Meditation + for Adult ADD
September 20, 2013 5:32 PM   Subscribe

I was recently diagnosed with ADD. (I am a 35 yr old adult male if that helps.) I had a hunch before as I have had years of anxiety and impulsiveness that has morphed to anger bursts. I am on the path to seeing a counselor for behavior/organizing modification but not yet on meds for ADD. In the meantime and for lifestyle choice, I am looking for any input on meditation techniques for those who have very busy minds. I have been practicing breath counting on a 4-2-6 count for 30 days and seem to be more distracted than ever though it worked for a little while. I know persisting in meditation with one way is helpful and am not expecting nirvana but a slower pace in thinking and talk would be helpful. (For what its worth, I do exercise 3 times a week with weights, slow stretch, and eat very healthy.) If you want to share any other things such as books, blogs, or sites, I am open to whatever, too. In closing, I will state that I am on an anxiety med and to take the ADD med I would have to titrate off that for 4 months, which I am willing to do though is scary. Life is good but it has been a bit harder and harder.
posted by snap_dragon to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Try alternate nostril breathing, it helps to have something to do with your hands. Your exhale should be 2x the count of your inhale.
posted by elizardbits at 5:36 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Busy brain here. I'm not terribly diligent with my meditation practice, but when I'm doing it having some kind of ambient music helps to ground me.
posted by justjess at 5:43 PM on September 20, 2013

Best answer: Google Jon Cabot Zinn & mindfulness based stress reduction
posted by Pressed Rat at 5:44 PM on September 20, 2013

Why would you have to stop taking whatever you're taking for anxiety? I'm being treated for both, no med interference. In fact, the stimulants for ADHD actually helped my anxiety but I needed a bit more so I'm on a benzo too.

Just saying, make sure you learn about all of the medication options.

And as for the actual question, while meditation has certainly been good for me, it hasn't really done anything over time for either condition, but has been helpful in the worst moments as a coping mechanism. Plain breathing sitting meditation never works because my brain won't shut up, but chanting brings enough focus. Or walking meditation. Or even guided meditation.
posted by monopas at 5:53 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recite mantras (not outloud). I struggle with completely quieting myself, so mantras are like training wheels.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 6:01 PM on September 20, 2013

Having a busy mind is not necessarily a barrier to mindfulness. The key is not to struggle against the busyness; instead, simply notice that it is there.

Meditation is kind of like weightlifting for the brain. You wouldn't go to the gym and expect to hold heavy weights above your head for 20 minutes. Instead, you lift what you can, knowing that you will inevitably have to set the weights down again. Lowering the weights is not a failure; it is an opportunity for you to lift them them again. Over time, you will gain the strength to lift heavier weights or to hold them up for longer.

Attention is just the same. Your mind will wander. That's what minds do. The point is not to stop it from wandering but to notice where it goes and gently escort it back to the breath. If you do this over and over again, your attentional function will become stronger, but it takes time. Persevere gently with it the same way you would when starting an exercise program.

You may wish to look into taking a course in MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy). It's a structured 8-week course which teaches mindfulness from a secular therapeutic perspective. The courses are usually run by psychologists so if you have insurance it may even be covered under group therapy. Learning in a group can help keep you motivated and it's nice to have support around if you hit a rough patch. Good luck!
posted by embrangled at 6:27 PM on September 20, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: For sites/online tools, I recommend They have a website with a seven part study series on meditation, all just a few minutes long (maybe 5?)

Once you've gone through those, they have guided and unguided meditations of 2 up to 25 minutes, so you can pick the duration you want.

They also have an app. I use it a lot.
posted by sweetkid at 6:33 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I second that you may be able to get a med combo that will work for your ADHD plus anxiety. I've been put on two non-stimulant meds that are OK for ADHD while on something else for anxiety (Wellbutrin, Strattera.)

I got a lot of good answers to my question about ADHD back in 2011, and most still apply. My favorite authors on ADHD are Sari Solden and Edward Hallowell. Spending time in nature helps a lot for me.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 6:40 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @monopas - the clonazapam, to my recall of the doc, can cloud thinking a bit and thus produce attention deficit issues (not hyperactivity but more the problem of not being able to focus and have somewhat muddled thinking) and to her explanation is not so great for long-term reliance as the older one gets it gets clustered in the brain (my wording) and there is some relationship to dementia and long-term use of that. I have been on it for 9 years regularly when I used to only have to take it intermittently. So, in my opinion, I am a bit hooked. (So 2 separate issues - cloudedness, and not ADD-related long term reliance causing issues). For the record, I am on Pristiq which I would still be on, which I wasn't very clear at all about in the opening explanation.
posted by snap_dragon at 6:41 PM on September 20, 2013

Response by poster: @Fee - That was very useful info for me (both links and authors). I am in a nice climate so that rocks it even more.
posted by snap_dragon at 6:42 PM on September 20, 2013

Best answer: Mindfulness meditation is awesome for building concentration and getting a distractible mind a little less busy. The actual practice itself will help you build the skills to do the practice. One of the most simple methods is breath awareness. If you want to you can say in your brain, "breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out" ad infinitum (I think that one's from Thich Nhat Hanh) and try to return to thinking that if you start thinking something else. I started by meditating in five minute increments once a day and built up to an hour over a very long time.

