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Living Simply | Mindfulness

How to Meditate When You Have ADHD and Can’t Sit Still

How to Meditate When You Have ADHD and Can’t Sit Still

The following are tips and tricks for how to meditate when you have ADHD with hyperactivity.

Most people with ADHD will give meditation a try, find it too hard, and give up before they start to see any benefits. They declare that meditation does not work for them and that’s the end of the story. The following strategies will show you how to meditate when you have ADHD in a way that makes it easier to stick with it.

I have both hyperactive and inattentive ADHD, so both sitting still and focusing are extra challenging for me. However, I have experienced success using the methods described in this post. Hopefully, they can be helpful to you as well.

Is meditation worth the effort?

In my last post, “Can Meditation Help With ADHD?”, we discussed why it is so important for those with ADHD to take meditation seriously. Those of us with ADHD have even more to gain from practicing meditation regularly than neurotypical minds do.

Amongst the many other benefits, meditation can actually help hone the same executive functioning skills that are often affected by ADHD. It also improves the ability to focus, thereby improving overall productivity.

Meditation is most certainly worth the effort, so let’s talk about how to meditate when you have ADHD – and do it successfully.

For starters, there is no perfect way to meditate. But there but there are some things you can do to get more out of your meditation sessions. For most of us busy-minded people, the idea of sitting still for 20 minutes each day sounds excruciatingly painful. And not thinking about anything during that time sounds downright impossible.

Stack of meditation stones on the beach.

Start small.

If meditating for 20 minutes seems completely unrealistic, start with just 3 to 5 minutes and work your way up. By doing this, you will be setting a less daunting and more achievable goal. You can work up to meditating longer as you get better at it.

If you decided to start running for fitness you probably wouldn’t set out to run ten miles your first time out. This would be a recipe for failure. Instead, you would want to start with a short run and work your way up.  Meditation is much the same way.

Believe it or not, even if you only manage to meditate consistently for short intervals, say 3 to 5 minutes, you will still experience benefits! So it’s still totally worth it even if you never get to the point where you are meditating for 30 minutes every day.

Making it a habit is key.

Just creating the routine of practicing meditation is important because you will be creating the muscle memory to keep performing that habit and that’s half the battle. Even if you are only meditating for a few minutes each day you will be reinforcing that habit by doing so.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits states that creatingGateway habitslike exercising or meditating for just a few minutes of a day helps solidify that habit to make it easier to perform with less effort. Once you’ve created the habit of meditating daily at the same time each day, you’ll be on your way to sticking with it.

If sitting still is too hard, try walking meditation instead.

If you struggle with sitting still, try meditation in action instead. This can be just as beneficial as the sitting method. While I practice both types of meditation, I find that meditating while doing a simple task like walking or washing dishes is easier than having to sit still. Try both methods and see which works best for you.

This is how action meditation works, using walking as an example, as you walk, focus on the present moment. Try not to think about anything else other than what you are seeing, feeling, and hearing as you take each step.  When your mind wanders, (and it will) notice the thought and gently bring your mind back to the present moment.  

As I practice this type of meditation while walking in nature, I repeatedly notice my mind wandering off, and I bring it back again and again. Rather than engaging with the thought, I let it go and go back to concentrating on how the leaves sound as I step on them or on the birds chirping in the trees.

Don’t think about the past and don’t worry about the future, just stay focused intentionally on what you are doing right now. Try not to get frustrated when you notice your mind wandering because this is natural. It’s also the point of meditating.

Only experienced master meditators such as yogis can suspend their thoughts for long periods. You can practice walking meditation while doing any simple activity that takes minimal thought. Try it while you are doing dishes, showering, or folding laundry.  But don’t try it while driving.

It’s the NOTICING OF YOUR THOUGHTS that counts.

When meditating, it’s not how long you can stay focused that matters, it’s the process of bringing your mind back. Forget being able to stay perfectly focused throughout your walk, that won’t happen.  But what’s important, is the effort your brain puts forth in trying.

Meditation cultivates more awareness of your thoughts, and as a result, you gain more control over them. When this happens you can put more space between you and that judgmental voice that is endlessly chattering inside your head.

We are not our thoughts, however, most people are unaware of this. Meditation allows us to gain awareness of and put some space between ourselves and our thoughts. Once you can step outside the voice, you begin to view it differently than before – as separate from yourself.

Why meditation works.

Studies at UCLA have shown that meditation improves attention and concentration skills. Using brain scans, researchers found that the meditators’ brains had a thicker prefrontal cortex (PFC). This is the part of your brain involved in focus, planning, and impulse control. What you’re doing when practicing meditation is noticing when your mind wanders.

As you bring it back into focus, you are strengthening your ability to self-regulate. In other words, you’re gaining more control over your thoughts. What you are doing is strengthening your brain’s ability to concentrate on one thing. You’re also teaching yourself to recognize your thoughts.

Once you can do this, you can transfer this awareness to other parts of your life. As you get better at noticing that you have drifted away, you also get better at bringing yourself back into focus. Meditation helps us hone our concentration skills, which transfer over to other daily tasks. It sharpens our ability to focus and stay on task. This contributes to our feeling more in control and organized overall.

