Dr. Carrie McMillin is a naturopathic physician that specializes in treating adults and children with ADHD and anxiety.
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I'm sure you've heard that meditation can improve your focus. But have you ever really thought about using meditation or breathing exercises as a way to improve your ADHD symptoms? Perhaps it's time that you do.
Meditation is so incredibly impactful, that I can't even being to cover all of the ways that it affects our bodies and brains, especially not in only one post. Instead, let's take a look at the science that makes a compelling connection between breathing and ADHD physiology.
To begin, you should know that there is an area of the brain, called the locus coeruleus, which plays a vital role in both respiratory function and attention. A recent study hypothesized that this brain center is actually responsible for a synchronization between breathing and attentional focus. This study demonstrated that changes in breathing directly affected levels of noradrenaline (norepinephrine) in the brain. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger of the nervous system) which plays a crucial role in ADHD, more specifically, those who have ADHD have been found to be norepinephrine deficient. In fact, norepinephrine has such an impact in ADHD that some medications such as methylphenidate and atomoxetine work by affecting norepinephrine levels. (For more information about the neurotransmitters involved in ADHD, check out this article by Additude.)
In less scientific terms, yes, meditation truly can help with ADHD and just staying focused in general. So, if you need a productivity boost, or find yourself having trouble staying focused, it may be best to start with a few minutes of mindful breathing, or meditation. I often have my patients start with a regular mindfulness meditation.
Don't know how to meditate? Don't worry, there are currently some fantastic apps and resources that make learning how easy. Personally, my favorite app is Headspace, which has several guided meditations specifically for anxiety, focus, kids, etc. Many options are free to try once you create an account, however you do need a subscription to access all files. There are still many other free options that don't require subscription. For example, the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) has some fantastic audio files that are free to listen to! I hope you try out meditation for yourself, because you might be pleasantly surprised.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of meditation and breathing exercises for improving focus, sleep, and reducing anxiety. I will go a bit more in depth on some of these other aspects in future blog posts!