Mass Survival Guide for the ADHD Brain

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As an ADHD coach and someone who has ADHD myself, I know Mass can be a struggle for us Catholic ADHDers. It can be long, and even when we try our hardest, it can sometimes be nearly impossible for us to focus. Every tiny little thing can distract us from fully participating in what my pastor says is “the most important thing we do as Catholics.”

1a. Sit in the front

I always try to sit in the front. My reasoning behind starting this practice had nothing to do with managing my ADHD. In fact, I started doing this before I was diagnosed with ADHD. Sitting in front allows me to be as close as possible to where Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ becomes truly and substantially present. Yet, after getting diagnosed with ADHD, I began to see how this supported my ADHD management. By sitting in the front, I reduce the number of people I can see. By reducing the number of people I can see, I reduce the number of possible distractions.

1b. Sit in the back

Some ADHDers, especially those who have the hyperactive-impulsive type, do better sitting in the back. This positioning allows them to stand up and move around without distracting others. Fidgetting has been shown to help improve focus. Sitting in the back opens up the possibility of fidgetting.

2a. Use images

As the mind wanders, it is beneficial to have a visual cue to draw one’s focus back to the sacred. Beautifully decorated churches will have this naturally. However, some parishes are, shall we say, lacking in stained glass windows, icons, and other religious art that is meant to draw one’s focus to the divine. If you are in one of those parishes, it behoove you to have some prayer cards with you that are adorned with images that draw you into the sacred.

2b. Close your eyes

On the flip side, sometimes, all of the sources of visual stimulation can be distracting, and the only remedy is to close one’s eyes. If you cannot avoid seeing others from your location in the worship space, your best bet might be closing your eyes. Perhaps, you cannot resist watching the altar servers like a hawk to see if they are doing their job properly. Closing your eyes can help you focus on your responsibility during the Mass (i.e. not judging the altar servers).

3. Avoid round parishes

Have you ever seen one of those parishes where the altar is in the center of the worship space with seating all around it? Yeah, if you have ADHD, go to Mass elsewhere. There is no real front or back location that will work for Tips 1a and 1b. No matter where you sit, you will always be able to see someone, and there is always someone who can see you.

4. Use a missal

To help me stay with the Mass, I follow along in a missal. Not to be confused with the weapons North Korea likes to test, a missal is a book which lists all of the various parts of the Mass, as well as the readings and prayers specific to each day of the year. Even though you may think you have the Mass all memorized, the simple act of making sure you are on the same page as what is taking place in the Mass helps you stay focused on the Mass.

5. Get eight hours of sleep every night

Sleep is crazy important. I could list all of the amazing health benefits sleep has, but the only one that matters here is that sleep improves concentration. If you want your ADHD brain to be more engaged during Mass, get eight hours of sleep. No, you are not the exception to the eight-hours-of-sleep rule The odds of that are quite slim (according to sleep expert Matthew Walker, PhD). Eight hours is the target.

6. Get to Mass early

Arriving at Mass early allows you to find your preferred spot (see above). If you have a spot in which you focus best, it is frowned upon for you to ask your priest to reserve it for you every week. If you want to guarantee to have “your spot” every Sunday (or for any daily Mass), arrive early.

Moreover, ADHDers need transition time in between tasks. It is difficult to shift the ADHD brain from one task to another and get it to stay there. Arriving early for Mass allows for some time to get into “prayer mode.”

Lastly, aiming to arrive early for Mass increases the likelihood that you will arrive on time for Mass. We ADHDers have a complicated relationship with time. Punctuality is not our strong suit. By aiming to arrive at Mass early, you decrease the likelihood of being late.

7. Find other Catholics with ADHD

God created us for community; we are not meant to be alone. One way of making your Mass as holy as possible is to seek out others with ADHD

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’

CS Lewis

An added benefit of connecting with other ADHDers is finding people who understand you. Those of us with ADHD often feel misunderstood. This can be isolating and cause negative self-talk. By surrounding yourself with those who share your struggles, you are reminded that there are others who know your struggle. You are not alone.

8. Bring yourself back whenever you notice your focus drifting

I know this sounds obvious, but Saint Francis de Sales says that, in and of itself, can be a prayer:

If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.

9. Persevere

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2–4

I know what you are thinking…What really? That’s the best you got?… Look, I get it. I don’t want to deal with this either, but the fact of the matter is God gave us this cross for a reason. He will give us unique graces through this cross. Instead of wallowing in misery about this trial, pick up your cross and follow Christ.

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