A Letter from Mark Bertin, MD
Living with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) uniquely amplifies stress for anyone who suffers from it, as well as those who care for them—and all that stress itself undercuts ADHD care. Feeling chronically exhausted or burned out—or overly reactive or shut down—makes it even more difficult to take charge of ADHD. It makes change more difficult to accomplish, and new habits tougher to forge. The practice of mindfulness supports ADHD care not only because it builds attention, but also provides tools for life management as a whole.
Why is ADHD so stressful? ADHD is not specifically a disorder of attention; it also affects executive function—a mental skill set that includes most self-management, organization, and planning skills. Practically speaking, children with ADHD experience a developmental delay of life-management skills. Living well with ADHD requires a practical understanding of executive function, along with hands-on support to manage its wide-ranging impact.
Real-life “impairment” is part of the diagnosis, which can be obvious or subtle. ADHD can cause difficulty with communication, relationships, and behavior—be it at home, at school, or at work. But it also impacts everyday health such as sleep or nutrition. It complicates daily routines by turning vital tasks—such as getting out the door on time or finishing homework—into chronic, intense challenges. Not surprisingly, parents of children with ADHD report higher levels of anxiety and marital stress.
When mindfulness practice allows parents and children a greater ability to manage stress, that step in and of itself makes ADHD care easier. But there’s more to it than that. Building skills around ADHD requires new habits that change seemingly entrenched behaviors—something supported by mindfulness. Living with ADHD also affects self-esteem, and creates loads of judgment for everyone involved—a perspective that may shift through mindfulness practice. By allowing those affected by ADHD to negotiate challenging decisions by facilitating communication, mindfulness influences ADHD for the better.
Mindfulness on its own does not fix ADHD, but supports and enhances existing evidence-based care. No one with ADHD is intentionally causing themselves problems at home, acting impulsively, or otherwise making themselves struggle. The way out starts from practical planning that acknowledges the wide-ranging impact of executive function. When balanced with detailed ADHD advice, a broad focus on self-care allows parents and children to define their own path forward, and begin to thrive.
Get started with this caregiver action plan from Mark Bertin, MD’s new book, Mindful Parenting for ADHD.
Action Plan: Caring for the Caregiver
Getting started on a new approach to managing your child’s ADHD may feel overwhelming. Your busy, stressful life continues while you attempt to develop and maintain an effective strategy. You can’t put aside all of life and focus solely on your child’s ADHD. But you can, at any moment in time, try something new and start your family down a different path. Attending to your own self-care is an essential part of the journey.
- Identify something that helps keep you sane. Write it here, and be vigilant about making time for it:
- Create time for important personal relationships.
- Simplify life whenever possible and avoid overscheduling.
- Keep working on managing your child’s ADHD. Deal with the big issues first, then explore and address all of the nuanced ways ADHD affects everyday life.
- Set short-term, realistic goals for change.
- Take a moment to settle yourself several times each day, using the STOP practice to help you make a deliberate choice about what to do next.
- Pay attention to enjoyable experiences when they happen.
- Schedule a daily guided mindfulness practice.