less time than they think.

Mindfulness helps create the capacity to not only calm and sooth but increases the ability to focus. It offers two important benefits that help reduce restlessness. One is heightened concentration, allowing you to be more productive. Another is physiological changes, namely, a decrease in skin temperature and increase in oxygenation of the brain, a decrease in lactic acid (which causes fatigue) and cortisol (a stress hormone). With less fatigue and stress, you become less distracted and more efficient in using and managing your time. Through mindfulness you feel less anxiety and stress, and instead experience more "one-pointedness of mind." In Zen this means being in a state of complete focus or heightened concentration and totally aware of the present moment. The more frequent someone practices mindfulness the more they enter the zone of single-minded focus and become less plagued by the monkey mind.

If you're restless or find it difficult to focus, try meditating after a physical activity. Start out slowly with only about three to five minutes a day and gradually build upward toward 20 minutes once or twice per day. Aim for meditating at the same time in a quiet and serene place, where distractions are minimal. In my book, "Wise Mind, Open Mind" I describe in detail how to mindfully meditate, but for now here are five easy steps to get you started.

Step 1. Get into a comfortable posture and place your hands in a relaxing and energizing mudra (hand position). You can sit in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. Keep your spine straight, and tuck in your chin slightly to keep your vertebrae aligned properly. The most popular hand position is to touch the thumb and first finger to each other, and then hold your palms up, with your other fingers relaxed and straight, and rest the backs of your hands on your thighs.

Step 2: Focus your eyes. With your eyes closed, focus them on one spot, ideally toward the tip of your nose or on your "third eye" (the chakra, or energy point in the middle of the forehead).

Step 3: Pay attention to your breathing. With your eyes focused on one spot, breathe in with awareness of your lungs and your diaphragm. As you inhale, say to yourself, "In." Exhale from your lungs and then your abdomen, saying to yourself, "Out." Do this each time you breathe.

Step 4: Be aware. As you focus your awareness on your breath in and out, you're likely to experience many mental distractions. Rather than judge yourself and become discouraged simply observe any disruptive thoughts, feelings or sensations and set them aside. The purpose of this exercise is to train the mind to be still and focused. Another suggestion is to listen to a meditation CD to help you stay centered. For instance, click on the link to download and experiment with two sample meditations from my CDs Wise Mind, Open Heart and Mindful Meditations for Creative Transformation.

Step 5: Slowly come back into ordinary consciousness. Once you start to feel restless bring yourself back by rubbing the palms of your hands together. Inhale and exhale deeply, open your eyes and stretch. As you practice this technique you'll start to be able to sit for longer periods, but be patient with yourself.

Mindfulness practice seems to ground restless people, transforming their energy from a chaotic, even manic discharge to a more focused and heightened exuberance that then can be channeled into productivity. It's important to become adept at slowing down the rush of mind flow so you can better distinguish between core creative flow and mere mental distraction. In addition to meditation there are other techniques that people with ADHD can do to help them manage their symptoms, such as regular exercise, especially yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi; a diet that is low in stimulating foods like sugar, processed foods, alcohol and coffee; creating lists to help keep them focused; not giving themselves too many choices, and listening when other people are talking thus avoiding speaking too quickly.

 
 
 

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