Thursday, November 13, 2014

It's all about dopamine!

What is dopamine? 

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter, or brain chemical. It helps level out the nervous system, thereby reducing anxiety and stress, and it is responsible for feelings of mode, attention, motivation, thinking, sleeping, seeking and reward. 

The dopamine loop

In the past, scientists have held dopamine responsible for our experience of pleasure. However, recent research indicatesthat dopamine is actually the chemical that causes us to want, desire, seek out and search.  Dopamine induces a loop - it starts us seeking and anticipating, and then we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. So, dopamine is responsible for the wanting, which triggers us to seek. When we find what we seek, we get satisfaction, or pleasure.  It's actually the opioid system which allows us to feel pleasure which allows us to feel pleasure. Feeling pleasure is , well... pleasurable, so we start the cycle again.  And again. Want, seek, anticipate, achieve, feel satisfied.  So, what's the problem?  The dopamine system is stronger than the opioid system so we tend to seek more than we are satisfied.

What does dopamine feel like in our bodies? 

If all of these words and the image don't make much sense to you, try thinking about it in terms of what it feels like in your body.  Although everyone experiences it differently, it basically feels like a little (or big) energy blip, or burst.  It's that feeling of: YES!...Let's get going!... Aaaaahhhh..... WOO-HOO! and so on.... It is the anticipation feelings we get from our successes, completions and victories, both small and not-so-small. 

ADHD and Dopamine

Although research is ongoing and often conflicts, it does appear that both scientifically and anecdotally, there is a relationship between ADHD and dopamine.  Specifically, for those of us with ADHD, the problem is that we absorb dopamine too rapidly ("re-uptake") before it has a chance to do its job.  We are, therefore, chronically under-stimulated.  This can explain why many folks with ADD, particularly when it's unmanaged, constantly seek out stimulation, and often by things things that mimic or trick the brain.  Unfortunately, not only do many of these activities NOT help us achieve our goals, (or even set any goals), they can actually prevent us from doing so, or worse, they can can harm us.  Some examples of activities that can trick the brain are: computer games, texting, Facebook, Twitter, solitaire (for me it's Freecell), crossword puzzles, sudoku, crossing off the quick or minor items on our to-do list first, shopping, socializing, making art, watching TV, reading or gambling.  Although low dopamine is certainly not the only reason that people engage in this activities and most are not harmful in an of themselves, they can create the feelings of reward and motivation that many of us with ADHD so crave, and which we do not get from low-interest, low-stimulation tasks such as homework, tax returns, household chores or any kind of maintenance tasks. 

When we struggle to apply our under-stimulated minds to these types of activities, we often find ourselves day dreaming, bored, distracted, avoiding and procrastinating.  Sometimes, and for some people, this behavior is initially unconscious or reflexive, but can also occur knowingly and guiltily.  Another issue caused by problems regulating dopamine (which many with ADD are intimately familiar), is the phenomena of getting really excited and motivated to START a project, task, business, but either not finishing, or even starting.  It might be really exciting to go out and buy all of the stuff for an art project or house project, but then not actually begin it.  You might start it, but if it takes longer than you expected, gets hard or boring, or the novelty simply wears off, it might just get left and 'stuck' somewhere, to be forgotten and/or replaced by a new idea.  (I personally, have NO idea what this might feel like.)  ;-) 

I've attached a link to a short, informative but easy-to-follow, animated video, which explains how dopamine is the cause of our dependence or addiction to texting and other social media.

If you have identified with some, or much of what has been described here, you may be wondering what to do about it.  In my coaching practice, I work with teens, college students and adults who struggle with the challenges ADHD can present, including our ever increasing reliance, even even addiction, to our cell phones, social media and other ways we avoid what is painfully boring or monotonous. There are many strategies we can employ to overcome these, and other ways, ADHD can get in our way of achieving goals and enjoying our lives.  In addition, in the near future, look out for 'Part II' of this blog, in which I will include specific strategies to address issues and problems caused by a lack of dopamine. 

NOTE:  In this, and other articles, I use the terms ADD and ADHD interchangeably. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014


This morning, I accepted a Facebook challenge that has been floating around for the past couple of weeks.  The instructions were "to find 5 photos that make you feel beautiful, post them, and then challenge 5 other women to do the same." 

I had seen the challenge and was actually hoping that one one would tag me on it.  No luck.  Thanks, AnnMarie.  :-P  

No, seriously. THANK YOU, AnnMarie!

Regardless of how others see us, we all have those self-sabotaging voices and thoughts about our physical appearance. And, I think we all have a couple of photos of ourselves that we particularly like. So of course, I chose them first. As I started perusing my photos, it was interesting to me that some that may have reflected some outer beauty didn't make the cut. 

As I looked at the photos, I kept hearing myself say, "photos that make me FEEL beautiful". So, my lovely lesson this morning was that I don't just feel beautiful when I'm having a good hair day, or I'm not bloated, or the color I'm wearing makes my eyes pop, or my thighs are hidden. (Although those things certainly do help.) ;-) 

I feel beautiful when I see beauty.  I feel beautiful when I see loved ones looking at me.  I feel beautiful when I feel hope.  I feel beautiful when I'm happy and having fun.  I feel beautiful when my senses are alive.  I feel beautiful when I'm doing things about which I'm passionate.  I feel beautiful when I'm with the people who matter most to me. I feel beautiful when I create art and beauty. 

