Have you been in a slump lately? Wondering what happened to your motivation and energy?
You might chalk it up to the weather or a case of the summer doldrums, but what else might be going on?
I was feeling this way recently and started to wonder about dopamine and what role that might be playing.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and hormone that supports communication between nerve cells in the brain, and between the brain and the body.
Dopamine is linked to motivation and movement, pleasure and reward. It helps us get into action to achieve a reward or to avoid pain.
We need dopamine to take action toward a goal.
If you’ve been in a slump – lacking motivation or even experiencing low mood – you likely need some more dopamine in your brain. So let’s look at some ways to boost dopamine for healthy action and motivation.
#1 Short bursts of discomfort
When everything is comfortable, we can lose motivation and slip into a slump.
Ironically, when we can choose to get out of our comfort zone – to push ourselves beyond what we normally do – we feel good afterwards.
The idea is to choose short bursts of discomfort in order to feel the pleasure that comes afterwards.
Exercise is a perfect way to practice this concept, which scientists call hormesis, when the body adapts to moderate and usually intermittent stress.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) which involves short periods of raising the heart rate followed by active recovery, is a form of hormesis. HIIT typically lasts 30 minutes or less, and many people prefer HIIT exercise because there’s a sense of accomplishment after each interval effort, and an ability to look forward to the periods of recovery during the exercise.
In my experience, a good HIIT exercise on the stationary bike can get me out of a slump – even in just 20 minutes.
Here’s another way to choose a short burst of discomfort: cold water. Whether you jump into a body of cold water, or end your showers in cold water, research shows that immersion in cold water can drastically increase your level of dopamine, among other feel-good chemicals.
You can support your body’s production of dopamine by giving it enough of the vitamins and minerals that it needs to produce dopamine.
While most experts agree that more research is needed on the efficacy and use of supplements to boost dopamine levels, some suggest eating foods rich in magnesium and tyrosine, an amino acid that converts to dopamine in the brain.
Fruits and vegetables in this category include: apples, avocados, bananas, beets, green leafy vegetables, oranges, peas, tomatoes, and watermelon. Other foods include: almonds, chocolate, green tea, oatmeal, and turmeric.
Some research also links a healthy gut to dopamine release in the brain, so it’s a good idea to eat healthy, whole foods to keep the gut healthy, and to include food with probiotics like fermented foods (e.g. kimchi and pickles), olives, yogurt, kefir and kombucha.
If you’re not motivated to get out of your comfort zone or shift your diet, you can always take 10 minutes to sit and meditate.
Research shows that meditation has many benefits for the brain, and one of them is increasing the level of dopamine as well as serotonin, another neurotransmitter linked to happiness.
And if you can meditate on a regular basis, the level of these feel-good neurotransmitters will be higher overall.
Now if you are thinking that you cannot mediate, STOP. Meditation is simply about bringing conscious awareness to your thoughts, NOT about having no thoughts at all! So you really can’t fail, despite what many people believe – and I did too years ago.
If you can simply notice your thoughts when they arise, then that is success. So give it a try!
If you’d like a guided meditation, a 6-minute one is available as a free download on my website, or you can try my favorite free app for meditation, Insight Timer.
Some final tips to motivate
If you’d like some tips for how to get into a motivated mindset, check out my post 2 Simple Ways to Motivate.
Finally, one excellent way to get out of a slump is to be accountable to someone else for what you want to do. That social motivation can sometimes be the missing ingredient – it’s one of my jobs as a coach.
Which of these will you be trying?
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash