It’s All About the Dopamine

  • Quit “Shoulding” On Yourself!

    How often do you think that you should be able to accomplish a particular task? Or that you should do….insert activity that might be good for you but that you don’t currently do?

    Here are some examples:

    I should be able to figure out my monthly expenses, what is wrong with me?

    I should go to the gym more, what is wrong with me?

    Everyone else remembered to call Sue on her birthday, I should be able to remember something that simple, what is wrong with me?

    My mentor coach would call this “shoulding on yourself.” 

    The word should, per the Oxford English Dictionary, is “used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.” In other words, should is a judgment word. To “indicate…correctness” implies that if you don’t do what you should, you are incorrect. In the wrong. Even the definition tells us it’s used typically to criticize.

    And for ADHDers, there can be lots of shoulds. And lots of self criticism.

    But wait a minute, you say. Aren’t there things we really should do?

    Of course there are. We should drive sober. We should pay our taxes. We should call our mothers on Mother’s Day, and dads on Father’s Day.

    So when SHOULD we use should? And when is should akin to a four letter word?

    The way I look at it is this: I feel that should can be reserved for absolutes. For rules, laws, socially acceptable customs – in other words, situations where there is no judgment involved, because it’s pretty black and white.

    But when it’s not a rule, using should kind of makes it a rule. And then if we don’t do something, we’ve broken that rule-and we go down the rabbit hole of shame.

    How about, when it’s not a rule, we use “want?” Let’s try it.

    I want to be able to figure out my monthly expenses, but I’m not sure how. Maybe I’ll ask someone for help.

    I want to go to the gym more, what can I do to get there consistently?

    Everyone else remembered to call Sue on her birthday, I want to be able to remember something that simple. What can I do to make this happen?

    “Should” makes it a rule, and invites embarrassment and shame. “Want” makes it a desire, and invites action.

    So here’s a little assignment: try to notice when you say you should do something. And if you do catch yourself, replace should with “want to,” and see how different that vibe is.

    It will probably make you want to stop shoulding all over yourself!

  • Food For Thought….About Food

    Food and eating – a big topic during ADHD coaching sessions.

    The questions about eating run the gamut – from looking for information about what foods positively, or negatively, impact ADHD, to addressing supplement use to mitigate ADHD symptoms in place of medication, to impulsivity with eating. There are also issues around food, like ADHD kiddos being unable to sit at the dinner table, or children raiding the snack cabinet at 4am.

    Food is a big part of our lives. And having ADHD can add an entire layer of challenges and questions.

    Here’s the thing: having grown up with what today would quite possibly be diagnosed as disordered eating, I am well aware of how careful we must be when addressing challenges relating to food. The last thing we want is for our kids-or ourselves-to feel bad or wrong because appetites spike when meds wear off, or because the sensory issues that often accompany ADHD makes the thought of eating eggs akin to torture.

    I don’t want to mess this up. So, I called in the experts.

    I worked with a very helpful and knowledgeable registered dietitian  (by the way, do you know the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist? I do now!), to develop a list of questions to gauge dietitians’ general philosophies on food and body image, and their experiences with neurodivergent populations, with specific attention to ADHD and concurrent eating issues.

    I am happy to say that the dietitians whom I contacted were very eager to chat with me, to discuss their views on food, diet, body image, ADHD, and sensory challenges, and to use their expertise and experience with neurodivergent folks to aid struggling ADHDers with navigating their eating journeys. These professionals brought a new perspective that was really interesting, and would be so helpful for ADHDers dealing with eating related challenges.

    I am including their names and contact information below.

    If you are interested in doing your own research to find a registered dietician that can meet your particular needs, including being ADHD informed, or is local to you, I’d be happy to share my question list with you. Just reach out!

    Help is out there if you or your child is struggling with food related challenges, including those that are connected to ADHD. I strongly suggest calling in the experts, and getting the professional support you need, and deserve.

    Registered Dietitians:

    Tracy Colin, MS, RD
    My Food, My Choice LLC
    https://myfoodmychoicenutrition.com
    tracy@myfoodmychoicenutrition.com
    848-228-2046

    Eliza Hiberlein, RDN
    https://www.elizaheberleinrd.com/
    ElizaHeberlein@elizaheberleinrd.com
    732-978-9137

    Andie Schwartz, M.ED, RDN, CLC, CSCS, NCSA-CPT. RYT
    ABS Nutrition and Fitness
    https://www.absnutritionandfitness.com/
    andie@absnutritionandfitness.com
    856-292-5355

    Stephanie Van’t Zelfden, RDN, CIEC
    Nutrition Hungry
    https://www.nutritionhungry.com/
    stephanie@nutritionhungry.com
    856-320-5100

  • If You Don’t Know The Basic Science Behind ADHD, You Need to Learn It

    When I do an initial intake with a new client, one of the questions I ask is “What would you like to learn about your ADHD?”  It’s a pretty broad question, and most responses center around wanting to learn how to be more productive, or how to organize their lives.

