Meditating When You Have ADHD
Both of my sons have ADHD. Their father also has it, and for many years, I jokingly blamed it entirely on him that my sons have it. But in the last few years I have come to realize, though I have no formal diagnosis, that it is very likely they get it from me as well. Mine is much tamer in severity, but I’m pretty sure it’s there.
There is often a question of how to meditate when you have ADHD. When you struggle to pay attention, sit still, and not give in to every impulse that crosses your mind, it can seem like meditating would be an impossible task.
But it’s not.
While your meditation may look very different because of your ADHD, you absolutely can meditate and see the benefits of it. Here’s how.
Accept it will be a different experience
The first step is accepting that it will be a different experience. This is a two-fold process.
First, you need to accept that meditation will be a different experience than what you’re used to. It is a process of sitting still, remaining quiet, exploring your mind, and focusing on something that may feel rather boring to you. Accepting and understanding this will help you prepare for the experience itself.
Second, you need to accept that your meditation may look and feel very different than the meditations other people tell you they experience. While others may describe some transcendent experience, with lots of peace and relaxation and concentration on the breath or a mantra, yours may be more energized, stimulating and possibly feel a little less fulfilling.
This doesn’t mean that it’s not a success. The mere fact that you sat down and meditated, regardless of how it looked, makes it a success.
If you have ADHD, sitting down to meditate for an hour is setting yourself up for failure. Can you get there one day? It’s entirely possible. But doing it right out of the gate? Certain failure.
Be realistic in your goals for meditation.
It’s fine to have plans for what you hope to do in the future, but you need to start with a solid foundation, and that begins with keeping things simple and easy.
You might only meditate for a minute, or five minutes, but that’s an excellent starting point and you should be proud of yourself for that. It might seem small, but it’s a great starting point that you can build from.
But your expectations are more than just how long you meditate. They’re also about what you hope to gain from meditating.
You can’t expect meditation to cure your ADHD. You shouldn’t expect a total turnaround in your ability to pay attention, sit still, or control your impulses. It will help, certainly, but over time and probably only to a certain degree.
Limit the length
As I mentioned in the previous section, you might want to meditate for only a minute or five. You can increase it from there as you feel comfortable. In the beginning, though, it’s best to start short.
By limiting the length, you decrease the chances of feeling like you’ve failed because you didn’t manage to meditate for the entire time you originally planned.
I usually recommend starting with five minutes. If that feels good and you manage it with no trouble, increase it to ten after a few days. From there, you can gradually increase to 20–30 minutes as you feel comfortable.
But you should also never feel pressured to increase the length. If you feel good at five or ten minutes, and you don’t want to meditate for longer, then stick with that.
Choose meditations that work with your ADHD
Meditating in total silence or with nature sounds or background music, though soothing, may not be the best option if you have ADHD.
A guided meditation, whether with imagery or simply a voice reminding you to focus on your breathing, may work better for those with ADHD. While it might seem that having an outside source of direction defeats the purpose of meditation, in this case, it’s actually very helpful.
This outside source will help keep you on track when your mind wanders off on its own. This outside source will ensure that you get back on track before your meditation session is over, rather than realizing when it’s finished that you didn’t actually meditate at all.
Pair meditation with activity
When the hyper part of your ADHD is in overdrive, pairing your meditation with some physical activity is a great way to make meditation work for you.
Walking meditations can be good for this. You can simply choose a spot where you can walk freely back and forth, outdoors or indoors. Or you can try walking on a treadmill.
Lifting weights is another great activity that can incorporate meditation.
Yoga, of course, is the ideal activity to combine with meditation.
Running or jogging, swimming, and a bike ride are all also good options. Of course, with each of these options, you do need to ensure that you are in a safe location where you can let go of any focus on traffic, etc.
Ideally, whatever you choose should be something solitary, fairly repetitive, and that doesn’t require a lot of thought or keeping score. Football and baseball, for example, would be bad choices because of the team aspect. Even a batting cage may not be a good idea because you’ll be focused when the next ball is coming — unless you make that your meditation.
Time it right
When my kids were younger, one of the most frustrating things for all of us was homework. By the time they got home from school, their medication was wearing off and their ability to focus was totally shot. Homework was often a time of tears and annoyance, and there were many days when I gave up or they begged me not to make them do any more work.
If you don’t time your meditation right, you could find meditation turns into our homework situation.
Before you start meditating, take a few days to try to pay a little more attention to your day. When do you feel most alert and awake? When do you feel the most calm and relaxed — even if that time isn’t really calm and relaxed? When are you most easily distracted? When do you struggle the most to get things done?
Use this information to decide when the best time to meditate for you is. You want to meditate at a time when you can most easily (even if it is still difficult) wrangle your attention and when you’re less likely to get frustrated and want to give up. If you take medication for your ADHD, you’ll want to make sure your meditation happens while your meds are still effective, not when they’re wearing off or have worn off.
In some ways, this may be the most important part of meditating when you have ADHD. Be forgiving when it doesn’t go according to plan.
Meditation can help increase concentration and focus, improve memory, increase impulse control, and calm and soothe the mind and body. These are all things that people with ADHD can benefit greatly from.
But the catch-22 here is that while your ADHD could benefit from those things, it’s your ADHD that can often stop you from benefiting. You might struggle every time you meditate, or you might find that you meditate a handful of times with no problem and suddenly you struggle again.
However it happens, be forgiving. Be understanding. Acknowledge that this is what happens with ADHD. Realize that this does not mean there is anything wrong with you, and that your struggle does not mean that you are a failure, that you can’t meditate, or that you aren’t seeing any benefits from meditating.
Meditation can help as long you’re open
The biggest key to meditating when you have ADHD is being open. Open to trying new styles, new ways, new meditations. Open to whatever happens during your session. Open to feeling the benefits even if they aren’t as strong as you hoped or the ones you were expecting.
Be open to help, too. If you need to hire a teacher, attend some classes, or ask a friend who meditates to give you some guidance, do it! It’s worth it to keep looking for new tips, tricks, and ideas to make your meditation practice work for you.