Of course, I couldn't only choose 5 photos.  I'm not so good at following instructions. :-)  What a wonderful way to have started my day.  ≠What makes you feel beautiful?  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Most of us are familiar with the term body double as it relates to film or television.  It is a person who stands in for another actor in a particular scene, such as a sex scene.  However, that is not at all what I am talking about here!   In the world of ADD/ADHD, we use the term body double to refer to a person who hangs out with you while you work on a task which is difficult for you to start or complete while alone, or on which you have been procrastinating.  The concept may seem pretty simplistic, but it can actually be an extremely helpful strategy.

Here are some DOs and DON'Ts to keep in mind when selecting a person to be your body double:

  • DON'T choose someone who will nag, instruct or judge  (Often, but not always, true of a family member); 
  • DON'T choose someone with whom you tend to be especially chatty (unless you are certain you can resist chatting or perhaps agree to use it a reward);
  • DON'T choose someone who is likely to step in, unsolicited, to give you "advice"
  • DO choose a person with whom you have some comfort level;
  • DO choose someone you know can sit quietly and do her own thing;
  • DO choose a person who really 'gets' your challenges, if possible;
  • DO choose someone with whom you can reciprocate, either at the same time, or at a later date
Having someone there with you can be very effective in helping you begin and stay on task.  This is not because the person is acting in the role of taskmaster; simply, the mere presence of another person can serve as a reminder of what you want to accomplish at that time.   The body double can also function as a sort of mirror.  For example, have you ever said something like this to yourself, perhaps while procrastinating?  "If I had a boss, who was watching me right now, that would NOT be a good thing!"  When you know that someone IS there, who also knows what you are 'supposed' to be doing, it can feel a little bit like an audience, in a helpful way, because that presence can help you feel more centered and help you to stay on task, should you become bored or distracted. 

You can use a body double in any way that serves you and for any type of task, but here are some that lend themselves especially well to this strategy: 

- Cleaning or organizing projects
- Filing
- Paying bills
- Homework
- Writing
- Reading

Depending on what you hope to accomplish, and on other issues such as pet allergies, noise or proximity of small distracting beings, choose a place that best serves the task and your style.  For example, I used to meet someone regularly at the library for a fixed period of time when I wanted to get some reading done.  I would bring only the material I wanted to read, paper, and sometimes my computer.  The woman with whom I met had challenges which were similar to mine, so she would also bring something she needed to tackle as well.  Design the relationship so it serves you best. Earlier, I said not to choose a person who would nag or instruct; however, IF it serves you to have the person comment if you do something such as get on your computer, or fold the laundry, or water the flowers, or anything that is NOT what you intend to work on, set that up ahead of time.  I have been known to say to people, " If you see me doing anything other than sitting at this desk or taking a quick bathroom break, please call me on it!" ;-) There are NO hard and fast rules- design it so it works for you. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

When Life Gives You Key Limes...

We are often told that when life gives us lemons, we can choose to make lemonade.  But what happens when life gives us stale, unfrosted, key lime cupcakes?

If you have ADD, or similar quirks and traits, you may frequently get very excited about a cool idea or project and drop everything to get it started.  And then… well, yeah… Then, sometimes we get bored, or run out of energy, or get distracted or think of yet another great idea, and the previous project doesn't quite get finished.   

Last month, I tried a new recipe for key lime cupcakes. They were very yummy!  I didn’t totally love the frosting, so I decided to make them again a couple of weeks ago and alter the frosting recipe.  

The first time I made them, I did that thing where I looked at a bunch of recipes and found the perfect one.  I then checked to see what ingredients I had, purchased the ones I didn’t have and then, when I got home, I didn’t feel like making them anymore.  (Sound familiar to anyone?)   I did, however, make them a few days later.  The limes had shrunk a bit, but were still fine.  Zesting and juicing key limes is no picnic, and especially so when they’re even smaller than usual.  This time, though, I did not let the limes shrink and I even zested enough to make the frosting.  Except that I did not make it.  I had been waiting to let the cupcakes cool and got distracted, or tired, or something.  “Ok, no biggie”, I thought, “I’ll just make the frosting tomorrow.”  But I didn’t. Again. 

A few days later, the zest was shriveled up and dried out. The cupcakes were pretty dry as well.  I was about to throw them out, but instead, I decided to taste them.  They were actually still really good! YAY!  I put them in Ziploc bags and after a few days, still no one had eaten them, including me.  

Once again, I was about to toss them, but then I had an idea.  I wonder if you can make cupcake bread pudding?  Guess what?  You CAN and I DID and it’s DELICIOUS!  
It’s no secret to those of us who happen to be wired in this way that one of the costs can be wasted money on “supplies”.  But sometimes, out of a perceived ‘sour’ situation, there comes a new invention, or at least, creative innovation!

If you have any Key Lime Cupcake Bread Pudding stories, I would love to hear them! 


Cut cupcakes in quarters, place them in
a baking dish and add  a mixture of milk,
egg, vanilla, pinch of salt and anything
else you think would be good.  I added 
about an 1/8 of a tsp of key lime zest.  
Bake at 350 for 30-45 min, depending 
on size of your baking dish. Top with
whipped cream or whatever you think
would enhance the experience.  Enjoy!