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The ADHD Mindfulness Craze: It all Started with One Little Study

Woman being mindful at work

Wherever you turn for your media, the message is the same. We’re in love with the idea of mindfulness. On 60 Minutes, a skeptical Anderson Cooper is transformed into a "paying attention to the moments of my day" mindfulness-practitioner. The cover of TIME boldly proclaims a "Mindful Revolution." And, Parade magazine tells us that mindfulness is the No.1 Health-Booster in 2015. Try a Google Search and you’ll discover that mindfulness seems to solve everything: from losing weight, dealing with chronic pain, making better business decisions, having more satisfying relationships, to improving our sleep.

This mindfulness craze resonates for many people, but especially those with ADHD. Because a mindfulness practice can help us pay attention better, resist distractions, be less impulsive, remember what we are doing in the moment, and regulate our own emotions, it is helpful whether we have ADHD or not. But it holds special interest for those with ADHD.

Adults with ADHD are looking for answers

People with ADHD are seeking alternative ways – aka non-pharmacological ways – to treat their ADHD symptoms. They ask: Should I take fish oils? Does playing brain games actually help? What about acupuncture?

I answer these questions cautiously. Sometimes alternative treatments work for some people and sometimes they don't. Research is pretty clear on many (Yes, it might be worth a try to take high-quality Omegas 3-6-9). But nothing, not even ADHD medication, works for all of the people, all of the time.

So, when Dr. Lidia Zylowska and her team of researchers released their groundbreaking study, Mindfulness Meditation Training in Adults and Adolescents in 2008, they created quite a stir.

Why this study is important

Why did this little study create so much interest in Mindfulness as an alternative, non-pharmacological treatment for ADHD?

Because of the results:

78% of participants who practiced mindful awareness reported reduction in their ADHD symptoms.

That means that nearly 8 out of 10 of them felt less ADHD.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers took long-established mindful awareness programs and adapted them for adults with ADHD. They called it the MAPs for ADHD Program. MAPs stands for Mindful Awareness Practice. And, the fabulous part is that the research shows mindfulness does indeed benefit most people with ADHD by reducing their ADHD symptoms.

ADHD participants went through an 8-week mindful awareness training program. The training program included a weekly class on meditation and mindfulness, as well as daily at-home practices. They were given CDs with guided sitting meditations.

The people who designed the MAPs program were really smart about ADHD and knew that many people with ADHD would find it hard to develop a consistent, rigid meditation routine. So they took conventional mindfulness and meditation programs and adapted them to be useful to folks with ADHD:

They added a bit about "Psychoeducation," which means that it helps to have a working knowledge of ADHD.

  • They let people start with shorter formal meditation practices of 5 minutes, gradually increasing over time to 15 minutes.

  • They acknowledged participants with "loving-kindness" meditations to help combat ADHD negative self-talk and reward practice.

  • They incorporated visual imagery (think "blue sky with clouds" for "open mind with thoughts").

  • They emphasized mindful awareness – informal moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness practices.

The findings

They discovered 78% of the study participants who practiced ADHD mindfulness reported reductions in ADHD symptoms, and 30% of the participants reported "clinically" reduced symptoms, which means they had a 30% or more reduction. They also found participants who did the mindfulness training did significantly better for "measures of attentional conflict" (when two or more things compete for your attention). And as a bonus, participants also made improvements on measures of depression and anxiety.

These are powerful results from a treatment that costs nothing or very little, can be done anywhere by anyone, and has no negative side effects.

The ADHD Mindfulness Craze

Since the publication of the Zylowska study, other researchers, clinicians, and coaches, like me, were excited to learn more about mindfulness as a potential treatment for ADHD. Luckily for us, and for you, Dr. Zylowska published her book, The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD in 2012. In this book, you can learn more about the MAPs for ADHD Program and the Eight-Step Program of Mindfulness used in the study.

Meanwhile, other researchers started publishing all sorts of exciting studies on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on ADHD. On MindfullyADD, I will be posting research review articles on some of my favorites. If you like reading research yourself and want to find your own studies to read, try going to Google Scholar and searching for ADHD and Mindfulness.

The Zylowska study did not start the Mindful Revolution, but it did catch the attention of people with ADHD and those who work with them.

To learn more about mindfulness for ADHD and try mindfulness-based attention training tools, please visit MindfullyADD.

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