This Not That: Dopamine Edition

Alternatives to Common ADHD Pitfalls

One of the hallmarks of ADHD is the need for stimulation - and that can pose quiet the challenge as the need can derail your personal goals. It can be easy to get sucked into activities that you know are time-wasters, but you also know they work when you need that burst of excitement to get going. So, here’s a look at some common dopamine traps - and suggestions for related alternatives that are more aligned with your goals!

Why Does the ADHD Brain Seek Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating motivation, reward, and mood. Essentially, it’s a chemical responsible for many ADHD-related symptoms. without it, we struggle with productivity and follow-through on tasks, even when we know they’re important.

Low levels of dopamine are associated with difficulty concentrating, problem-solving, and decreased working memory function. Not only that, but low levels of dopamine have also been linked to diagnoses like depression and anxiety as well as different addictions developed from dopamine-seeking behaviors.

So, our naturally dopamine-deficient brains seek out dopamine to function. That makes ADHD management a tricky task because, when searching for dopamine, ADHD brains are going to get it in the easiest ways possible. For example…

1. Indulging in Culinary Excess - aka, Snacking

Notice yourself reaching for those carb heavy foods or maybe a sugar treat?

Remember, people with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine. Guess what happens when you taste  those comfort foods? A QUICK dopamine hit! Such a powerful hit that is hard to rival, which can trap you in a loop of seeking that dopamine high again (which is why it’s not so easy to stop at one brownie… rather than eating the entire pan). To break out of the cycle, let’s explore some alternatives that might do the trick for you!

Try This:

  • Berry delicious: Some of the most dopamine-high natural produce options are apples, bananas and berries. They are also low-cost options to integrate into your diet!
  • Avocado toast anyone? Maybe you’re looking for more of a splurge, get indulgent with some morning avocado toast! Avocado is also a top tier dopamine food to get you going for the day. Not an avocado toast fan? Get some guacamole going, or add it into your favorite sandwich.
  • Get spicy!! You may already know that spicy foods contain capsaicin, but did you know that capsaicin binds to pain receptors on our nerves? Peppers, spices, and other foods that cause a burning sensation cause your brain to release endorphins and dopamine in response! Just try to keep the spicy level reasonable - this isn’t a green light to eat as many ghost peppers as you can.

2. Video Game Marathon

What’s not to love about video games? The plot line, the social aspect, the rewards, the changing scenes, the hours passing by rapidly… wait. It’s 2 am? Video games become addictive because they’re giving the brain so much stimulation at once. It’s incredibly hard to pull yourself away from them. Here are some tips to find those gaming aspects in more helpful forms:

Try This:

  • Use gamified apps: Did you know there are apps designed to mimic video games by giving you rewards for completing tasks? (Shimmer’s ADHD coaching app does this 😉). Get your action items done while also giving yourself a creative space to play and earn! Here are a few examples to take a peak at: Forest, Habitica, EpicWin, Finch.
  • In it for the social aspect? See if there’s a group nearby that plays strategy games or board games in person! Places will often have recurring meetings that’ll be more of a social community than an online environment. Not sure what to search? Social networking sites can be successful in typing in your location and what activity you're looking for. Or, be brave and post on a local site that you’re looking for that type of group. You never know who might know someone!
  • In it to win it? Sign up for a fitness app that compares your statistics to others in your area. Join a spin class that shows everyone’s effort in real time. Place (friendly) bets with peers and family on completing goals - whoever loses buys drinks the next time you're out.

3. Shopping Spree

It feels so good to own something new! But then you bring it home… and it’s not new. It’s just another item on the shelf. Another item you said you wouldn’t buy, yet there it is, taking up space in your laundry chair (we’ve all got one). Maybe a sale enticed you, or you reasoned that this was the exception because it was 35% off! But deep down, you know it wasn’t needed. Instead of just swiping the card or laying down the $20 bill, let’s see if one of these suggestions might help:

Try This:

  • Window shop! Did you know that the release of dopamine is usually correlated with the anticipation of a reward, NOT the reward itself? See if you can trick your brain with that shopping spree online. Once things are in your cart, exit the window. Your items will remain in your cart, and you can save them for later (maybe even pick one as a reward for accomplishing a goal)! If you love feeling like you saved a little, look at the total in the cart of what you DIDN’T buy and add it up over the month - how much did you save?
  • Work for it. Take the total (let’s say there’s a fancy $30 candle that you just HAVE to have) and split it into $5 dollar rewards for 6 different tasks.
    For example:
    - Task 1: Complete a load of laundry including folding….. EARN $5
    - Task 2: Make an appointment with the dentist………… EARN $5
    If there is a task you feel REALLY avoidant of completing, maybe it can be a high value $10 reward.
    - Task 3: Give the dog a bath…….. EARN $10
  • Truly can’t stay away from spending? Spend it on someone else. People feel significantly happier over the long-term when they look back on a time when they spent money on others rather than themselves. Pick a favorite charity, or even pay for lunch with a friend who motivates you. Hey, there’s a good reason to text back that person you’ve been meaning to respond to!

Still Struggling?

We get it. Many of these things are easier said than done (or we wouldn’t need to write this post). One last suggestion? Try out an ADHD coach. They can help you identify the barriers and implement strategies tailored to you and your life.

In the whirlwind of modern distractions, understanding the dance between ADHD and dopamine is your secret weapon. By recognizing the allure of quick fixes, you're already one step closer to regaining control over your goals. Embrace the alternatives that align with your aspirations—treat yourself to the natural rush of berries, harness the power of gamified apps for achievement, and curb the spending urge by finding satisfaction in giving.

Remember, dopamine is your ally, not your foe. It's the driving force behind your motivation, your zest for life, and your triumphs. By making conscious choices, you can harness its power to fuel your journey toward success. So, as you navigate the thrilling landscape of life with ADHD, keep these insights close. Empower yourself with knowledge, embrace balanced habits, and craft a life that dances to your unique rhythm—one where dopamine becomes a catalyst for your dreams, not a hindrance.

Managing adult ADHD doesn’t have to be a solo quest. Check out Shimmer today!

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