May 26, 2016

8 Practical Tips for Managing Anxiety & ADHD. {English & Spanish}

Flickr/Fabien G.: https://www.flickr.com/photos/w0arz/360572473/

**Para leerlo en español, haga clic aquí.


I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—I always have, and I always will.

I’ve also suffered from depression and anxiety, which are closely related to ADHD. These are neurological conditions, and they framed my life since I was just a small girl—and now into adulthood. I’ve found it is a daily challenge to keep myself well balanced and calm.

One of the ADHD traits that has affected me most is being impulsive. Often the time that it for me takes me to act on a thought, from the moment it appears in my mind, is shorter that the width of a hair.  The other side of this coin is my procrastination—putting off certain tasks or projects until the very last moment. You know, those projects we have, that are only missing one little detail, yet we can’t seem to bring ourselves to do it—they stay in the garage or in the cupboard—the piece I started to write but never got around to finish. I remember it took me three years to finally get around to getting my drivers license, even tough I really wanted to drive, but just taking the first step to start the administrative proceedings had me frozen.

Now that I’m grown, the hyperactivity part of ADHD has turned into anxiety. I’ve had my share of panic attacks, but since I started regular meditation and practicing different pranayama exercises, they have subsided. My poor attention span, or sometimes the many things I find interesting, don’t allow me  to focus on just one thing—it’s quite difficult for me to foster the ability to focus on just finishing one specific task, specially if I find it boring! All the areas that have to do with executive function planning—looking into the future or organizing and finishing projects—are a real challenge for me. The challenges that one faces daily, as an adult with ADHD, can sometimes feel truly overwhelming, and we tend to live in a constant fear that all the balls we are juggling will fall at any moment.

However, with the support of my yoga practice and some self made structure, I have been able to keep myself on track, avoid depression and keep my goals in sight. This list below is in no way a substitute for medical treatment, and if you know you have ADHD, depression or anxiety please seek treatment. There many different medications and treatments nowadays, and if you had diabetes, you wouldn’t hesitate in taking medication for it, right? Sadly, there is still a great deal of prejudice and stigma associated with taking mental health medications.

Besides following your doctors advice, here is a list of recommendations and strategies you can apply in your daily routine to help you stay on track. After many years of struggle, and of trial and error, here are some practical tips that I have found help me the most:

1. Exercise. Besides a regular yoga practice, we also need aerobic exercise regularly. Find something you really enjoy—walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing. [1] Do it regularly, like a prescription drug—even if you don’t feel like exercising, do it anyway. It’s essential. When we exercise, our brain releases all the feel-good hormones. Dopamine is related to the anticipation of something pleasant. Serotonin is what gives us that general feeling of well being. When we are in a good mood, we have serotonin to thank. Oxytocin—also known as the “love hormone”—is released in great amounts in child birth, breastfeeding and  also during simple social bonding, when we talk to someone we love and look them in the eyes or when we cuddle with our kids or when we make love. Lastly, endorphins are associated with our fight or flight response—that’s why they are released when we exercise, and they hep mask any pain or discomfort we may have and helps us finish that 10 km race. [2]

You can help you body stimulate the production of these hormones by changing your routine. Add challenges to it, take different routes if you run or walk—and try to have fun! Be childlike—jump, climb—always take the scenic route and be mindful about it. Look around and see the colors—look at yourself, at your feet hitting the ground—how does it feel to be in your body right now?

2. Meditate. Every day, try to sit down for just five minutes to start—sit and just notice your breathing. Notice your body and the sounds around you. Don’t judge, just observe. After a while, you will notice how soothing just taking a few deep breaths can be.  Observe your body, notice the sensation of your clothes against your skin, and notice every sensation as it arises and then fades away. Notice your thoughts, the internal chatter. If you are anything like me, you may not have a very nice inner voice, but it can change.

Have you ever caught yourself saying something along the lines of: “Oh god. why am I so _______?” (Introduce any insulting word here. This inner voice may be the result of years of low self-esteem or the depression—whatever the reason it doesn’t matter, what matters right now is that you can observe it, and you don’t have to attach yourself or get carried away with that one thought. After all, they are only thoughts—and just like the body sensations that come and go, so do they and so do feelings, so you don´t have to respond or react. You only need to notice and be present.

Practice “Mindfulness Meditation”—or perhaps “Loving Kindness Meditation.”

