Connecting to Your Body to Cope with ADHD
Adults with ADHD commonly have an uncomfortable or combative relationship with their bodies. According to psychiatrist Lidia Zylowska, MD, in her book The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD, adults with hyperactivity might get frustrated with their restlessness. Adults with inattention might get frustrated with their sinking energy. Many adults with ADHD also neglect their basic needs, such as eating and getting enough sleep.
In The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD Dr. Zylowska walks readers through cultivating a compassionate and curious relationship with your body. (She also shares a mindfulness-based program for strengthening your attention, managing emotions and effectively navigating other ADHD challenges.)
Below are four techniques from the book. Specifically, these techniques can help you tune into your body to identify your needs and then respond to them. They can help you boost your energy, calm restlessness and sharpen your focus.
- Body scan.
Slowing down and pausing can help you listen to your body and identify what it needs. This is especially important for adults with ADHD, because between distractions and daily demands, many ignore their body’s signals. For instance, you might not realize that you’re exhausted. You might not realize that you’re experiencing pain because you’re going, going, going.
As Zylowska writes, “The body is a source of deep self-knowledge.” One way to access that knowledge is by practicing a body scan. This technique involves gradually moving your attention to different parts of your body – from head to toe. To try this, listen to this body scan or this one.
- Mindful walking.
This meditation focuses on the sensations of moving your feet. You can wear shoes or go barefoot. Stand with your feet together. Keep your eyes open. Lift one leg, and start walking. Label this movement as “lifting and placing.” Or just observe the movement, and don’t label it. “As you walk, notice the sensations of your feet touching the ground, especially the placement of the ball of the foot and the shift in weight felt there.
”When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your feet. “Remember that by returning to your intention, you are training your attention.” Take a step backward and notice how this feels.
Zylowska also suggests combining walking meditation with your imagination to help you solidify your ability to move in other areas of your life. She shares these examples: If you have a hard time starting tasks, think of moving your foot forward and placing it on the ground as a symbol of being proactive. If you have a hard time with transitions and letting go, think of lifting the heel of your foot as a symbol of leaving things behind.
- Shaking and dancing meditation.
According to Zylowska, this is an active meditation from Kundalini yoga. It helps to release stress or restlessness and boost your body’s energy. She notes that it might feel silly at first but encourages readers to stick with this helpful practice.
First prepare a playlist that has: one to two minutes of silence so you can get ready for the meditation; five minutes of rhythmic music you can shake to; and three to five minutes of music that makes you want to dance. Start by placing your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly. Relax your neck and shoulders. Take several deep breaths. Close your eyes, or keep them slightly open.
When the music starts, shake your whole body. “Feel the energy moving up from your feet to your shoulders and your head.” Let yourself become the shaking. Even if you become bored or tired, keep going until the music ends. When there’s a pause, refocus on your breathing and physical sensations. When the dance music starts, let your body move in any way it wants to. If you’re feeling silly, acknowledge this. And keep moving. When the music stops, stand, sit or lie down quietly. Lastly, “notice your breathing and your body as you relax.”
- Exploring restlessness.
Zylowska notes that adults with ADHD often describe restlessness as a very uncomfortable feeling (and even almost painful). It’s a feeling they want to get rid of right away. Eliminating or avoiding your restlessness might not be possible. But you can limit your suffering by adjusting your perspective.
As she writes, “In mindfulness, it is often said that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional … Our attitude and relationship to the discomfort can make a huge difference in what we experience.”For example, if you’re restless, over-identifying with your discomfort by saying “I am restless” only makes you feel worse. So does spinning a negative story about the discomfort, such as “This will never end,” or “I am powerless.”
Instead Zylowska suggests getting curious about the sensation of restlessness. Notice the different sensations in your body. Describe them in your mind by using neutral terms, such as “a buzzing energy” or “the urge to move.” Avoid saying “my” or “I am.” Note any thoughts or feelings, such as “I can’t stand this!” Know that you can watch these reactions without acting on them.
After you’ve explored the restless sensations, refocus on your breath or the sounds around you (or anything that’s neutral). Focus on this for as long as you like. “Then check in to the sensation of restlessness again, with curiosity.”
ADHD may make it really hard to listen to your body. It also might make it feel like your body is battling against you — the restless energy, fatigue and overall discomfort. The key is to be compassionate and curious. Experiment with the above practices. Try other activities such as yoga, tai chi, dancing, running, and anything else that sounds like fun to you (in addition to your ADHD treatment).
Woman dancing photo available from Shutterstock
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Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Connecting to Your Body to Cope with ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/connecting-to-your-body-to-cope-with-adhd/