Making Mindfulness Part of Your Life: Insights from an Adult with ADHD

By Lidia Zylowska MD

ZylowskaLidia Zylowska, MD is psychiatrist specializing in adult ADD/ADHD, mindfulness-based approaches and integrative psychiatry. Co-founding member of UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, Dr. Zylowska led the development of the MAPs for ADHD program and authored The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD book.

UCSD Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute is Book_zylowska_100pxnow offering Mindfulness for ADHD: Training for Adults, Parents and Professionals. The training will take place August 7-10, 2014 at Earthrise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. The training is a retreat-version of the 8-week MAPs for ADHD that my colleagues and I originally developed at UCLA. The training is open to all touched by ADHD: adults with ADHD and their spouses, parents of ADHD children, therapist or teachers that work with ADHD individuals. If that’s you, we hope you’ll join us for this gradual, ADD-friendly introduction to mindfulness. Please click here for more information or to register.

Preparing for the training, I recently posed several questions about mindfulness to Jon Krop, an adult living with ADHD. Jon has been practicing mindfulness for a long time and I wanted him to share his experience. Here are his answers which also highlight the fact that we each have to find ‘what works’ in keeping mindfulness in our lives.

Q: How do you think mindfulness (or meditation) helps with ADHD?

Distraction used to carry me off before I could even acknowledge what was happening. I’d be working on a project, and then before I knew it I’d be fifteen minutes deep in a Wikipedia black hole or surfing through random blogs. The process of distraction seemed to move too fast, with too much momentum, for me to intervene. Meditation has helped me with that. Not always, but decently often, I can spot the impulse to indulge in a distraction the moment it arises and before I reflexively act on it. It feels as if I have an extra second to decide what to do. Even when I don’t catch it that early, I catch myself earlier than I would have before I started my meditation practice.

Along those same lines of having an “extra second” to decide how to act, I feel that meditation has helped me think more before I speak. I used to say unintentionally hurtful things, only to regret it an instant after the words were out of my mouth. I didn’t have a filter — or I guess I had one, but it was too slow-acting to do its job. Now it feels like there’s a bit more space between the urge to speak arising and the words pouring out of my mouth, and I actually have a chance to reflect on whether or not I want to say what I’m about to say.

In general, there’s a feeling of increased clarity and control. I see the contents of my mind — impulses, emotions, thoughts, etc — much more distinctly, like they’re laid out neatly on a workspace in front of me instead of being a sort of murk clouding up my head. And where once my thoughts, impulses, etc would immediately grab me and sort of take possession of me, now I have that extra bit of space that lets me decide how I want to act and which emotions, impulses, etc I want to engage with.

Also, I generally just feel happier and more at ease. I didn’t realize how tense and jittery I felt all the time until I started meditating regularly and those feelings began to subside. My moment-to-moment experience is more peaceful and relaxed, with a sense that everything is basically fine.

Q: How do you think having ADHD has influenced your meditation practice?

I may have a harder-than-average time with the discipline of maintaining a daily practice. It took a lot of years to finally lock that down. Also, I’ve experienced doubts and fears about whether my ADHD will limit my ability to meditate, to progress along the path and experience the full benefits, etc. So far these doubts seem totally baseless, but I’ve had to face and overcome those beliefs so that they don’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Q: Any advice for those for those with ADHD who are new to mindfulness/meditation?

1. Sticking to a daily practice is hard for everyone, and it’s probably even harder for us, but it’s really important. Here’s what’s worked for me:

-I wake up at a set time every morning and immediately meditate, before doing anything else. I have to be really strict about this. If I wake up late or do anything else first — breakfast, a workout, checking my phone — I have trouble getting myself to sit. But when I follow this rule, it’s almost effortless. Not sure why, but that’s how it is.

-If I absolutely can’t meditate first thing in the morning, and the resistance to sitting arises, I have a backup strategy: I shrink the length of the session in my head until I hit a level I don’t feel resistance to. Like, “Could I do 15 minutes? No, I feel resistance, I’m not gonna do it. Okay, what about 10? Still too long, the thought puts me off. Okay, 5? Huh, I don’t feel resistance to that. I feel like I can sit for 5.” I’d much rather sit for a short time, and keep the momentum of my meditation habit, than not sit at all.

2. Do a retreat as soon as you can, whether it’s ten days, or a week, or a weekend, or a day, or whatever you feel ready for. With daily practice alone, it might take a little time for the benefits of meditation to really show themselves (for me, it took a couple weeks). It can be a challenge to stay disciplined and put in daily work for a reward you haven’t experienced yet. You can skip that by doing a short period of intense practice and tasting the benefits right away. That should fire you up for the daily practice.

For More Information and to register for Mindfulness for ADHD: earthriseTraining for Adults, Parents and Professionals, August 7-10, 2014 at Earthrise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA., please visit the UCSD Professional Training Institute website.

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