Desperately Seeking Dopamine

Recently I went to an all day training for work at PSU. It was called ADD/ADHD Coping Skills. I went to the class because I thought it would be beneficial for me in both my work and personal life. I have coworkers with ADD and the clients we service  are a very high risk group of people (antisocial behaviors, mental illness, drug addiction) and ADD is a huge percentage of their chronic conditions. Not only that, I have a few friends with ADD and Michael has it.

It used to cause conflict between Michael and I. Sometimes Michael had a hard time focusing on too many things at once–so if I email him with a bunch of stuff, several issues in one email, or offer him too many options he can get overwhelmed. I’ve learned the beautiful art of being succinct, using bullet points and asking very specific questions without offering options. ūüôā

This post is about some of the tidbits I found interesting about the class but it is also relevant to my blog’s theme about weight loss. So here goes. ADD/ADHD was described as “the emotional frenzy” and a lot of the coping skills were about calming that frenzy and making simple, realistic, and achievable goals.

  • A daily planner that is followed every day sets structure for people suffering from ADD.Set a specific time and place each day to plan each day’s activities (including meal times, work, social, exercise, downtime, etc)
  • Instead of overwhelming people with ADD with big tasks or deadlines, set up START times instead.
  • Kids in the US are prescribed ADD medication 300% higher than any other industrial country.
  • Gym classes were cut from schools and there is a higher rate of ADD and mood disorders!
  • Belly breathing calms the frenzy down. Sit in a chair and put your arms behind the chair, hold your hands and take deep breathes.

Studies have shown that as we as humans moved culturally from the hunter/gatherers to the farmers to finally an industrial nation, we’ve changed. We are LESS active and that has resulted in having less attention. Our brains are being rewired and with the internet age, things are changing even more. We can’t concentrate. How many of us flit from webpage to webpage, skimming instead of reading and connecting? How many of us multi-task to an exhausting level (ME!)? We are always connected, always on, but our relationships are diminishing and our attention spans are shrinking even more. The more stationary we get as a society, the worse we get. [Steps off soap box.]

The Exercise Cure

What I thought was the most interesting parts of the class were the brain studies. If Dopamine levels are high in the brain, it’s hard to move out of that “pleasure zone.”¬†People with ADD have 10% less oxygen in their prefrontal cortex BUT EXERCISE RESTORES IT!

People who suffer from ADD and depression have less dopamine in their brains. PET scans of the brain in people with ADD show that glucose levels are very low. Glucose is sugar, and also our body’s key source of energy. Glucose is in our bloodstream and carried to the brain. If we don’t get enough sleep, the glucose levels in our brain decrease!

Did you know that serotonin is stored in the stomach lining (90% of it). The serotonin is released when we eat, drink, exercise or belly breathe. Then it’s released into the bloodstream and heads to the brain. Why is this important? Because serotonin is what makes us happy. People with low levels suffer from depression and anxiety. It was a lightbulb moment for me. This is why FOOD makes me happy! Eating releases serotonin from my stomach, which surges through my bloodstream into my brain = HAPPY. Duh. It makes so much sense. That’s probably why food addictions are so hard to break. You have to have food. And if your body is naturally low in the chemical that makes you happy and the only thing that works is eating…it’s easy to see why food would be the answer every time.

Something else that I had no idea about: people who have gastric bypass surgery often suffer from depression because of the serotonin levels being stored in the stomach and part of the stomach being removed! I had no idea!

The instructor told a story about a 40-something woman who was struggling with ADD, obesity and heart issues. She had crippling depression and couldn’t exercise because was too tired. Her doctor said her life depended on exercise and she had to start. She just couldn’t. It was too much, too overwhelming. She felt too depressed. She was instructed by her doctor to go to the ADD group therapy that my instructor led and he asked if she had 30 minutes a day to go for a walk.

“No, I don’t have 30 minutes a day. I’m too busy. I’m too tired and depressed.” She was insistent. He tried to help her. He asked if she could do 20 minutes a day? No. 15? 10? Not even 5 minutes a day? She couldn’t do it. Finally, he said, “Can you walk for 30 seconds each day?” She said sure. So the next day she gave it a try. She went for a walk for 30 seconds and decided to keep going. She felt so good and positive after moving her body that she kept doing it! Each day she decided to go for a “30 second walk” and each time it turned into a 30 minute walk! Dopamine levels increase when you move your body and this woman discovered it on her own, and felt better.

