The Attention Deficit Balancing Act

Let's face it. We are all at risk for developing ADD and ADHD-like symptoms because of external conditions. In my humble opinion, ADD and ADHD, although now listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), I happen to dislike the term mental disorders (or that mental disorders even exist) . I feel very strongly all brain conditions that are labeled as mental disorders are simply manifestations of a loss of a sense of self. I think the brain, in one who has been given this title, has brain chemistry that has merely reacted to external conditions. I will write about this in a future article so for now, I'll focus on attention deficit (that was a joke ;) 

From here I will refer to ADHD as "attention deficit" (the term "ADD" has since become obsolete). We know that so many more people today have a diagnosis of attention deficit but have you ever wondered why? Do you suffer from any of the following symptoms? Inability to stay focused or short attention span, aggression, irritability, lack of restraint, forgetfulness, boredom, excitement, depression or anxiety? Or what about multitasking, attempting to complete tasks while speaking to someone or the inability to remain focused while conversing with someone? Perhaps even unable to vocalize organized thoughts because inside your head it's like someone is changing the channel ? 

For that matter, do you jump from one screen (on your device) to another, unable to stay focused on what you're reading?

Conversely, do you think that you have any attention deficit issues while you're sleeping? My guess is no. 

If you or someone you know has attention deficit issues, you may also notice that they are able to focus on what they really enjoy. Think about that, too.

This leads me to wonder, if they can focus on one thing that they truly enjoy, how difficult would it be to train the brain to engage in other activities that don't reward them as much as their favorite ones do.

Attention deficit results from a de-regulation of dopamine and serotonin. Serotonin, in fact, regulates dopamine transmission in some areas of the brain. These two neurotransmitters (chemicals that result in feeling, thought, and behavior) are interconnected and regulate control over the other. Serotonin typically allows us to feel relaxed and calm, and happy. Dopamine is a bit more excitatory. If both of these chemicals are not remaining in the areas of the brain long enough meaning they go away too quickly (swift re-uptake), one's mood will dip and some ( in order to feel better) will engage in behaviors that are "risky and impulsive" (driving fast, substance abuse, emotional or physical abuse, egregious behavior in general , etc.) to raise those levels again which gives them their serotonin and dopamine fix.

I've experienced this with food. Most of the time I cannot eat just one potato chip so I eat more trying to chase that delicious bite I got from the first one and realize that the bag is already half eaten or gone before I know it.

This is why those risky behaviors are often linked to the diagnosis of attention deficit (when all they're doing is self-medicating to feel better). Some other behaviors include over eating for particular brain chemistry like I described above (dairy and chocolate offer great dopamine hits, don't they? Think ice cream and hot cheesy velvety cheese), sex, gambling, device use (did you know there are recovery centers for device addiction?) . This list goes on.

That said, are we all becoming groomed for addiction to devices and will we wind up with an attention deficit diagnosis? Dopamine is released every time you notice you have a new message on your phone (you may be unaware of the message this brings in- "Oh! Someone wants me. I want to be wanted because it feels so good!". 

Maybe it's more simple than that. Maybe we can allow our brains to guide us. 

Want more balance? Why not allow your brain to recover its ability to keep dopamine and serotonin where it belongs? Like the addict who loves their tobacco fix, "going cold-turkey" has worked for many users, because it allows hormones and chemistry to right themselves in the brain. I believe it would work for attention deficit symptoms. Some, however, truly don't like going cold-turkey and can recover their brain chemistry by adding in new behaviors like vegetables at every meal and breathwork. This way, when we add something in, we have a tendency not to feel deprived.

Tips to experiment with to lessen attention deficit symptoms: 

  • Close your eyes, place your feet flat on the floor, and breathe deeply, and make the exhale longer than the inhale. 
  • Practice breathing like this on a walk. 
  • Run your hands under water and rinse your face until you feel a shift in how you feel
  • Inhale the scents of favorite spices, flowers, or anything you enjoy sniffing and breathe deeply like described above
  • Take a bite of a favorite healthy food and chew for 20 bites then swallow
  • Chocolate challenge: chocolate releases dopamine and if you look closely at its molecular formula it resembles heroin! Here's my challenge so you don't over indulge in this velvety goodness. Take one inch of chocolate, inhale and take a good whiff of it before placing it on your tongue and then savor it while it melts in your mouth. Do this for at least 20 seconds. For you advanced chocolatiers out there, don't time yourself. Just let it melt into nothingness. Do this once and then see how you feel . You may find that you do not "need" a second piece. If you do, try a smaller piece each time you indulge in velvety goodness.

I would love to hear what your experience from any of the above were like.