    At that point, I ask, “How much do you know about the brain science behind your ADHD?”

    The majority say they don’t know anything, or very little. The word dopamine is bandied about a bit. And most surprisingly, when I ask if they would like to know more, most say, “I don’t really need to.”

    Oh, but you do. You really, really do.

    I’m not talking about becoming a neuropsychologist, or obtaining the knowledge that your psychiatrist has. But having a basic understanding of what physically makes your brain different, and how that impacts your life, is, in my opinion, essential. 

    First, it is vital to understand that there are physical differences between the ADHD brain and the neurotypical brain. It is not being lazy, or dumb, or anything behavioral. Comprehending that concept opens up an entire world for those of you who have been chastising yourselves about not trying harder. Or just not getting over it.

    Would you berate yourself because you haven’t tried harder to see better, if you are a glasses wearer? Of course not. And just because this is a brain related disorder does not make it any less physical.

    Repeat that to yourself a few times.

    Secondly, I’m not sure how one can make a well informed decision about symptom management if they don’t understand what is causing the symptoms to begin with.

    Let’s take an example from my running life. Let’s say I have a pain in my knee. In order to decide how to handle that, (Rest? Ice? New running shoes? Surgery?) I need to understand what may have happened that resulted in this pain before I can decide what I need to do next.

    With ADHD, having a working comprehension of what is causing symptoms can help us to make solid treatment decisions. Knowing that my brain has lower dopamine might lead me to use medication to offset that. Understanding that the areas of my brain that control my emotional responses are different than those belonging to neurotypicals might convince me to try meditation to help with regulating my responses.

    Deciding on one’s symptom management without having a basic understanding of what is causing the symptoms is like wearing a bikini on a sunny day…in February. You just don’t have all the facts to make an informed decision.

    Finally, having a basic working knowledge of how your brain is different enables you to set up your life in ways that support you.

    Dopamine low? Let’s make things more fun to get us going! Executive functions negatively impacted? Maybe an accountability buddy or group can help keep us on track. Fight or flight activated quickly? Perhaps I need to let my significant other know this can happen.

    I don’t mean to imply that the ADHD brain is wrong, or broken, or just not effective. Not at all. But it IS different. And providing yourself with that knowledge is a gift of self awareness, and part of the ADHD toolbox for living your best life.

  • The Pandemic DID Happen. And It’s Still Affecting Your ADHD Kid.

    Today is February 29 – Leap Year Day. Since this is a once-every-four-years event, it is natural to look back to four years earlier, and think “what was I doing last Leap Year Day?”

    But what we were doing is lost in the significance of what we were about to do. Because two weeks later, our worlds just shut down here in the United States. COVID-19 had come to our shores.

    So while I can’t tell you how I spent February 29, 2020, I can tell you that on March 13, 2020, I taught in a classroom for the very last time. We celebrated Pi Day-my colleague and I opting out of serving pie, out of “an abundance of caution.” We left school, with the thought that we’d be back in a few weeks.

    Crazy how wrong that was.

    But why am I talking about this? Why dwell on what has been the worst collective event that many of us will ever experience? Why not just put it in the past, and move forward into the sunshine?

    Because it did happen, even if we want to pretend it didn’t. And the impacts are still being felt among all children today. Even more so for ADHD kids. 

    We all know there was substantial learning loss during the pandemic. Online education was something for which teachers weren’t prepared, to which students had difficulty relating (and frequent technological issues), and for which parents had no time-it’s pretty tough to do your job from home, while monitoring whether your kid is actually paying attention to the teacher on the screen. Additionally, many students were tasked with caring for younger siblings while their parents worked in the next room-so getting online wasn’t always possible. It is estimated that academically, students lost the equivalent of 35% of a school year during the pandemic.

    However, the learning loss is just a part of this. Let’s talk about the loss in interactions, and the resulting social skills impacted. Not to mention the subsequent mental health challenges children and teens faced. And let’s not forget-people were sick. Very sick. People were dying. Many of our young people were dealing with the loss of loved ones, and the fear that others might be next. 

