The ADHD Brain is Wired to Spring Forward Into New Habits

By Kirsten Milliken, PhD, PCC

Spring is the best time to start a new habit or strengthen an existing one.  Science and conventional wisdom support the idea that people with ADHD become more “activated” when signs of the spring season start to show.  Feeling motivated and energized is the ideal state to be in to start a new routine or habit.  

Spring fever is something that teachers will often comment about starting in March or April.  It’s historically “known” that students with ADHD become more antsy, restless, and unfocused in the classroom around this time.  Adults will feel energized and more playful as well. The daylight is increasing, the weather is starting to warm, we see plants turning green and more animals coming out during the day.  In spring, the natural cycle of life supports us to get outside, breathe deeply in the natural world and become more physically active.  

As the ground warms, plants come to life and the produce that is available to us (naturally) becomes more abundant.  Changing your diet in the spring can be easier because there are many more healthy options available.  

Springtime also has a natural solution to the winter doldrums. There’s a scientific basis for March Madness! At this time of year, the increase in daylight activates our natural production of vitamin D and dopamine- the “feel good” neurotransmitter.  Low levels of available dopamine has been identified as one of the causes of many challenges that accompany ADHD.  Many of the medications we use to treat ADHD act by increasing dopamine availability in our brains.  In winter our brains produce more of the neurotransmitter somatostatin, which plays an indirect role in stress and depression.  In spring our brain produces more dopamine.  This is just one of the reasons we feel more energized, motivated, and happy when spring arrives.  

For all of these reasons, spring is the ideal time to start getting in the habit, whether you want to develop a new exercise routine, improve your eating habits, clean your home, or dedicate yourself to building the habit of play. Your brain chemistry will support your effort and improve your chances of success.   

Tips for starting a new habit:  

  1. Envision you have already made the change to the new habit you want to adopt.  Imagine yourself healthier, happier, more relaxed and organized.  Get a detailed image of this new you.  
  2. Write it down. Using a calendar, planner, to-do list or even sticky notes to remind yourself and reward yourself for accomplishing your goals is important. Writing things down also gives you a great way to track progress and hold yourself accountable.
  3. Speaking of accountability: Socializing with like-minded people who are willing to support you or may be focused on the same/similar goal greatly improves your chances of success.  Having a coach to hold you accountable can also be a catalyst to help you follow through on your intentions to change.  
  4. Reminders (the trigger that initiates the behavior). Link your new behavior to something you already do to improve the chances of remembering. For instance, make it a habit to put your gym clothes in your bag for the following day after dinner.  If you are not a dinner person, pack your gym bag after brushing your teeth (don’t tell me you don’t brush your teeth!)
  5. Routine. Make the new behavior part of your regular routine.  The more often you put this new habit in your schedule, the quicker it will become “easy.”
  6. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior). Ideally, you want to gain some intrinsic “feel good” reward for engaging in new healthy habits. But the truth is, sometimes it takes external incentives to get going. Build these into your routine as well – don’t cheat yourself if a reward is something that will keep you going.  

I’m off to start my spring time habit of more exercise and healthy eating.  Yes – even coaches who enjoy play can lose momentum in the cold of northeast winters.  Happy spring!!

 

Kirsten Milliken, PhD, PCC is a clinical psychologist and certified ADHD coach. She is the author of the new book, :PlayDHD: Permission to Play…A Prescription for Adults with ADHD.” Learn more at: www.playdhd.com!

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