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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bipolar parent

Bipolar? Your Brain is Wired to Make Poor Decisions

Credit to user TZA. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Struggling to plan and make decisions while depressed or manic are common problems. But have you ever had trouble doing the same while relatively stable? New research may show why.


Researchers examined ninety patients’–forty-five with bipolar disorder in stable moods, and forty-five controls without bipolar disorder–brains, and discovered that, in the bipolar sufferers, there are certain areas of the brain that have reduced activation regardless of mood due to structural damage.

This is the first study to look at the relationship between functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and structural MRIs in bipolar disorder. The scientists found that the patients with bipolar suffered from reduced cortical thickness and thus had less activity in areas of the brain that controlled impulses, or contributed to making decisions.

The study was published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, and conducted by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles.

As this is the first study to find a link between structure and function, the results are exciting. The research proves that bipolar disorder damages your brain. You’re not stupid; your brain is just wired to make impulsive decisions and be poor at planning.

The scientists who conducted the study hope that their research will be used in future intervention studies. Good news!

bipolar parent

Bipolar Disorder is Toxic–Literally

Credit to user Anders Sandberg. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Apparently the blood of people with bipolar disorder is toxic to their brains. Let me explain.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder characterized by changes in mood and energy levels, affecting a sufferer’s ability to function. People affected by the disorder endure periods of both mania–with elevated mood, irritability, and rapid thoughts–and depression.

Lately, researchers have begun classifying patients as early or late-stage. Early-stage patients have dealt with fewer mood episodes; late-stage patients have dealt with more frequent and more severe episodes.

A recent study compared neurons exposed to blood serum from bipolar patients to neurons exposed to blood serum from healthy controls. Researchers Fabio Klamt and Flávio Kapczinski found that the first neurons suffered a significant loss in the density of neurites, which estimate the number of brain connections. However, neurons exposed to serum from early-stage bipolar disorder patients showed no difference in neurite density compared to the healthy controls’. The scientists also found that, except for those neurons exposed to serum from patients at very late stages of the disease, the number of neurons weren’t that different between samples.

Previous studies have shown that people with bipolar disorder have lower neurotrophins–proteins that promote brain growth. Also lowered is the early-growth response 3 (EGR3), a protein which helps the brain cope with stressors such as environmental changes and overstimulation. In addition, another study showed that bipolar patients have abnormally low levels of chemokines–proteins that signal other cells, so reactions to stimuli are slower.

So, what does that all mean? In short: researchers have found definitive proof that the blood of people with bipolar disorder is toxic to their brains. The more mood episodes a person has, the fewer brain connections he or she will create, and the slower their brains will grow. People in later stages of the disease also produce more cells which impair the brain’s ability to deal with environmental changes, inflammation, and stress.

Further studies will concentrate on creating drugs which can offset the toxicity of the bipolar patients’ blood.

bipolar parent

How to Clean When Your Brain is a Mess, part III

This is part three of a three-part series.
Part I | Part II | Part III

A clutter-filled environment weighs on the mind and wears you out.  We’ve talked about why messes grow like fungi in some homes (hint: brain wiring!) as well as a few plans of attack, but what about when you’re in a mood state?


Remember Your Priorities: Drag yourself out of bed. Step into the shower, and then just stand there for a while. Take all the hot water you need. It’s okay to slump. Wash your hair, and brush your teeth. Put your shoes on. Eat something small and protein-filled (yogurt, eggs, nuts). Drink a tall glass of water.

You need to take care of yourself before even thinking of attempting chores. When you don’t feel good, the pile of dirty clothes looms like a mountain—one you can still step around on the way to bed or the computer chair.

So first take care of yourself, and then face that armful of laundry. Don’t worry about separating; just toss it into the washer. Don’t add bleach, and make sure to set an alarm when you need to change it over. Fold the clothes when they’re dry. If that’s all you can handle, crawl back into bed. Try again tomorrow, but do two chores instead of one. Then three, and so on.

Get Help: If you are able to afford it, a maid service may be a wonderful investment for you. I know a few people who pay for this privilege, and they all report that they pick up before their maid arrives due to guilt. If that what’s motivates you, then go for it!

Credit to flickr user Omnidu. Used with permission.
Credit to flickr user Omnidu. Used with permission.

Similarly, if you have a partner or roommate, split the chores down the middle. Figure out which tasks you each hate doing and which you don’t, and then discuss who takes what. You can also set a rotating schedule if you get bored with doing the same task week after week.

Speak to your partner when you feel anxious or stressed, because that will affect how much you can take on around the house.  Give them the same courtesy–they’re human, too!  And try to be kind to each other.  If a chore doesn’t get done, then it doesn’t get done. Just try again tomorrow.


Cleaning during a hypomanic or manic episode is similar to cleaning while depressed. You have to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed. The difference is that you now have the energy to start up a new project and leave in the middle. If you’re like me, you’ll only end up irritated and turning in circles by the end of the day.

Cut Distractions: Wear some headphones while the kids are at school. Try to work on the same task for three songs, and then switch immediately to another one—regardless of the unfinished state of the first task. After two or three tasks, sit down for fifteen minutes. Drink a large glass of water as slowly as you can. Breathe. Then get back to work on the first task.

Credit to flickr user Natalie R. Used with permission.
Credit to flickr user Natalie R. Used with permission.

Put Things Away: I have a friend who only has a few color-coded dishes per person in her household. Each person washes their own and puts it away. This doesn’t work for me, because I’ll order pizza until I’m broke, but if you’re able to keep your sink empty, go for it!

Similarly, if you take a book out, try to reshelf it. Then it will be one more item not taking up space–and not just in the physical realm.  You have to remember where you left it and why you took it out in the first place, which taxes your already over-crowded brain.

Best of luck tackling your house while struggling through a mood state.  Even though it’s not so much ‘tackling’ as ‘limping to the end zone with a couple of dishes,’ any progress made is time well-spent.  Don’t be too hard on yourself!