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  • Kristy Hourd

Dopamine Regulation in ADHD

Dopamine regulates our minds and our days. So how can someone with ADHD be expected to function “typically” if we don’t have enough? We don’t - we need to do things differently, to increase the dopamine we produce so that we have enough to do what we need to do. We’ve talked about that in our previous post, here, if you haven’t heard about how this works before. Once we know about the connection between our ways of functioning and dopamine, that creates an amazing opportunity to use it to our advantage instead of feeling like it’s always taking advantage of us.

Unregulated dopamine can look like a lot of different things: lack of focus, lack of motivation (sometimes it feels impossible to get anything done), unwanted impulsive behaviour (like snacking far more than we intended), trouble sleeping at night and being tired during the day, irritability, anxiousness, or significant memory problems, to name a few. Regulating our dopamine may not solve all of our problems completely, but it can sure make things a lot easier. So how do we do it?

There are a lot of ways we can help our bodies produce and use more dopamine. One is medication, but that’s a topic for another post. There are also a lot of tweaks we can make to our day that help increase our baseline dopamine or help pick it back up when it feels like it’s lagging. Regular movement is one. Exercise counts, but you don’t need to go to the gym to get the benefits of this one. Even just a little walk around after sitting for an hour can make a difference. Dancing to a great song in between tasks or when you’re feeling stuck is a double whammy of movement and good music, which is another dopamine maker. Seeking out things like music, art or other sensory experiences like different lighting, textures, sounds, tastes, or stimming can also help produce dopamine and increase focus by giving your mind and body enough stimulation to do so. Spend time outside or give yourself a change of scenery when you’re feeling blah.

The food we choose can also help regulate our dopamine. Things like snack foods will definitely do it, but daily and nutritionally diverse options are there, too. Choosing dopamine efficient foods (google it - you’ll probably see a lot of your favourite foods on there because your brain knows that’s where the dopamine is!) and eating regularly, meaning setting yourself up for the day with a dopamine efficient breakfast and eating (ideally something with protein) every 3-4 hours can give your body the resources it needs to keep you going. Setting time aside to pursue your interests and hobbies, actually making time to do the things you love doing, can also make a big difference.

Incorporating these things can be challenging, taking some time and creativity to find what works for you, remember to do it, and to know when you need it. Especially since the ADHD brain can hate routine and chores, these things can be easy to forget or put off doing - so find the ways that make it fun, so you look forward to doing them!

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