I’ll admit it. I have been in a downward emotional funk for weeks. Not being able to shake it has been unbearable at times. Maybe you can relate.

2020 was to be the year! Plans to attend my oldest son’s wedding in April. Speaking at an international conference in May. Going to Alaska to see my daughter and son-in-law’s new home in July. My siblings, their spouses, and I were making plans for a European cruise with my mom in September. A conference on ADHD, I look forward to attending every November. And a week to simply enjoy time with my good friend, and invaluable VP of Everything in my home by the sea. I’m betting you had plans this year that changed as well.

Wait! Don’t click away yet. This isn’t just another article about the ADHD emotional challenges brought on by a pandemic. Stay with me here. I promise it’s more. 

After my typical neuron nerd research to get at the bottom of this emotional funk, I learned something. I learned that the flux of emotions, and hours tucked under my weighted blanket with Netflix was utterly normal. And if you are experiencing similar emotional challenges living with ADHD right now, it’s normal for you too. There are things you can do right now to improve the rest of the year. And if you want, change how 2021 starts out.

ADHD Brains Want Something Positive to Anticipate!

Or why our ADHD brains need a party! We know that people with ADHD are motivated by positive rewards. ADHD brains are hard-wired to thrive from anticipating a positive outcome. It may even be that the promise of the reward and waiting for it adds to the mood-boosting, motivating, pandemic proofing experience. 

What’s more, our ADHD brains evolved to make preparing for and anticipating future events important. Knowing winter was coming meant we made sure we had food stored, and warm clothes sewn. Knowing wild beasts could at any moment attack made sure we were sharpening our spears to be ready in defense.

Despite our modern world scenarios, our stone-age brains have not evolved past these instincts. The reason? These helped us survive. And the instinct of anticipation is not just about preparing for hard times. It includes the need to anticipate the positive, also. 

Looking forward to good things is essential to our emotional and mental ADHD well-being. 2020 has stomped all over our looking forward to things parade! In my world, all the fireworks, festivals, and celebrations were canceled. This is not good for our ADHD brains or our mood. Studies show that the more positive events we are anticipating, the more cheerful our perspective. Planning for future positive experiences gets us through challenging times. 

Like knowing spring and new life is coming during a cold winter or that the rain will eventually stop, and a rainbow will appear when you live in Seattle.

The actual planning, preparing, and anticipating positive events keeps our brains busy so depression and anxiety can’t creep in. The less encouraging, positive or uplifting circumstances we are anticipating, the lower our mood. 

Neurobiologically, anticipation of the positive releases dopamine in our brains. The same parts of our brain that react to happy events also allow for worrying and anxiety. Your brain doesn’t know the difference. However, you can choose which thoughts you want to focus on to release that dopamine…catastrophe or party—worry or warm baths.

Anticipating “Mini-Positives” 

Here’s more good news for anyone trying to improve their mood with ADHD. The positive thing we are anticipating that will raise our mood and dopamine needn’t be a huge thing. In fact, it’s good for our brain to be satisfied with simple pleasures. So, it can be as small as looking forward to seeing the sunset in the evening. Or that pumpkin spice cream in your morning coffee. Delaying the positive reward and anticipating the experience, keeps the brain actively working and releasing dopamine. And increase dopamine is good for ADHD brains! 

How can you start adding these small, short-term sources of “mini-positive” anticipation into your days? 

Following are some ideas:

  • Order something special for yourself and look forward to it arriving in the mail.
  • Plan a coffee video chat with a good friend or family member for the following day.
  • Map out a new hike or drive for the coming weekend.
  • Put up sparkling lights that you turn on only at night.
  • Plan to take a special once a week trip to the dollar store to see who finds the coolest thing for a buck.
  • Decide to cook your favorite meal that night.
  • Read a really good book…allowing yourself only one chapter a day. 
  • Treat yourself to once a week take out at a new place.
  • Pull out festive decorations now and allow yourself to indulge in the holiday spirit.
  • Reflect on one positive affirmation each morning.
  • Rather than binging on Netflix, allow yourself to watch only one episode at a time.
  • Send a special card to someone and look forward to getting one back.
  • Write a list of your favorite music. Set aside time to listen and indulge.
  • Start making your gift-giving list now…for next year!
  • Get a planner for the coming year and highlight the holidays, special days, and other favorite days you are looking forward to.
  • Start making a list of the trips you will take in 2022. Sure, it’s a long way off, but that just means you have more time to look forward to  🙂

So, if the pandemic has dampened your ADHD mood or increased the overwhelm, start filling up on the feel-goods and boost that dopamine by anticipating positive mini-moments. Your brain will thank you for it. And remember it’s the little things that count. 

How can you boost your mood, decrease the worry, and start filling up on the feel-goods? I’d love to know. Share below!

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