Mindfulness is fast becoming a popular tool to help with everyday stress and conditions such as anxiety and depression. So, can it help those with ADHD? We ask psychotherapist and mindfulness coach Stacey Camacho to find out more.
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What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the present moment, with a non- judgmental attitude. In mindfulness, you are aware of your emotional triggers and responses, thus being able to feel more in control and learning how to respond intentionally and skillfully.
Does mindfulness help ADHD and is there any evidence to support it?
Neuroscience research reveals that mindfulness helps those with symptoms of ADHD. Research confirms the ability of mindfulness practice to change brain structure and brain functioning. It can result in the thickening of the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain involved in focus, planning, decision-making, and impulse control. It also increases the brain's level of dopamine, which is in short supply in those with ADHD. Mindfulness works with the brain’s neuroplasticity and develops new connections with other parts of the brain including those linked with executive functioning and emotional regulation.
Several pieces of research have found support that mindfulness can improve:
- emotional regulation
- social skills
- working memory
- calmness and relaxation
- quality of sleep
- test anxiety
- conduct and anger management problems
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What are the challenges people with ADHD may have trying to do mindfulness exercises?
Mindfulness interventions need to be tailored for those with ADHD, due to their difficulties in attention and being still. Therefore, it is important to do introduce mindfulness at the right pace for the individual; some will require shorter stillness sessions and will need intervals between movement and stillness. Patients can also practice mindfulness while they engage with mundane activities such as tying shoelaces and eating for example. Mindfulness can also be applied to activities they enjoy - walking or playing a game.
Visual aids and art are beneficial for patients with ADHD because they tend to be visual learners. For example, they can paint a picture of a blue sky to represent the clarity of awareness, we add clouds to represent all the thoughts and add color and images to represent their feelings. I observe their paintings (minds) without interpretation or judgment and encourage them to do so as well.
If someone with ADHD is particularly hyperactive how do you get them started with mindfulness?
The goal is to teach them a sense of control over their body while in movement. Your aim is to help them become aware of the impulse to fidget and practice the skills that help them be still. For example, you can use excess energy through mindfulness of movement activities such as yoga or specific breathing exercises that calm the nervous system in the body. Any mindfulness of body exercise including a body scan is a great way to start as their focus of attention is on their body and staying still. I practice this with adults and kids and they enjoy it as they develop the skills to have more control over their bodily impulses.
Can you recommend any useful tools to help people get started with mindfulness?
- Headspace is an app with guided mindfulness exercises
- Mindfulness - The Eight-Week Meditation Programme for a Frantic World
 Burke, C.A. (2010). Mindfulness-Based Approaches with Children and Adolescents: A Preliminary Review of Current Research in an Emergent Field.
 Zylowska L, Ackerman DL, Yang MH, Futrell JL, Horton NL, Hale TS, Pataki C, Smalley SL. (2008). Mindfulness meditation training in adults and adolescents with ADHD: a feasibility study. Journal of Attention Disorders. 11(6):737-46. Epub 2007 Nov 19. Saskia van der Oord, Susan M. Bögels, Dorreke Peijnenburg (2012). The Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training for Children with ADHD and Mindful Parenting for their Parents. Journal of Child and Family Studies. Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 139–147