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“It’s like a tightness in my chest,” I told my therapist, again and again. “Like anxiety, but for no reason.”
I struggle to relax. I often feel antsy and irritable. I don’t fidget, but I daydream. When I should be completing a task I find boring, I write poems instead. Frustratingly, I rarely finish those either.
My brain is constantly exploring five different paths at once—and it prioritizes each path as important. When shopping for clothes, I consider cut, fabric, comfortability, timeline to landfill, longevity of style, color, ethics of production, personal mood, potential outfits, and on and on until eventually, I exhaust myself to paralysis.
I was 27 years old when a psychiatrist first diagnosed me with adult ADHD. I was surprised. ADHD symptoms in adults look different from those of the stereotypical kid who can’t sit still in her seat.
Around that same time that I was diagnosed—by coincidence or fate—I bought a membership to a yoga studio. And yoga forged new neural pathways in my brain.
Research shows that mindfulness practices have long-term benefits on ADHD brains. Mindfulness can improve executive functioning (the cognitive skills that help us set goals, plan, and get things done), emotional regulation, and working memory. In other words, it can give us more control over our attention and our emotions.
If you have an attention-evasive brain like mine, there are some practices that you might find beneficial for managing symptoms of ADHD.
In yoga, there is a practice called sankalpa. Some teachers might refer to sankalpas as intentions, but I have learned that it is more like convictions.
We state convictions daily, though we’re not always aware. We repeat phrases to ourselves, becoming what we tell ourselves we are. Unfortunately, our convictions aren’t always positive. For those with ADHD, negative convictions could sound like: I’m always distracted. I’m unreliable. I’m an emotional rollercoaster. I can’t get anything done. I’m overwhelmed by the most basic tasks. I’m bored. How is everyone else so much more capable than me?
Note your convictions, then reframe them: I can do difficult things. I am creative. I make accommodations to better live with ease. I can do everything, just not all at once. I work hard. I turn boring tasks into interesting tasks. I am strong. I am worthy of rest. My best is enough. My emotions will pass.
My brain concocts an overabundance of ideas each day. When I attach myself to every idea, I end up overwhelmed and anxious. I cannot realistically carry out every idea or live out every daydream. When I try, I end up with a stack of unfinished projects. This translates to feelings of shame and guilt. Sound familiar?
I developed an exercise to help manage the constant stream of ideas crowding my brain. I imagine every idea as a wild horse. Instead of dropping what I’m doing and climbing onto the horse’s back, I try to observe it from a distance. Note it. Then leave it alone; let it run past. As it disappears, feelings may emerge. I note them. Maybe anxiety bubbles in the chest, fear of losing something great. Maybe despair settles in as I return to the less exciting task at hand. Sometimes I feel freer; a burden lifted. I try to observe whatever emotions arrive and greet them with acceptance. And I know that the best ideas always come back.
Alternatively, keep a notebook beside you when working. Jot down any ideas that you’d like to pursue later. This can help you return to the task at hand without anxiety.
Research shows that specific practices of pranayama, or breathwork, can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This gets us out of flight or fight mode and into rest and digest mode. In rest and digest, we experience less anxiety, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Here are two breathing techniques I love:
One of the incredible positive traits of people with ADHD is their vast creativity. Honor it and use it. Remember that you and your brain are co-creators of your lived experience. Your unique brain can be a gift if you accept it with compassion.