You can try walking meditation if you are active. You can focus on the sensations in your feet while walking slowly back and forth in an area of a few feet (if you don't mind looking silly to onlookers or doing so in private). For each step you concentrate on the sensations in your feet and can say to yourself, "lifting, placing" for each step. It's usually pretty pleasant. I would mix it with breath awareness too if you do this.

Also, there are lots of guided meditations on if you need something external to get you going.
posted by mermily at 6:44 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have ADHD and try to practice meditation. One technique that's worked for me when it feels like nothing can stem the tide is basically to switch between meditation techniques. I have two that I switch between:

1. Focussing on my breathing, with or without counting. Sometimes counting is easier, but not always -- depending on my mood, screwing up the count can end up frustrating me in a way that's hard to recover from. That might be something to try in and of itself.

2. Focussing on sense details. Things like tracing the cracks in concrete, watching the way that leaves sway in the breeze, and acknowledging and then pushing aside any conscious thoughts that arise (like "that's beautiful" or "there are three of those" and so forth).

On good days I can just pick one of those methods and roll with it, but on bad days I've learned that trying to force myself to stick with one method is counter-productive. When I notice that I just can't stop buzzing, I switch from one method to the other, and when I notice that it's still going I switch again. It doesn't always work, but when it does I think it's partly because occupying myself with the switching combined with the novelty of the switch keeps the part of my brain busy that would otherwise occupy itself with thoughts of how this just isn't working and damnit that car is passing way too close that cyclist and do I need to go the hardware store this afternoon and so on. Eventually, my mind settles down and I can get into the groove of one method or the other. Hope that helps.
posted by invitapriore at 6:52 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

So there is awareness practice and concentration practice and both are components of mindfulness. I would use any concentration practice -- a mantra practice like lovingkindness, for example -- which is really good for focusing an unconcentrated mind. It focuses your mind and gives it something to hang its proverbial hat on while it is jumping around from place to place. Any Zen practice would work.

See e.g. The Journey of Awakening, by Ram Dass
posted by janey47 at 12:38 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband has pretty severe ADHD and anxiety. I think the combination is really common. He has taken Adderall, Vyvanse, and Concerta at different times, while on Lexapro for anxiety. He's also taken Zoloft, though he discontinued that for non-ADHD-related reasons. He has a prescription for Xanax, which he takes when he has severe anxiety or panic attacks. All of these are coordinated through the same psychiatrist, as part of his ADHD management. (He also has a Lunesta prescription, but you didn't ask about insomnia.)

He has done various meditation techniques, and I think likes Jon Kabat Zinn best. He also enjoys in-person meditation sessions/dharma talks through the local UU church. But the thing that helped him most was using a NeuroSky Mindwave biofeedback device while playing online meditation "games." He'd put on the headset, and spend twenty or thirty minutes a night doing focused meditation of the "make the waves all change color" or "keep the ball levitating" type. Because there was something concrete (and gizmos!) to focus on, he found it much easier to stay engaged with it.
posted by instamatic at 2:06 AM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've mentioned this before I think, but Mindfulness by Williams and Penman is the book I've stuck with the longest. The audio tracks that go with it are free to download.

I have a form of autism which leads to a lot of anxiety and impulsiveness, myself. I have seen an improvement in daily living after sticking with the programme for a few months. It hasn't helped much with big spikes in anxiety, like giving presentations, so far, but it helps with the little things day to day. You might have to try a few different authors or audios, until you find one that clicks with you. I certainly had to! So don't get discouraged if the first few you try aren't quite right. There's every style available.
posted by danteGideon at 5:37 AM on September 21, 2013

Oh, in case you're interested, I use Inderal when I have extreme anxiety, and Modafinil for improving concentration, and they seem to work together fine. I am not a psychiatrist, though.
posted by danteGideon at 5:44 AM on September 21, 2013

I have adhd and use YogaVidya videos particularly the 20 min. one for relaxation. I have hard time with meditation even when on meds. But I have to confess that while I exercise nearly every day - finding time to do yoga/meditation has been more of challenge even though it's been recommended ad nauseum by my dr. Your question makes me think that resistance to meditation is more common in adhd people because the idea of just sitting still. I find it more relaxing to move while my husband could sit happily for hours doing nothing but watching the trees.
posted by lasamana at 6:24 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the clarification. But I think your doc is funny. My mother takes clonazepam and adderall together just fine. For years. With zoloft too. And wellbutrin. No brain clouding or worsening of the ADHD from the clonazepam. It was the last piece of the puzzle to help manage her anxiety with panic disorder when the poor quality of some generic zoloft was causing breakthrough episodes.

