B is for Breathing and Relaxation: ADHD Skills
Children with ADHD at school, and adults with ADHD in the workplace, both need to be relaxed in order to be most effective, alert, or productive. Tension is the enemy of productivity or performance. Relaxation is one of the skills that those with ADHD need for success.
But this is not relaxation that is associated with laziness or long vacations. Rather this is a state of muscle relaxation combined with appropriate arousal levels. Focused and aware, but relaxed.
Deep breathing can help to relax and relieve tension. It can also help those with ADHD to focus better, and to think more clearly.
Most people who are being treated for ADHD take stimulants. Stimulants are vasodilators, helping to improve the brain’s performance by opening up blood vessels and increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Stimulants also help by increasing the production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
Deep breathing can also help to put more oxygen into our blood streams, and into our brains, which also helps to improve the brain’s performance. Athletes know this. Those in the martial arts know this. And everyone impacted with ADHD needs to know this as well.
Deep breathing alone will not replace an effective treatment with stimulants. But deep breathing and relaxation exercises can be a great adjunct to medications, and they are important skills that pills cannot teach you. They are necessary skills in the pursuit of greater self-control.
Take six to ten deep breaths. In through the nose until your lungs feel full. Hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Allow your shoulders to relax more and more each time you exhale. Breathe deeply and fill your lungs and your “belly” with air. Relax your muscles more deeply as you do this.
Do this simple exercise in the morning when waking and again on the way to school or work. Do this after lunch, and again when coming home at the end of school or work. And then one more time, just before bed to relax for the night.
Why do people sigh?
Because sighs are a natural form of deep breathing. We sigh to reduce our levels of tension caused by some stressor. Deep breathing can help to turn off our “fight or flight” system. Those with ADHD, particularly those with Inattentive-Hyperactive Type, are typically “on edge” and are often close to setting off the autonomic nervous system, the “fight or flight” system.
Some research (Fowles, Journal of Affective Disorders, 2003 and others), and common sense and experience, indicates that those who are the most “tense” are often at risk for behaving without self-control. Such persons are at high risk for anger, conduct disorders, “poor control of emotional expression, and “disinhibition.”
In other words, people with impulsive ADHD combined with just high levels of muscle tension can get into a lot of trouble with their emotions and with their behaviors.
When tension gets even higher, the autonomic nervous system can kick in. When this happens our bodies release adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, and cortisol into the bloodstream. Heart rate goes way up, breathing becomes more rapid, the field of vision narrows. Blood is diverted to our large muscles so that we can either fight or run away. When combined with ADHD we can see the Hulk begin to emerge in our children, teens, or spouse.
This is when your kid gets kicked out of school for the week, or your spouse gets fired at work.
As we said, deep breathing can help to turn off our “fight or flight” system. Those with ADHD, particularly those with Inattentive-Hyperactive Type, are typically “on edge” and are often close to setting off the autonomic nervous system, the “fight or flight” system.
The different types of ADHD that would be most at risk, and would need to purposefully practice breathing and relaxation would be “Tigger Type,” “Rabbit Type,” and “Piglet Type.” See the ADHD Information Library for more information on the different types of ADHD: http://newideas.net/adhd/different-types-adhd
Those who are prone to excess tension, or those who have impulsive-hyperactive type ADHD need to practice deep breathing exercises every day. Then, when some kind of threatening situation arises at school or at work, and their tension levels go up along with their muscle tension, the person who has been practicing these skills can begin to breathe deeply, turn down the autonomic nervous system, keep the adrenalin away for the time, and begin to relax.
Progressive Relaxation for ADHD
Progressive relaxation exercises can not only put us into a healing state of profound relaxation, but can give us the skills that we need to relax and reduce tension in any situation. Profound relaxation can be strong medicine to reduce anxiety and tension. Rather than turning to drugs or alcohol to relieve stress and anxiety, learning and practicing the skills of relaxation can accomplish the same results, and are much healthier.
Check yourself right now as you read this. Take your finger and touch your forehead right in the center (from the point between your eyes, and up about two inches). Notice that spot. Is that spot on your forehead actually relaxed? If not, take a minute to relax just that spot.
You will notice that to relax that one spot you have to relax your entire forehead, in fact, your entire face will begin to relax. Then your neck and shoulders will begin to relax. It will feel good, go ahead and relax for a bit.
Robots to Rag Dolls: Teaching ADHD Children to Relax
This is one way to teach children with ADHD how to relax. It is a simple progressive relaxation technique. Make it into a game, “Robots to Ragdolls.” Have the child lay down. Then ask the child to tighten up their feet, “as tight as they can… hold it… now relax your feet and make them as soft as a rag doll.”
Then have them do the same with their legs, below the knee then above the knee. Then for their stomach, have then tighten their stomach muscles by pushing out their stomach, then relaxing like a rag doll. Then their back. Then their chest. Then their shoulders and neck. Then their face.
Then for good measure ask them to just lay there like a rag doll, but take a tour of their bodies to see if any muscles were still tense. If so, have them tighten that muscle group and then relax.
Then allow the child to experience what relaxation, with awareness, feels like. Combine this with the deep breathing to allow the child to become even more deeply relaxed. Allow the child to remain in this relaxed state for about five minutes – relaxed but aware.
The more often the child practices this skill, the better able the child will be to relax himself when under stress. It is one of the skills needed to really learn self-control.