    Familiar routines were upended-and that’s an understatement. Day care centers were closed, grandparents isolated, playdates not allowed. According to The Economist, “The pandemic’s indirect effects on small children could last a lifetime.”¹ Think about it-if a child is 9 now, this hit when they were 5, which is just when kids are learning to be people without their parents telling them how. If a child is 18, they were 14 then, exactly at that middle school point where kids are trying out independence with the safety net of their parents in the background. 

    The impact on maturity is seen by teachers daily-and while not unexpected, it is certainly alarming.

    And how did ADHD kids fare? In a meta-analysis of 18 studies performed across the globe published by the Journal of Attention Disorders, Emerging research suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately and adversely affected children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).”² This included decreases in motivation and focus, and increases in social isolation and emotional dysregulation. 

    One study published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing suggests that ADHD kids were less likely to participate in crafts projects and other non-screen activities at home (including homework) than their non-ADHD peers. According to the study, ADHD kids played video games 22.5% more than their neurotypical buddies, and participated in socializing via technology 40.7% less than their peers.³ 

    So what does this mean for today? It means that all kids were impacted by the lack of socialization that took place during the pandemic. And all kids are behind, both academically and socially.

    And it also means that the effect on ADHD kids was greater. And ADHD kids are already 25% behind in terms of their emotional development. So this puts them in an even more disadvantageous position.

    We need to get our heads out of the sand. We need to understand that our ADHD children could be even more than the 2-3 years behind their peers that we already know about. We need to stop thinking about pushing children with ADHD to get to that neurotypical bar, and instead, meet them where they are at.

    We need to support our kids. Because we love them. And if that means accepting that our 17 year old may in fact have the maturity of a 13 year old, and we need to be there for them a bit longer, then that’s what we need to do.

    We don’t have to live in the past. But we do have to acknowledge its impact on the present. And the future.

    ¹”The pandemic’s indirect effects on small children could last a lifetime,” The Economist, December 15, 2022.

    ²Rogers, M., and MacLean, J., “ADHD Symptoms Increased During the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Attention Disorders, Vol. 27, Iss. 8, March 6, 2023.

    ³Kara, O.K., et al, “The long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children with ADHD in terms of participation,support,and barriers at home.” Journal of Pediatric Nursing, March, 2023.

  • How Body Doubling Is Changing My Life!

    That sounds awfully dramatic, doesn’t it? But it’s the truth!

    I have a project that has been sitting on my back burner for so long, it’s blending in with the decor. It’s a terrific project, a great idea, something that, if I can get it off the ground,will enable me to help people make major positive changes in their lives…

    But, there it sits.

    And the thing is, I already started it, awhile back. So it’s not about starting this project, and feeling overwhelmed. It’s about starting AGAIN.

    It’s that same feeling you get when you’ve been going to the gym consistently, and then life happens, and you miss one workout, and another, and another. It’s almost harder to go BACK to the gym than it was to start in the first place.

    What’s up with that?

    When we are starting something new, there’s excitement. There’s anticipation. Using the gym example, there are so many possibilities-feeling great, looking chiseled, meeting new people.

    But that excitement isn’t really there when we go BACK to something we’ve done in the recent past. Sure, we know it’s a good idea, we looked and felt much better when we were working out often, but it’s really hard to drum up that “new” feeling that kicks our enthusiasm-and our dopamine-up several notches.

    And that’s exactly what I have run into with my project. I know it’s a great idea, but I also can’t garner that “Yahoo!” feeling. The newness isn’t there. Plus I also know about the downside-that I actually have to do work to make it happen!

    Enter body doubling. Body doubling is when we work alongside someone, as opposed to with them. It is a great way to keep working-you’re not going to start playing on your phone when you’ve committed to working and your body double can see you. So it works fantastically well for distractions.

    But as an incentive to start a task? Yup!

    A friend offered to body double with me while I work on this project. She had some work to do as well, so we would both benefit.

    And suddenly, the newness was there! I was going to work with my friend! And be able to share my progress! 

    This new twist made all the difference.

    So far, we’ve body doubled once, and now, I’m working away on my project even when she’s not around, so I can tell her how far I’ve come since I saw her last. Accountability is built into the process, along with having a work buddy.

    Now, there is actually hope of completing this project in the foreseeable future, which could really be a game changer for me, and others. 

    The project is off the back burner. In fact-it’s got a hell of a fire under it. Thanks to body doubling.

    If you are interested in body doubling with me, you can register for my weekly Monday afternoon sessions-FREE! Here’s the link:  https://calendly.com/constellationadhdcoach/body-doubling

It’s All About the Dopamine