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The ADHD Anxiety Connection
While everyone can get anxiety from a variedy of causes, when
you think of the symptoms of
ADHD, if they're not properly managed, they can easily
lead to anxiety and depression. Some adults who have undiagnosed
ADHD have been treated for anxiety and depression for years
with medications and therapy with little success. When they
and properly treated for ADHD, (which is more than just
ADHD medication) their
anxiety and depression/dysthemia go away or are greatly reduced.
often don’t respond to logic and reason, so what do
they respond to?
by Paul Ingraham,
Registered Massage Therapist
clients and I start out working on back pain, and we end up talking about
anxieties and self-doubts. It begins with an observation like this: “I
hold a lot of tension in my back” or “This is always the worst
when I’m under a lot of stress.” Anxiety is a root cause for
an awful lot of back pain. It’s also just an annoying feature of
the human condition. What can we do about it?
can’t outsmart anxiety
good at calming down. People usually try to outsmart their anxieties,
and it doesn’t work.
ourselves to “get over it,” and that really doesn’t
logic and reason, and that doesn’t work either.
out the logic and reason of others, of friends with perspective and
experts with authority, and that usually doesn’t work. We still
to distract ourselves, and sometimes that sort of works — temporarily.
to sweat it out, and that may be the best solution that many people
use. But can still be unsatisfying. It takes a good chunk of time
and energy, and it doesn’t always work either.
of anxiety are an almost universal human problem. There are many flavours
and triggers, and the severity ranges from mild to life-threatening, but
nearly everyone gets them. And, by nature, you can’t think your
way out of anxiety. Thinking is generally what gets us there in the first
place. You can’t fight fire with fire.
Why is worrying so exasperatingly difficult to “get over”?
has a physiological signature
always involves a distinctive set of changes in your mind and body.
sense of self and your vitality and attention shift upwards and away from
the body in general and into the head. When you are stressed out and worrying
hard, you are probably “in your head,” as opposed to being
“in your body” or “comfortable in your skin.”
you are anxious, you are “in your head”
churning and sinking sensations in the belly that come with worry are
strongly suppressed with muscular tension, stillness and a lack of breath.
The head becomes relatively busy, as your brain switches to spin cycle
and the eyes and ears scan for danger.
is so physical and habitual that it is difficult or impossible to interrupt
by force of will. Once it starts, most of us are doomed to a few hours
of whirling thoughts, and the physical consequences: back pain or neck
pain, a throbbing headache, or insomnia are all common embodiments of
So what can
it hard to worry
anxiety by making it very difficult to remain anxious.
the martial art of aikido, you don’t throw a person with brute force,
or even with clever leveraging (as in Judo) — you simply position
yourself in such a way that your practice partner simply finds it almost
impossible to keep his balance, seemingly without contact.
It is almost
impossible to worry intensely if you draw your attention downwards, into
the body, and restore vitality and movement and breath to the belly. This
is called “grounding,” and it is concept that is well known
throughout Asia, and to many Westerners as well.
A lack of
grounding is the mind-body pattern at the heart of all anxiety. You can
never “get over” anxiety without grounding.
are grounded, you won’t necessarily stop worrying — however,
logic and reason will start to have influence again. Many other responses
to anxiety become easier. Once you are grounded, then you can outsmart
But you have
to get grounded first.
grounding when it counts
specific grounding exercises can be done in two minutes in the office
washroom, if necessary, right after that incredibly irritating meeting
with your boss.
be done quickly in the middle of the night when you have insomnia and
don’t have the will to do anything challenging. You don’t
have to get up for an hour and do yoga, or run up and down the apartment
most people don’t know that grounding exercises can be this quick
and relevant to a crisis — assuming they know what grounding is
in the first place!
is associated with all those flaky eastern spiritual disciplines and calisthenics:
yoga, taiqi, qigong, meditation and so on. Most people treat these things
as slow and preventative medicine for stress, instead of
a source of efficient and curative responses to episodes
exercises can be quick and relevant to a crisis
who are devoted practitioners in the preventative spirit will get paralyzed
when anxiety strikes, forgetting everything they ever learned about yoga.
It’s easy enough to do calming and grounding exercises when you
are already calm. The challenge is doing them when you are not!
To cure anxiety,
you need to do efficient groundings exercises as a direct response
to anxiety. An hour of yoga is not efficient. Neither is a run on
the sea wall, or a game of squash, or sitting meditation.
qigong, meditation are all full of exercises that can be done individually
with great effect, if one has a clear, specific goal such as “efficient
grounding when freaked out.” Here is the single best example, in
my opinion, effective for most people, most of the time:
lift is a classic yogic exercise, best known as a longevity exercise for
its stimulating effect on the internal organs. It is also a powerful abdominal
strengthener (including the rarely exercised transversus abdominis), is
vital for mastering many breathing techniques, and makes all other breathing
with your upper body supported on your knees.
at least three, oxygenating deep breaths to prepare yourself for the
you feel you have oxygenated sufficiently, blow all of your air out.
Completely flush your lungs, and then hold your breath.
your belly in hard against your spine. Particularly focus on your
low belly, below the navel. Hold the position and your breath for
several seconds (go as long as you can), and then relax the belly
— before breathing again (if you try to breath first
and then relax, it can hurt a bit).
lift takes about one minute, and three of them is a good dose of grounding,
although I recommend five for tough cases.
abdominal lift, the physiological pattern of anxiety has not just been
disturbed but reversed, and now you are ready to “get over
examples efficient grounding exercises from qigong include:
the air with a big breath, and as you come crashing and stamping down,
blow out hard and flick your arms and hands straight downwards, as though
lightning bolts into the ground. Ten of these, followed by some stillness,
your feet together, hands folded across your chest, hunched over. Breathe
in and “spread your wings” — not just spreading your
arms, but leaning back a little as well, opening way up, chin high, a
strong line of tension through the chest and the belly. Close up again.
Repeat several times.
not just the eastern spiritual disciplines that can be mined for useful
grounding exercises. The anxiety pattern can also be broken by exercises
drawn from many western traditions, such as Reichian body work or cognitive
therapy. Here are two more examples:
Worrying is a mental rut. Cognitive therapy suggests building new pathways
with specific, deliberate mental alternatives. Write down a positive set
of thoughts that are a specific alternative to the worrying pattern. Read
them out loud in your head five times. (Why is this a grounding exercise?
Because your mind and body are one system. It doesn’t matter whether
you change the anxiety pattern in the head or the body first, just so
long as you change it.)
Twenty-five fast, deep clear breaths, without pausing at the
top or the bottom, can ground you more completely —
bring you back into your body — than most people will
feel after any amount of meditation. This is hyperventaliation,
yes, and you may feel dizzy and that’s fine.
I’ve offered you here are the tip of the iceberg, but you now possess
the essential principles: anything you can come up with that interferes
with the mental and physical patterns of
anxiety will make it difficult
to stay there.
Check out Paul Ingraham's website for more great articles at