Inside the plow

Dopamine: when the high dies

Dopamine: what is it? A quick google will tell you that dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter and hormone and that it plays a role in many important body functions, including movement, memory, motivation and more excitingly, pleasurable reward! If you’re anything like me, you’re probably constantly on the hunt for your next dopamine hit.

What makes our brains feel good?

  • Getting a like or retweet on Twitter
  • Having a colleague tell us you’ve done a good job
  • Receiving a text message from a loved one
  • Getting a match on a dating app
  • “Just 5 more minutes” scrolling on social media
  • Winning a level on a game you’re playing

All of the above can give us that quick dopamine boost that we’re after.

Sadly, chasing a dopamine high with the above can be much like trying to fill up a bucket with water when there’s a hole in the bottom. You’ll never be able to fill the bucket up; you’ll never be satisfied.

When we’re on the hunt for a dopamine boost, we’re going to turn to the quick and easy things: the things that are only going to temporarily fill up our bucket. It’s much like going to the supermarket on an empty stomach; you’re going to grab whatever’s closest to you, as long as it doesn’t require prep. A hungry stomach doesn’t like prep, much like a dopamine starved brain doesn’t like prep.

So what can we do?

When I’m hungry and not in the mood to cook, I’ll either pick up my phone and open the Deliveroo app, or I’ll suggest we eat out that night. Reading through a menu brings so much joy to my hungry little tummy. My brain is also quite relieved, as it doesn’t have to think too hard about what to order.

We can do this with dopamine too! We can create a dopamine menu so that when our brains aren’t feeling so good, we can peruse the menu and make smarter decisions. The hard work and prep has already been done.

I’ve split mine up into 5 parts: Starters, mains, sides, desserts and specials.

Starters

These are things you can turn to if you only have a couple of minutes.

  • Eat dopamine inducing foods: bananas, avocados, pumpkin and sesame seeds etc. 5 mins
  • Do some mindful stretches at your desk or some quick, light exercise — 10 mins
  • Pop the kettle on and have a cup of tea/ coffee (and a cookie!) — 10 mins
  • Water the plants/ tidy your desk — 10 mins

Mains

These will fill you up, leaving your brain extremely happy for a substantial length of time.

  • Read a book — 30 mins
  • Have a movie night in with a friend — 3 hours
  • Make dinner — 1 hour
  • Practice an instrument — 30 mins
  • Have a picnic with friends — 2 hours
  • Clean one room of the house — 1 hour
  • Tick one item off your todo list — 1 hour

Sides

These are things you can add to your main course to really make the most of it.

  • Listen to a podcast or an album you love — Included with meal
  • Have a snack — Included with meal
  • Work alongside a fried or colleague — Included with meal
  • Use a timer and work in 20 minute increments — Included with meal
  • Wear an outfit that brings you joy — Included with meal

Desserts

These are a real treat. You can’t survive on desserts, but they really do (temporarily) hit the spot!

  • Binge all there is to binge on Netflix — ∞ hours
  • Infinity scroll through social media — ∞ hours
  • Play video games — ∞ hours
  • Buy a new outfit online — ∞ hours
  • Get lost down a Wikipedia/ Reddit rabbit hole — ∞ hours

Specials

These come around once in a blue moon. They wouldn’t be special if you had them all the time!

  • Book a holiday — $$$$$
  • Go to the theatre/ a concert — $$$
  • Get a manicure — $$
  • Go to a museum — $

The menu is done; what can I do today to make sure my brain is happy?

Make things more accessible for yourself. Want to practice your ukulele a bit more? Keep it out in your living room. Want to finally finish that book your started 6 months a go? Keep it out on your bedside table. Want to eat more fruit? Buy a fruit bowl and keep it on your dining room table.

So let’s pick a meal!

For starters, I will eat a banana on my walk home from the office. When I get in, for my mains I will make a quick dinner while listening to Beyonce’s new album on the side. After dinner I will give my bathroom a clean while I listen to my favourite podcast on the side. After my main, I will treat myself to dessert by scrolling through TikTok for approximately 3592 hours before bed.

Personally, if I don’t plan my evenings, no matter how mundane the above may be, I’ll end up laying on my bed, scrolling on social media and falling asleep in a messy room without dinner. It’s okay to pick a dessert, but you need to realise it’s only going to keep you happy while you’re doing it. It won’t fill your bucket up.

Dopamine menus don’t work for everyone, so you need to find what works best for you.

How are you going to fill your bucket?

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Nicki Faulkner
Nicki Faulkner

Nicki works in engagement & wellbeing at Snowplow and keeps the team feeling happy and connected to the team. Posts include mental health, LGBT+ topics and daily life behind the scenes at Snowplow.

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