Stopping your thoughts completely for a long period is not the goal. Learning to practice meditation perfectly is not the goal. It’s the process of correcting and redirecting your thoughts that counts. 

Girl with too many thoughts.

Meditation also turns down the noise.

In Yoga, this process of concentration meditation, where the object being focused upon is held in the mind is described as Dharana.  The mind thinking about one object and avoiding all other thoughts.Doing that repetitive process in your head again and again regardless of whether you are walking or sitting is the process of concentration meditation.

As my thoughts are stopped and I am focused entirely on the present, this is when I notice a momentary feeling of peace and stillness. It’s almost as if my brain is resting. Our brains are so busy thinking, thinking, thinking, all day long, it does us much good to be able to put our minds to rest for a bit.

I like to compare this to the feeling you get at the beach standing in the water and the waves are crashing all around you. If you duck underneath the water to dodge a wave, instantly everything is quiet and calm under the surface.

Any anxiety and worry are extinguished for a little while and we can just be still and peaceful for a few minutes. What’s more, all negative voices are silenced as well.

Tips to make sitting meditation easier.

In addition to shortening your sessions, There are some other things you can do to make sitting meditation easier for yourself. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit. It does not have to be in the Lotus position. Focus on your breath or meditative music.  Nature sounds work well too

You can also focus on the energy you feel in a part of your body like your hands. Doing this draws you away from your inner thoughts and redirects your attention to the physical world.

I like to listen to the sound of Tibetan bells. As I focus intently on the sounds of the bells, I wait for a thought to show up. When I notice the thought, I say the word STOP in my mind and I let the thought go. Then I redirect my focus back to the bells.

Noticing your thoughts but not engaging with them is key.

The important part of this process is to stop engaging with the thought once you notice that you’re having it. Push it away and go back to focusing on whatever you were placing your attention on before…your breath, hands, the music, or perhaps the sounds of nature if you are sitting outside.

Each time you notice a thought and redirect your brain back you are strengthening a muscle in your brain. You are also becoming more aware of the thoughts floating around in your head.

A few words of encouragement.

I’m not going to lie, meditation is hard at first, especially if you are antsy like me, but just like riding a bike, the more you practice, the easier it gets. In the beginning, noticing our thoughts is an extremely challenging task. These voices have been in our heads since early childhood and we’ve been mostly unaware of them for most of our lives

Believe it or not, some people find meditation to be so blissful once they can stop their thoughts for short intervals, that they can’t wait to meditate each day. They crave the blissful moments of peace they experience. This is when you know meditation is working for you.

Other tools to help make meditation easier:

If you want to learn more about how meditation can help with ADHD and how to do it successfully, read The Mindfulness Prescription by Dr. Lidia Zylowska. She educates readers with ADHD on how they can use mindful awareness and meditation to work with their challenges.

You may also find it helpful to use a guided meditation app such as Headspace or Calm to support you as you practice. 

Though there is a substantial cost associated with it, you might try Muse.   Amazingly, this is a smart headband that gives you real-time feedback while meditating. The sensors can sense when your mind is distracted and use audio cues to help guide you back to a calm state.

While there is really no right or wrong way to meditate, it helps you better monitor how your brain is responding. You can obviously meditate without this tool, but it does act as a guide offering you feedback to stay motivated if you are struggling.

Establishing the habit of meditating and doing it consistently is key to reaping the many rewards that meditation has to offer. Don’t forget to go back and read my previous post where I share the many benefits that meditation has to offer for those with ADHD.  

This post may contain affiliate links. I may receive a commission, at no cost to you, when you choose to use the links provided. See my privacy policy for more information.

The Simple Daisy Organizing

Laura Coufal

About Laura

Who I am is a Southern California turned small-town, Midwest Mom. I am wife to Bruce and mom to my three girls. I am also dog mom to Ollie and Gracie, our quirky pups.

With a B.A. degree in Psychology, I have several years experience working with families and seniors. I believe in a holistic view to organizing. Clearing our minds of the clutter and chaos in our lives is just as important as clearing our physical clutter. By taking a holistic approach to organizing, we can make lasting change.

Back when I first started my professional organizing journey in 2013, I had what I thought of as a dirty little secret. I have ADHD and although I am organized, and enjoy the process of sorting, and tidying. I knew that there were many others with ADHD who really struggled with staying organized. I had a case of imposter syndrome and mostly kept the fact that I had ADHD to myself. That is until I learned that there are other successful professional organizers who have also learned to compensate for their ADHD the same way that I have.

I eventually realized that my need for order and simplicity actually stems from having ADHD as a way to compensate for my short attention span. So my gifts and my challenges are all ironically tied together to create who I am,  and I am able to relate to and help others as a result of this coping method that I have developed for myself.

I also help those without ADHD, who struggle with too much clutter.  Because simplicity and less clutter are always at the heart of staying organized, there is much overlap when it comes to finding solutions to clutter and disorganization.

I am dedicated to keeping my life as simple as possible and to helping others do the same by teaching them how to declutter their homes, simplify their lives, and manage their busy families better.

I have been helping others stay organized since 2013.

It is my deepest hope that you will find resources here that will bring you closer to living a simpler, more intentional, and more peaceful life.

Want Room-By-Room Guidance with Decluttering and Organizing Your Home?

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