How Mindfulness Can Help Deal with Adult ADHD

The study of mindfulness is showing promise for improving the lives of couples impacted by ADHD, and has already been shown to relieve stress and physical pain.

One of the areas in which I think it helps couples impacted by adult ADHD is in learning to notice and accept your emotions rather than let them build on themselves.  In other words, if you notice and appreciate both the bodily sensation of your emotions (for example, a tightening of the chest or increased heart rate when you are anxious) and also appreciate the presence of the emotion, without letting either of those things ramp you up further, then you have better control of those emotions.

Author Hugh Byrne will release his book, The Here-and-Now Habit: How Mindfulness Can Help You Break Unhealthy Habits Once and for All in early March…he published a preliminary article on the topic in the December, 2015 issue of Mindfulness Magazine entitled “Are You a Creature of (Bad) Habits?”.  Sadly, I cannot link to it online – you have to subscribe to get the full article, but it is well worth reading.  He lays out four types of habits (which you can read about at this teaser link) and notes:

“Much of the stress, anxiety, and suffering in our lives comes from not bringing wise attention to our thoughts and beliefs, and treating them as “true.”  We get swept up by the stories we tell ourselves.”

Byrne talks about habits of response to difficult feelings – zoning out in response to stress, for example, or (in the case of couples work) perhaps retreating or fighting back.

One of the ways that couples get caught up in the stories we tell ourselves is that we believe that since X bad thing happened to us in the past, it will therefore happen to us again in our future.  Once an ADHD partner has shown he is unreliable, for example, he will *sadly” always be unreliable because 'that's just how he is.".  Once a non-ADHD partner has developed the habit of nagging to get things done, s/he will always ‘be a nag’ because "she just has to be in control."

These stories are simply not true.  Once couples have the right tools in place, they can dramatically change their behaviors, as well as their personal symptom management.  I've seen it happen time and time again.  People may have basic characteristics (think optimism) but habits and how they respond to others can most often be changed and improved.  And one tool for doing so is to learn how to separate out your thoughts from reality…and to be able to accept and move past the emotional sensations that keep you stuck in habits.

I find trying to do this (currently without a specific meditation practice, but through reflection) a good way to overcome the anxieties I sometimes feel about my husband.  My anxieties are based upon past behavior, not current, and to be more overtly (mindfully) aware of them means they no longer run my life.  Just because I feel anxious does not mean I have to chase down my husband to confront him, for example.  (Sometimes I do talk with him about them...but in an observational way - "I'm feeling really anxious right now" rather than connecting my feelings with supposed actions as I used to do "I think you must be doing X that's going to turn out badly for us...")  Acknowledging my anxiety and just 'letting it be' helps me stay calm and positive in our relationship, further reinforcing the (very) good relationship we now enjoy, and diminishing the power of my bad memories as time goes on.  It’s an important part of healing.

And not only does it heal me, personally, it also heals the relationship.  For as I learn to differentiate between my hardest feelings (anxiety, fear of rejection) and the reality of my situation (acceptance, love, with an occasional dose of distraction thrown in - ADHD is on board, after all!) I can be more relaxed in our relationship.  This allows my husband, in turn, to also relax more.  His experience has changed - I am no longer pursuing him to find out what he has 'done wrong.'  Instead, with my lowered levels of anxiety, I can focus on making sure he is aware of all the things I think he does right.  A much better place to be!

If you wish to try some of his guided meditations, you can find them on this page at Byrne's website.  And I suspect his book will be terrific when it comes out.