bipolar parent

How to Make a Dopamenu to Give Your Brain the Stimulation it Desperately Needs

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation’s website, here.

Have you ever found yourself doom scrolling the internet, desperately seeking stimulation for your depressed brain but being too tired to think of a healthy way to do that?

When we’re depressed, our brains have trouble focusing on “boring” tasks. We just can’t do them, and our brains seek stimulation.

But we often look for that easy dopamine (the “happy” chemical) hit, like scrolling social media, which ends up not feeling great when we do so for hours.

So what’s one way to stimulate the chronically understimulated depressed brain?

Make a Dopamenu.

This YouTube video by How to ADHD called “How to Give Your Brain the Stimulation it Needs” walks you through the process of making a Dopamenu, which can be done in the following four steps:

  • Design your menu.
  • Omit anything unrealistic.
  • Prep your ingredients.
  • Advertise

I’ll walk you through these in more detail below.

1. Design your Menu

The first step is designing your menu. Eric Tivers, an ADHD expert who has ADHD himself, recommends figuring out both what excites you and what makes you feel rotten after indulging in them for too long.

The video recommends breaking the menu down into the following sections:

  • Entrées – Activities that you can do every day that make you feel alive. My entrées involve taking a bath, planning a fanfiction with friends, eating a meal with my family, taking a brisk walk, or cross-stitching.
  • Desserts – Your “go-to”s when you’re bored and seeking a fast dopamine hit that doesn’t really satisfy you. Mine include eating Cheetos or drinking a Mountain Dew, staying in bed in the morning, and doom scrolling the internet.
  • Appetizers – Things that give you a “quick burst” of happiness. Mine include eating some cheese and bell peppers, sitting in the sun, and drinking a cup of tea.
  • Sides – Things you add to the other items on the menu to help you enjoy them more. Mine include listening to music and warm socks/comfortable clothing.
  • Specials – These are the big dopamine hits – expensive or inconvenient things that are not meant to be frequent. Mine include a trip to the local arcade to play the Dance Dance Revolution machine, baking a cake, and buying a new video game.

The video author goes on to say that desserts are not completely off-limits; you can still partake in desserts, but they shouldn’t be your main source of “nutrition” re: dopamine hits.

2. Omit anything unrealistic

The video author’s next step is to omit anything unrealistic from the entire list.

This is half a dreams list and half a goals list. I’d recommend listing things you can actually do; going on a vacation in a pandemic as a special may be out of the realm of comfort for some people, as well as too expensive.

So fluff up your list as much as possible and then cut, cut, cut.

3. Prep your ingredients

The author says to prepare to do items on your Dopamenu ahead of time as much as possible to make the processx smooth.

For example, I prepped a cross-stitch kit–fabric, needles, thread, an embroidery hoop, and scissors kept in a gallon-size Ziploc bag–and placed it in the backpack I take everywhere so I can cross-stitch at a moment’s notice. Any time I’m sitting down unoccupied and in need of precious relaxation, out comes the cross-stitch kit.

The author also says to create barriers to your go-tos so you don’t use them as often. When I need to unplug from the internet, I uninstall Discord, a chatting application, on my phone, and during my day-to-day life, I tell myself I can’t check Discord until I’ve done something productive.

Increasing the number of steps to my go-tos and decreasing the number of steps to more satisfying things on the menu has certainly helped me, and it can help you too.

4. Advertise

The next step is to make your menu pleasing to use. Advertise!

You can add descriptions to the items, design a pretty background, and/or make it humorous and therefore fun to read. When you create something beautiful to look at, it’s exciting to use!

After you prettify your Dopamenu, then place it in places where you’ll see it every day. I keep mine on my phone, but I’m planning to print a copy and post it on the door to my bedroom. That way, every time I go to lie down in my bed for the purpose of doom scrolling on my phone, I can find a better activity to engage my brain.

Final Thoughts

Making a Dopamenu is a simple way to take a look at your daily habits and start doing better ones. If your brain is continually unsatisfied, you may end up depressed, where seeking stimulation becomes even harder.

It takes energy to think of things that give you energy. Cut out the planning.

Make a Dopamenu today.

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