Most people wonder if they have ADHD at some point these days. After all, there are posts running around that say:
If you experience [insert all symptoms of the human race], then you probably have ADHD. Call now. Don’t suffer alone.
Truthfully, DSM criteria are detailed and concise. It is not easy to meet the strict requirements for a diagnosis. That said, there are still a myriad of behaviors associated with ADHD. Even if you relate to these quirky, concomitant tendencies, it does not mean you have the diagnosis. With that disclaimer, let us try to picture ADHD more clearly.
People unfamiliar with the inner-workings of the ADHD mind often liken it to a frenzied mob on the NYSE trading floor. Countless thoughts screaming and pushing for your attention. That description is a little closer to clinical anxiety, low-level delirium, or your first year in law school. ADHD feels more like a web browser with too many tabs open. Framed by a monitor with too many post-it notes on it. If that sounds familiar, then keep reading my distracted-yet-still-totally-delightful friend.
Whether or not you join the ranks of the fast-talking, surprisingly-creative, but often-interrupting brethren, these therapeutic tips may help.
1. Bedtime Yoga
Inattentiveness and hyperactivity come from an overly-energized mind, marking our first course of action. If you scrape away the overly-Instagrammed photos and Enya-esque house music, yoga encapsulates a therapeutic practice called Mindfulness. Bedtime yoga is just mindfulness minus the sweat. Mindfulness balances the energy flowing through you.
Attention is the way energy flows through us…[it] is the focus of energy through the nervous system.
Daniel Seigel, MD
Siegel is known for his cutting-edge research at the MindSight Institute down in Santa Monica. He’s our go-to mindfulness guy in the field of mental health counseling. So take out your Notes app, and jot these down.
- Ujjayi deep breathing
The first step in mindfulness is paying full attention to your breathing. Because it calms the autonomic nervous system, Ujjayi deep breathing will help you control your fight-or-flight responses. Therefore, instead of impulsively making decisions or changing conversational topics, practicing deep breathing lets you pay attention to your rational decision-making processes instead. If you struggle with impulsivity, take a deep breath and keep reading.
ADHD prevents people from being mentally present. Being present means you are fully oriented to what is going on around you. Think of the moments when you do not feel like life is just passing you by. Instead, you are a full participant in it. If your brain is scattered, you are unable to soak in information and emotions to your utmost capacity. Grounding techniques in yoga transfer you from the abstract jibber jabber in your head to tangible reality. The ADHD mind floats up in the clouds more than the average mind. Let us bring it down to the ground and live life like we are part of it.
- Body-focused Asanas
If ADHD is a mental condition, it seems counterintuitive that focusing so intently on your body helps. Just remember everything in life needs to be unplugged. The ADHD mind is like your laptop overheating on a felt blanket that has been plugged in for days with 20 different operations running in the background. You don’t need to be Geek Squad to know to unplug it. Resting your body on one foot with the other sprawled in the air takes an alarming amount of concentration. The mental operations running in the background will switch off in order to help you stay balanced.
2. Bite Your Tongue
Individuals with ADHD often come off as self-absorbed because they talk a lot about themselves instead of listening to others. Generally, people can easily put self-centered thoughts aside while listening to someone else. Unfortunately, the ADHD mind has a never-ending conveyor belt running. Whatever self-centered thoughts you put aside ride straight to the front of the mind, and you blurt them out. Quick actionable solutions can help curb this etiquette issue. When someone talks to you, square your shoulders towards them. Look them in the eye. If you are sitting, rest your elbows on your knees. Lean in a little closer. Most of all, bite your tongue. Literally. (Not hard though. Don’t be ridiculous). Your body and mind are linked. Your body’s listening stance will activate your mind to think, “Oh, I better pay attention to this!”
A large but lesser known attribute of ADHD is hypersensitivity. The level of sensitivity is not exactly in the leagues of Borderline Personality Disorder, but it is enough to painfully strain a person’s relationships. Hypersensitivity was taken out of recent DSMs as a diagnostic criterion for ADHD. It now sits on the bench as the tag-a-long friend who is not part of the team but is usually there anyway. Don’t worry, guys. They are thinking about bringing him back.
In the old days, clinicians analyzing the diagnosis that would become ADHD called the phenomenon rejection-sensitive dysphoria. A newer term is emotional dysregulation or—if we’re really talking shop, affective lability.
The theory goes that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex struggles to regulate emotion more with people with ADHD. Research is still ongoing to verify if problematic neurotransmitters lead to the emotional instability. Research from the Dodson ADHD Center purport that after the ADHD mind receives possibly a form of criticism, it impulsively rushes to an emotional conclusion in the same way that it impulsively rushes toward anything. Dr. Thomas E. Brown calls this idea flooding–when an emotion completely takes over the brain. It is not a bad thing if you are working on something you are very passionate about, but it can be very bad if you are in a disagreement with someone. Everyone struggles using reason when they are rubbed the wrong way–it just gets a lot harder if your brain struggles with flooding.
The ADHD brain struggles with processing thoughts in an even, orderly fashion. Theoretically, it probably struggles processing emotions similarly. The Dodson ADHD Center also published that the difficulty processing emotions with ADHD could lead to depression, little rage fits, or pretty strong people-pleasing.
Recognition is the first step to overcoming this. Next time, you feel very sensitive at someone’s remark, ask yourself if you are rushing to a conclusion. Be mindful that you might be experiencing the mental phenomenon of flooding. Flooding highlights your ADHD not the gravity of the other person’s words. Are you picking your responsive emotion too quickly? If you have trouble finishing tasks or letting someone finish a sentence, maybe have you trouble thinking about all the other ways you could interpret someone’s words to you. The second step is practice. Keep trying.
4. Count the costs
One awesome benefit of having a 6-lane, high-traffic freeway in your mind is that tons of creative ideas will zoom through each day. Not everyone has that. The key is to select your speeding ideas carefully. You cannot catch them all. It would be like chasing the team from The Italian Job. (Which is a bad example because if your idea is as good as Mark Wahlberg, go for it.)
Before starting that blog, planning all those mini road trips, or announcing to your roommate that you are going to clean your whole apartment after reading Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, count the costs. Pretend those planned, hypothetical projects are parts of your day—today. With today’s amounts of energy and responsibilities. Can you do them all? If yes, then you go Glen Coco. If not, jot that idea down for possibly a later time.
5. Work through your trauma
Perhaps you never had any ADHD symptoms before a traumatic event. Before asking your psychiatrist for a Vyvanse script, consider opening up to him or her instead. Human beings often feel like they have moved past the childhood abuse, the neglect, the attack, or whatever terror they survived. Years of survival-of-the-fittest selections hardwired this coping mechanism into the human psyche. However, a part of your mind may be shouting for resolve and desperately hoping you will hear it. The rest of your mind will do anything to muffle it. Even if it means clouding your mind with busy thoughts and never letting you sit still. Because if you do sit still with a quiet mind, you might hear a familiar cry of pain. One that is almost forgotten but always in the corner of your mind. Your mind may have created this tactic once to survive. However, your old defense program may not be serving in your best interest anymore. It is your call, but I do vote to get to the root of the issue. I am not saying therapy is your answer. Just do not suffer alone.