I'd start the stims, and then start tapering off the clonazepam very slowly after the first month, because the side effects of the stim should be wearing off by then. But that is just me.

My favorite psych meds info source: CrazyMeds

Basically, anxiety (depression) and ADHD together can be damn hard to treat, and in the n=2 of my mother and I, requires a clever and unusual cocktail of meds that sometimes makes pharmacists look at you funny. But it is worth it to keep trying until you find what works.
posted by monopas at 12:37 PM on September 21, 2013

How fortuitous! i just talked to my Zen teacher about almoat exactly this during a one-day meditation retreat yesterday!

You sound a lot like me (diagnosed with ADD which later turned out to be anxiety). I have been seriously practicing meditation for like 5-7 years now. Started with vipassana, made a lateral move into zazen mostly because there's a great Zen center 10 minutes from my house.

Here is my #1 super secret Guaranteed Success or Triple Your Money Back mediation tip: keep doing it. Keep doing it even, or especially, when it seems like it isn't "working". Because figuring out how to best deal with that part of your mind that is bitching, "This isn't working! I am not satisfied yet!" is kind of the point.

Yesterday I told my teacher that even though my practice is unshakably strong and beneficial, I do have to confess that the mind has not really become much more quiet. Or rather, the volume has been turned down, but there's almost no silence. "There are still words there," she said, which is accurate. The words don't bother me, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't, like, Doing It Wrong. She let me know that that some people just have a wordy mind. Some people have minds particularly sensitive to emotions. Some people's are more sensitive to bodily sensations. But we all do the sme practice: notice and let go. This was a great relief and I'm really happy that I checked in with her.

So don't expect an empty, silent mind. You might end up with one, you might not. It's whatever. Just don't stop your practice, especially when you're not getting the results you want. Working with that might lead you to some interesting conclusions about the nature of wanting things, and either way, the benefits are still happening even if you don't immediately notice them.

Feel free to get in touch if you need any help. I am pretty devoted to this stuff (clearly) and have experience helping people new to the deal. Keep it up!
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 4:21 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure what you're expecting from sitting, but I think you're already there you just don't realize it.

You can find new methods to hyper focus; on an object, recite a mantra, just sit zazen style or a body scan, except no matter what new method you choose, at some juncture, you're going to get distracted again. Which is the point, or rather, noticing you're distracted is. It's in noticing distractions (wants/desires/needs/habits) and what you do with them is where the real work is.

There's an book Mindfulness for Beginners by Henepola Gunaratana that's worth reading and re-reading as needed. And, Insight Meditation is offering a online course that you might find beneficial, but they also have a repository of talks here that are worth listening to.
posted by redindiaink at 1:37 PM on September 27, 2013

I have two experiences with meditation that are worth sharing here, as a fellow ADHDer.

My first encounter with meditation—and its surprisingly usefulness—took place in Grade 9. I hadn't yet been diagnosed with ADHD, but I'd always had trouble with school. I was considered bright but also an "underachieving" student (gee, wonder why?). Even if I tried hard, I could never get anything above a 75% in Math and Science because I just couldn't concentrate enough to memorize or learn the material at hand. I went to an arts high school and specialized in Drama. It was our first class in Grade 9. For the first semester, our teacher always guided us through a meditation session before we did anything else. After two hours of Drama, I hauled my ass to Math class. Which I hated. I didn't really think much about the effect of meditation at the time and didn't realize how much it helped me until the end of the semester when I got my grades back. I had an 80%, or A- in Math. I almost cried because I'd never ever done so well in the subject before. I wasn't particularly good at doing the homework, but that meditation actually helped me a *lot* during the class to focus on what the teacher was saying, and that alone helped me do reasonably well at tests.

Even though the connection was clear, I didn't really think too much about it or consider pursuing meditation until much later in life. After being diagnosed and reading about how meditation can be therapeutic for ADHD, I tried it myself and could never really get into it. My damn ADHD got in the way, plus well, meditating by yourself as a novice is exceptionally difficult. I decided to try a meditation group. They were non-secular, though they based their practice on the Hare Krishna chanting mantra. After my first session, I felt like my head was buzzing, in a good way. It was a beautiful sensation. I had a personal training session an hour after that and my trainer was shocked at how focused I was doing the exercises.

Anyways, I just wanted to share my experiences and note how beneficial guided sessions can be. I'd highly recommend looking up groups in your town, and if they are an option, just try one session. It might make a world of a difference.
posted by Menomena at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2013

*secular, not non-secular. My bad.
posted by Menomena at 12:30 PM on October 4, 2013

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