Spring: The Perennial Happiness Reset

Ahhh, spring, the time of year when mother nature wipes the sleep from her eyes and reminds us that we are surrounded by beauty…and love… and hope… and bellinis…and the promise of warmer days ahead. It’s as if everyone is living in the ‘after’ portion of a commercial for allergy medication. Frankly, it may be enough to make you wish for six feet of snow. 

I mean, are people really this happy? Some of us might be but most adults do not live in a state of Hallmark happiness. The quest for contentment isn’t unique to non-neurotypicals, but for those of us with ADHD brains, happiness can be more elusive than a Louis Vuitton sale.

Live in the moment.

How many times have you heard this sage advice? It’s hard to live in the moment when your brain is constantly jumping to the next shiny object. Here’s the thing, ADHD women don’t do boredom. AT. ALL. Just when we’re getting into the flow, our brains jet off like a young pop star in search of the next conquest. We end up feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and generally questioning our life’s purpose. Decidedly, not happy. 

How about a side of science with our self-pity pie?

Now, before you hop on that hamster wheel of self-deprecation, I want you to know that there is a legitimate, scientific reason behind our pop star tendency.  Dr. Edward Hallowell, the leading authority in the field of ADHD, was recently a guest on my podcast, ADHD for Smart Ass Women, and he explained how we can use new research findings to our advantage. 

In his latest book, ADHD 2.0, Dr. Hallowell discusses the Task Positive Network (TPN) and Default Mode Network (DMN). (Hear Dr. Hallowell discuss this research in podcast episode 106.) As Dr. Hallowell explained, when we engage in attention-demanding tasks, and our imagination is firing in a constructive, positive way, our TPN lights up like fireflies on a warm summer night. When the task is finished, the TPN shuts down. The old belief was that when the TPN went dark the brain went into a state of rest. However, new research shows that this is not the case for those of us with ADHD. In fact, when the TPN shuts down our brains become more active, turning on the DMN which is also the seed of our imagination. (a.k.a., the demon).

When our DMN is activated, we turn into a Rubik’s cube of rumination, with each thought leading to further frustration and angst.  The more attention we give the DMN, the more thoughts we feed it, and the more powerful it becomes. 

FYI – we never run out of thoughts.

The hippocampus (our memory center) is an active part of the DMN, so we’re not limited to rehashing only recent experiences. We flashback to that person we dated in undergrad. Why did we go out with them anyway? We could have done so much better. They certainly didn’t help our confidence. Damnit. Let’s look them up on Facebook. What, they own a plane!? This is the WORST. DAY. EVER. 

Make it stop!

The only way you’re able to put the Rubik’s Cube of rumination down is to give your attention to something else.  When you get out of your head and engage in a task – any task – that is interesting enough to take your imagination away from the negative, then you’ve cut off the DMN demon. 

It’s all about action.

The next time you find yourself holding that damn Rubik’s Cube, kick it back to the ’80s with one of these suggestions: 

Focus on your breathing. Really. Pick a pattern like 6-3-8-3. Inhale for six beats, hold for three beats, exhale for eight beats, hold for three beats; repeat. 

Call a friend.  Dr. Hallowell refers to this as not worrying alone. The DMN loves to ramp up when we’re isolated. 

Get outside. This one is my go-to. Take a walk around the neighborhood, jump rope, just breathe in some fresh air. Exposure to nature, or “green time” has been shown to ease symptoms of ADHD in adults and children. 

I know from my own experience and working with hundreds of women with ADHD that understanding your ADHD brain is the foundation for creating the future you want. No allergy medication required. 

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