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ADHD - Angels and Demons: the TPN and DMN networks

The following info is from - ADHD 2.0 - by Drs Edward Hallowell and John Ratey - an excellent, detailed and positive presentation of ADHD: the neuroscience and many cutting edge theories on how to harness the GIFTS of the condition and how to combat the condition’s destabilising effects.

One chapter focuses on two networks of the brain identified through extensive fMRi scanning of brain function.

The chapter explains two key networks of the brain:


This network is seen as crucial to focus and successful task completion.

In this state, you don’t know if you’re happy or not - your brain doesn’t spend time considering self-assessment. It focusses on the task in hand.


This network is seen as being responsible for 2 main things:

  1. creative thought - by processing experiences in the background, the DPN is from where creative ideas emerge. new ideas, understanding, Connecting important things together is the flint-sparking source of our new ideas and creative thought.

  2. it revisits past events and reflects - making links and connections between experiences

This is why, for those of us with ADHD, the network can be named metaphorically as the Angel or Demon. Angel because our ADHD creativity and fresh ideas often set us apart from neurotypical folk, and the demon because our ADHD tendency for rumination of the past, self-condemnation and fixation on negative emotional experiences also isolates us.


Neurotypical vs ADHD brain function

The book reveals that in neurotypical patients the fMRI evidence there is a toggle or switch usually between the two networks. Either. or. So when in TPN mode, the DMN is quiet. When in DMN, the TPN is inactive.

However, in patients with ADHD, when TPN is engaged, the DMN does not switch off or power down. It often runs loudly simultaneously. The DMN competes with the TPN which it doesn’t do in neurotypical brains. Instead of working in unison they can work against each other.

This explains why distraction or inattentiveness, when focus is needed, is common in people with ADHD.

We can also get stuck in the DMN and this leads to rumination on gloom, worry and negativity - because we have huge reservoirs of past failures, distress, embarrassment stored in our memories.


Curses of the DeMoN

Pirouette syndrome:

When not paying attention to simple tasks, and completing them with DMN still running, we easily forget what we have done. For example, we leave the house to get to work, only to think “Did I lock the door?”, “Did I turn off the hob?”, “Have I got my glasses:”. This causes a pirouette to return, check and, with relief, find we have locked up, switched off the oven or we search frantically for our glasses to find they were on our head the whole time. The pirouette syndrome is both anxiety-inducing and time-consuming - often leaving us cursing ourselves and overwhelmed with negative emotion.

Catastrophic syndrome

Envisioning the worst-case scenario. Though always useful to prepare for unexpected and potential problems, when working on important tasks,

spending too long ruminating on these pitfalls will distract and undermine our effective focus on the task’s successful completion.

The Rumination element of this can be severely debilitating for those of us with ADHD.

For example, your boss has made a comment that you see as a criticism. Your DMN will often spin into overdrive, spiralling your thoughts and then feelings into a world of questioning and worry. You relive past errors, you fixate on the comment, break it apart in a search for what they meant, what the subtext was and why they would say it. Then you search for what caused the comment, often chastising yourself, obsessively reliving every imperfect thing you have said or done - and the embarrassment, feeding your insecurity exponentially.


So How can we outsmart the DeMoN

All the rumination and worry that the DMN can trigger is debilitating and works against the smooth TPN function needed to complete tasks efficiently and successfully. But if our DMN can easily reroute our intended mental activity, then, the book argues, we should have confidence that we can easily reroute our DMN’s intended mental activity.

By recognising the early signs of potential DMN negativity, we can trick it into an alternative destination.

If we sense we are ruminating, fixating, worrying, questioning experiences, then immediately we should try to switch our brains into direct TPN mode.

Focus on a single, simple and engaging task:

  • Make a cup of tea or some food,

  • Walk or play with your dog,

  • Play a musical instrument,

  • Juggle,

  • Change your environment to focus on something else,

  • Hug your partner or pet or both,

  • Try a breathing exercise by choosing a 4 number pattern - for example 4–6-5-6 - and take four breaths, hold for 6 beats, breathe out over 5, hold for six and repeat.

If we refocus the DMN and curtail it’s demonic side, it can emerge as it is meant to: the angellic, a creative imagination that contributes positively and pertinently to our TPN focus.

Use the knowledge, be aware and keep active!

If you have any tips that you find work to help you shift away from DMN network to TPN - feel free to post here!

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