Redefining Stress

How to train your brain to conquer anxiety and depression

Retraining the ADHD Brain

Teaching your distracted brain to perform.

In 2004 I published a book on Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, called The ADD Answer, and brought on the wrath of a lot of traditional pill-selling companies and associations by merely pointing out that the diagnostic form of using behavioral lists is not reliable or valid. I also pricked a few feelings when I warned of using medications could have very harmful consequences, especially when the diagnosis was so unreliable. I even had the audacity to suggest that ADHD could be a positive attribute, if managed well. My book was not a slam on medications, but on useful alternative approaches that have worked very well in my clinic and reports from home situations (where the contents were intended.) I have been gratified in receiving thousands of mail from around the world with affirmations of my assertions; however, I have seen unfortunately too many patients who have been abused by the current system.

I want to return to the same issue, only with even more data and concern than before. There are many features in the problems of inattention. In our clinic, The PsychoNeuroPlasticity Center in Lewisville, Texas, virtually all of our ADD referrals have had abnormally high anxiety levels. These have been due to such issues as parent-child conflicts, self-concept confusion, grief, sibling rivalry and a host of other issues surrounding normal development. And biological factors have played tremendous roles in inattention, such as exposure to heavy metals, metabolism issues (starving the brain), hormonal imbalances, behavioral vision coordination problems, and multiple sorts of drug and food addictions. All of these different arenas have the identical signs as ADHD, yet to be medicated with the same stimulants as usual for that disorder would cause additional problems with the symptoms.

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The actual number of patients referred for what is a brain-based ADHD diagnosis has been about 33 percent. This figure has been substantiated by other programs around the country, so I am not suggesting that there is no such thing as ADHD. I am suggesting that a better system needs to be clarified than merely "trying out some ADHD medication and see if it works. If it does, then we have a confirmed case."

By now we all know of the epidemic use of these stimulants by ambitious students to do well in school and the addiction mess that results. These medications are also being passed around in athletic circles to heighten performance. I often wonder if there may a drug testing program in the future for the SAT and GRE or other academic performance tests, similar to the ones used in the sports sector for steroids.

ADHD is a specific neurological disorder with a signature on many brain scans and other neurological tests. The basic neurological problem is low activity in the frontal area of the brain that is usually associated with what is called "executive processing," that is organizing, prioritizing and processing information. When this area is not performing well, you are mostly confused with new data to be organized, but your brain is also almost asleep (in brain terms). This means that your brain is like a child who is resenting going to bed and fighting to stay awake, so it is looking from anything to stimulate itself, such as getting angry or excited by anything it can find.

That is the way individuals behave, always looking for stimulating drama. That is the reason they love high-risk activities, such as driving too fast or being reckless in other situations, such as sex and drugs. Another common set of behaviors is being the clown of the class or causing disruption in the class or home, just for the sake of stimulation.

The primary remedy is to stimulate this area of the brain to higher levels, and one of the ways of through medication, but there are a lot of other ways as well. Here are some things that you can make some breakthroughs and re-train the brain to turn up the power for attention and concentration:
• Music and drumming: The brain activity is often sonar-driven for stimulation and I have developed specific drumming CDs that we have shown to heighten the frontal lobe activity consistently. My son and I have also developed a sonic generator that can be used for personal ranges and this device, called the BAUD. It has been approved in two California schools to assist students with ADHD. We conducted a research article that supported its use; however, these methods are not a permanent cure by any means. Their effect lasts about two hours. My point is that there many types of rhythmic music that would accomplish this neurological process.
• Chewing gum: Using a base of research and seeing clinical results have convinced the value of gun chewing. Chewing itself appears to stimulate both temporal and frontal activities, yielding better concentration and memory as well as lowered anxiety. I would recommend gun recommended by the American dental Assn.
• Being exposed to blue light: Odd as it sounds, using animal research as a base, being exposed to blue light arouses the frontal lobe significantly. I recommend that if you have a hard time waking your brain up, especially in the morning, to go down to your handy hardware store and get a 25-watt blue light. Turn it on 15 minutes before you have to get up or when you are approaching a task that requires high attention like a test.
• Breathing patterns: We always find inefficient breathing patterns in students with concentration problems, and the possible relationship is inadequate pure oxygen getting to the brain. Practicing belly breathing at rates between 10 to 14 breaths per minute has been shown to be good for learning. It also has been shown to raise your IQ, some reports as high as 10 to 20 percent.
• Exercising: Regular moderate exercises (enough to increase breathing rate) will help reduce stress and circulation in the brain. It is also helpful to balance out the brain activity for better learning.
• Eating the right foods: Forget the morning cereal and other sugary food. They will just put you on a roller coaster of energy and put your frontal lobe into a deeper sleep. Every person with ADHD should be on a diet of high proteins (at least 50%) and complex carbohydrates every morning - no sugar. Boiled eggs have the best press.

G. Frank Lawlis, PhD, is principal content and oversight adviser of the Dr. Phil Show.

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