“Loving Kindness” or “Metta” meditation is the type of meditation where we consciously send loving thoughts and good wishes first to ourselves, then for our loved ones, then people you work with, your community  and then even the people who have wronged you—then finally, to wish all sentient beings  love and happiness. This helps us start to truly feel self-love— without conditions and without judgment—we can start to forgive, accept and truly love ourselves.

On the neurophysiological side of things, science has now proven with the use of MRI images that meditating regularly, actually increases the size of the left prefrontal cortex, which in fact is related to a sense of happiness.[3] People who tend to be negative or are depressed tend to show more activity in the right side of the brain. In other words, meditation is a workout for the positive side of your brain, after all if we want to feel happy, shouldn’t we try and improve the brain, where do all of our thoughts and emotions come from anyway?[ 4]

3. Keep a journal. When you have ADHD and depression, sometimes it’s a challenge just to navigate through your overwhelming emotions and thoughts. Keeping a journal will help put the toughest emotions and thoughts in some order, and sometimes after you write them they loose some of their strength . You may also want to get in the habit of writing five things that you are grateful for—this task of recognizing the positive things in our lives becomes a training for our brain to always look for the positive good things in our lives.

4. Make lists everyday. Making lists, especially if you have ADHD, is essential. Get in to the habit of writing lists of things you need to get done every day, and check them through out the day! This will help keep us on track and also it gives such sense of accomplishment every time we check something of off the list! This also helps to divide a big project into smaller tasks, and it makes things much less overwhelming.

5. Make time for Yoga. Yoga can be a great healing tool. When you practice, try to remain present in your body, connect with your breath, and realize that you are already whole. Let the space of your mat be a place to reconnect with yourself. There are many different types of yoga, so find one that fits your own personality and needs. It’s important to find a teacher who inspires and supports you. Be present with your emotions—it is quite common in yoga class to see someone cry, as yoga can release blocked feelings and emotions. Be brave and face them.

6. Use mantras. Mantras are a wonderful tool to help reprogram our thought patterns. Listen to your inner chatter—you may notice, more often than not, that you talk to yourself in a mean gross way: “Here we go again, how stupid of me!” Instead, use a positive phrase you can say to yourself like: “I am good, I am strong, I love myself.”  The mantra that has really helped me lately is: “Peace is within me.” Repeat the mantra to yourself, even if it feels phony or forced at first. Saying mantras can work magic in helping with your self esteem .

7. Use visual reminders. Write post-it notes or get a white board. Write reminders—for going for your daily run or for your goals—write inspirational quotes and put them on the refrigerator, so you can see them and remember to stay on track. Use the board to categorize your to do list—for the home, for the kids or the things you have been procrastinating. Review the board at least once a week. Write a post-it note to remind yourself to do this! Don’t just rely on your on mind to remind you to do something—if you do this, it’s likely you’ll forget it, so just write it down! It’s alright if you have many projects going on at the same time, that is actually the good side of ADHD, the great many interests you have. Think of your projects like the indentations a rake makes, instead of an single straight line with one objective. We can work on different projects at the same time, and actually, this will help us to not get bored.

8.  Reach out. Sometimes this can be very hard to do, but having a strong social network of loving and supportive friends and family is also important. They can help you see your progress, since ADHD doesn’t really help with a good sense of self evaluation. if you fall in to one of those dark days, call your sister or call your best friend—call someone who gets you, and is familiar with your struggles—and let them know you need support. They can help remind you that things are not quite as dark as you see them right now, and they can also remind you how far you’ve actually come.

Remember, this is perpetual and ongoing—we may never feel completely well, happy and balanced—but nothing is permanent, so allow yourself to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, all at the same time.

Keep in mind that even if you didn’t quite make it today, there is always tomorrow to try again.



[1] McCann, I. Lisa; Holmes, David S. May 1984, Influence of aerobic exercise on depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 46(5), pages1142-1147.

[2] Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, February 14 2012, A Brief History of Everything Neurochemical based on the book, Habits of a Happy Brain Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin and Endorphin Levels

[3] Britta K. Hölzel | James Carmody | Mark Vangel | Christina Congleton | Sita M. Yerramsetti | Tim Gard | Sara W. Lazar, January 2011,Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density Psychiatry Research – Neuroimaging,Volume 191, Issue 1, Pages 36-43

[4] Taren AA, Creswell JD, Gianaros PJ, May 22, 2013, Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64574. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064574


Author: Silvia Madrigal

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Flickr/Fabien G.

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