Maybe you’re standing at a red light, watching your takeaway coffee slide off the windshield because you left it on the roof again. You may feel like a magpie because you’re often distracted by “shiny” new projects, careers, or organizational systems (all of which are not implemented). But if you get stuck in something, you’ll sink for hours — rarely going up to eat, drink, go to the bathroom, or even sleep. These are all signs that you’re a warrior living on the farm, and this is the month to celebrate: Attentional Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month (October 2022).
Hunters often meet the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD, a completely misleading name. The ADHD brain can drive you to succeed in the right environment; You see, ADHD brain traits have survival value in hunter-gatherer cultures:
- Paying attention to changes in your environment is essential for capturing prey and avoiding threats.
- Slow decision making leaves you open to being eaten by tigers.
- Complete immersion on a yacht regardless of time or bodily function is critical to success.
- Being pulled from the safe and the mundane to the new opens up new areas and opportunities. We can call the “hunter brain” the “discovery brain” because our ancestors were forced to cross seas and lands.
- The challenge for adventurous hunters is that we live in a farming world. In fact, we clinically call these explorer features: distraction, impulsivity, time blindness, hyperfixation, and risk taking.
A widespread socio-cultural expectation is that you should not be distracted by your surroundings or bored with repetitive tasks or slow moments. Instead, you should focus on the long term, pay attention to all the details and avoid risks. Of course, in many situations this is indeed a valuable skill!
However, there are many areas in our world where hunters excel. For example, entrepreneurs, creatives and salespeople, just to name a few. This hunting spirit is probably the “secret sauce” of Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali and more recently Simone Biles and Richard Branson. So you see, our world needs this adventurous brain.
ADHD in the classroom
Unfortunately, the formative life experiences of ADHD often result in the development of core negative beliefs about themselves or unadjustable schemas—namely, low self-esteem.
The little boy at the table looks sad
Example one: classroom. An environment where children are expected to sit under a neon light and focus their attention on whatever the teacher is teaching, regardless of their interests, while resisting the urge to fidget, run around, or daydream.
Some children with ADHD internalize the feeling that they are failing, being let down when they ask for what they need, and that no one will ever understand how they feel. If you are a person with ADHD, you may have an ever-present feeling that at some point everyone will find out how handicapped you are. This is evidenced by a significantly higher number of stress-related disorders (ie anxiety and depression).
Psychoneuroimmunology and meditation
Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) has shown that stress and the way you think affects your health. Therefore, many people are influenced by neurophysiological and neuropsychological experiences.
Meditation promotes attention control, improves mood and reduces anxiety. The hallmark of ADHD is the Default Mode Network (DMN), the part of the brain that activates when you’re not fully engaged in the present moment. This is because people with ADHD have a hard time being here right now. Meditation is one of the best tools for growing awareness of the present moment.
Chances are you’ve heard of mindfulness, which is often taught as an open-minded exercise. In particular, you are open to all your senses: sounds, smells, sensations and the like, along with an awareness of your personal experiences such as thoughts, feelings and impulses. This meditation style is beneficial. However, it is not the best recommendation for people with ADHD.
Focused Mindfulness Meditation
Focused attention is a more practical option for some people with ADHD, because the mind is focused on the breath, sound, sensations in the body, or the repetition of a particular word or sound. This is a very different experience of the fast-changing attention of the ADHD brain and increased attention control and focus.
The practice of moving yoga meditation also helps. Various forms of movement support you in practicing coordinating target movements with sensorimotor feedback, while engaging in conscious exploration of the experience of physical movement. Yoga also offers the opportunity to increase vagal tone through stretching and contracting movements.
The vagus nerve is the largest of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for regulating internal organs. Basically, it evokes a ‘relaxation response’ after sympathetic arousal. Heart rate variability suggests that people with ADHD may experience decreased heart-related parasympathetic activity. This means that the emotional reactivity associated with ADHD is indicative of an ineffective parasympathetic response: normal levels of emotion or physiological arousal are thought to be more difficult to manage.
Increasing vagal tone has long been prescribed as an intervention for immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. The condition has a high comorbidity with ADHD. This may reflect a shared genetic profile. Either way, boosting immunity and mood really helps.
In addition, many of the sensory experiences in physical yoga match the ADHD brain to sustain attention. Increasing your heart rate provides an added benefit because exercise is so important.
One final tip: practice in the community. It may not always be, but it will help you develop habits that are harder to develop at home, alone, with lots of distractions. If you can get into a meditation room or yoga class, you’re one step closer to harnessing the power of your ADHD mind.
Remember, the goal is to sharpen the ADHD brain, not eliminate ADHD. Hyperfocus, creativity, and adventure are beautiful skills. So adventure well, and we’ll dive into a more detailed exploration of PNI in my next article.