Whether you live with ADHD or are simply looking for ways to implement healthy habits, this article is for you. Find out what a dopamenu is and how to create your own dopamine menu with examples.
Read until the end for a printable template to create your own dopamenu!
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a type of chemical in the brain, also called a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters act as messengers within the brain and body.
Dopamine has several important functions:
- Produces feelings of pleasure and reward,
- Regulates mood and emotion,
- Reinforces learning and memories,
- Regulates hormones,
- Manages motor control and coordination, and
- Enhances attention and focus.
Why do people with ADHD crave dopamine?
Dopamine is considered to be the primary neurotransmitter behind attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.
While people with ADHD don’t necessarily “crave” dopamine, it is essential to feeling stimulated and therefore may help ADHDers stay more focused and engaged.
So, is ADHD just a dopamine deficiency? Not quite. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
ADHD is associated with the dysregulation of the dopamine system in the brain. In individuals with ADHD, there may be differences in dopamine receptor density or dopamine transporter function, leading to reduced dopamine activity in certain areas of ADHD brains.
Issues with internal dopamine regulation often push ADHDers to look to their environment for pleasure and reward. This results in some of the typical externalized symptoms of ADHD, including inattention and hyperactivity.
This is also why people with ADHD are notoriously known for engaging in dopamine seeking behaviors. Such as online shopping, doom scrolling social media, speeding while driving, etc.
In fact, many ADHD medications help to regulate the dopamine levels in your brain.
You can also activate this natural reward system by engaging in activities you find enjoyable. This can include things like online shopping, but also more productive (or less costly) activities.
Enter the dopamenu.
What is a dopamenu?
In short, a dopamenu is a list of activities that bring you joy and make you feel good.
It is intended to be used when you need a little break or mental pick-me-up.
You can look at your personalized dopamine menu and select from the items you have listed.
I first heard of the concept of a dopamenu in a Jessica McCabe YouTube video with Eric Tivers.
They describe a dopamine menu as a curated list of things that give us the level of stimulation we need when we need it.
It’s like a restaurant menu of healthy stimulation activities.
It allows us to select something that is going to “fill our bucket”, without getting bored in the selection process or repeating the same activities over and over.
A dopamenu can be helpful if you are experiencing a lack of motivation, are feeling low energy, or overstimulated.
What a dopamenu isn’t:
- A to-do list
- A cure to ADHD or burnout
- An alternative to medication or therapy
Why are dopamine menus effective?
While we hate to admit it, systems for ADHD can be extremely effective. You just need to find the right systems for you.
A dopamine menu can be used as a system to take the guesswork out of finding a productive and stimulating activity when you need one.
So, instead of answering the question: “what would you like for dinner?” AFTER you are already “hungry”, you have a menu tailored to your preferences that you can choose from BEFORE you feel “famished”.
How to create your own dopamine menu
Use the template and examples provided below to guide you!
There is a downloadable template for you to print out and use at the end of this article.
Once you’ve customized it, post it on your refrigerator or make it your screensaver. Put it somewhere it is easy to refer back to.
Note: some of my dopamine menu ideas may fit into different categories or be irrelevant to you! Don’t let this deter you from moving things around for yourself.
For example, a walk is something that I like to do to clear my head before starting a task (aka a starter). For you, it might be a main course.
Starters or appetizers
Things that are quick and don’t suck you in. These are great to use as a break or before beginning a more daunting task.
- Go for a walk
- Listen to a favorite song
- Sit down with a hot coffee, iced coffee, or cup of tea
- Tidy kitchen
- Warm shower
- Have a snack
- Drink water
- Use Pinterest to get inspired
Things that you enjoy that take a bit longer. These activities are known to “fill your cup”. They can be scheduled activities or ones that help you wind down at the end of the day.
- Play a boardgame
- Visit with a friend
- Go to the park
- Read a book
- Play an instrument
- Cook a meal
- Bake something
- Go out with friends or family
- Have a nap
- Physical activity
- Other hobbies
- Try something new
Things that you can add to other activities to make them more enjoyable.
Did you know that I have a podcast? It’s called Unsavory. In it, my co-host Sarah and I discuss instances of true crime in the food industry. Check it out!
- White noise
- Phone a friend
- Body doubling
- Light a candle
- Put on diffuser
- Play with fidget ring or toy
I recently collaborated with my favorite jewelry brand, LACONIC, to bring you the Serenity fidget ring. We designed it for those with ADHD and/or anxiety to use as an outlet for restless energy. A great side dish, if I say so myself.
Things that you often default to or that you may overdo it on. If you spend large amounts of time on these, they may not leave you feeling very good.
These menu items are still fine to “order”. It is just good to know when they are being “consumed”.
- Scroll social media
- Watch a favorite TV show
- Go to the movies
- Play video games
- Go to Starbucks
Things that bring you a lot of joy but that are expensive or less convenient. These are activities you may need to plan for and engage in less frequently.
- Book a vacation
- Go to a concert, the theater, or a comedy show
- Online shop
- Visit the nail salon
- Get a massage
- Dopamine is a type of chemical in the brain that acts as a messenger within the brain and body. It is involved in regulating the body’s pleasure and reward systems, mood, and attention.
- ADHD is associated with the dysregulation of the dopamine system in the brain.
- People with ADHD may look to their environment for external stimulation.
- A dopamenu is a personalized list of activities that brings you joy, helps you recharge, and makes you feel good.
- Implementing a dopamenu can help you create healthy habits.