I’ve talked about taking small, easy, achievable steps when trying to lose weight on my blog many times. I guess I never broke it down even smaller. If you cannot do 30 minutes a day, start with 30 seconds a day. Put your shoes on, plan a time in your¬†calendar/planner and then go for ¬†30 second walk. Or do squats and lunges for 10 seconds. Do jumping jacks for 20 seconds. Whatever you can commit to and start, do it. You never know, 30 seconds might turn into 30 minutes.

Exercise has helped me in so many ways. It has given me more energy, it curbs that winter depression that I struggle with living in Oregon, and gives me focus. One of the suggestions from the instructor was that people with ADD should try reading while on an exercise bike to find focus. I just love how a simple act of moving the body can be so beneficial!

QUESTION: Do you have anyone with ADD in your life? Has exercise cured anything in your life?

Aperture and Apples

On Sunday over the long weekend, I went to a photography class. Michael got me the new camera, a Canon Rebel ¬†XS, for Christmas and a few weeks later I saw a Living Social deal for a photography class. I could have chosen the portraits class or the manual class–I chose manual. Learning to work in Manual Mode was the entire reason I wanted a DLSR camera to begin with. I wanted to be able to take photos with my vision and my perspective. What I found was that manual was a lot harder than I expected.

This is not a bad thing. With anything, learning a new skill or hobby takes time and practice. I’ve taken a million horrible photos but I have gotten some really nice pictures, too. Taking those diamonds in the rough motivate me to keep trying.

My knowledge of photography was definitely beginner. I have things like perspective and point of view down, and lighting isn’t hard for me. When I was a teenager, I ran a 1 Hour Photo booth and was actually really good at it. It may sound silly because it’s a machine that does most of the work, but I was actually really skilled at making color corrections to make people’s photos look amazing. I even had one client send my boss a glowing letter about my skills at making her photos better.

What is hard is the “other stuff” and this class helped give me a good introduction to things like aperture and light metering.

I saw the Living Social Deal come through and I bought it immediately because $50 for a 3 hour class with hands on training was exactly what I needed! I think the class is originally $200 or so for the 3 hours. What a deal!

The class was held in a cool studio in downtown Portland, about a block from Voodoo Donuts. The class was pretty big and they split it into three groups–Nikon, Canon and Olympus. I was in the Canon group (Nikon was the biggest, Canon was the second). Each group had an instructor to help people learn the buttons on their cameras. That was a nice way to start the class.

After about an hour of “small group instruction,” there was about a 45 minute PowerPoint lecture about the basics. They talked about camera RAW –which is what I’ve been shooting in since I got my camera and already knew about–and they really emphasized that you have to turn all the “auto” stuff off to really learn how to use your camera. Last month I discovered how much for manual focus is and I’ve been practicing ever since!

The lecture also included less technical info– Nicki talked about the practical things we can do take better pictures. I’m sure it’s all rudimentary stuff for most photographers reading this post, but for me it was nice to hear.

The last hour or so of the class was the hands-on-practice. There were stations set up around the studio for everyone to practice the different things we learned.

You can read your camera manual til you’re blue in the face but until you actually PRACTICE with the aperture it won’t make sense (which is where I was until I took the class). ¬†Changing the aperture changes the depth of focus. If you want to take a picture of a flower in the foreground with a the green grass blurred out in the background–that’s aperture.

Aperture Examples
Aperture Example

What I need help with now is histograms! They only covered that briefly in the workshop and I was still a little fuzzy on the whole thing when I left.

As sad as it sounds, the f-stop is the one button on my new camera I haven’t really been using. Now I know how and I love it!

The class was good–it gave me the beginner information I really needed. I knew a fair amount of stuff but the new things I learned will definitely help me. I kind of wish the class had spent more time on the nitty-gritty stuff about apertures.

If you are in the Portland or Seattle area, I definitely recommend trying this photography class. (Her website lists a bunch of other cities, so give it a look and see if there’s a workshop near you.)

It was a fun thing to do for myself and I was inspired to immediately get out there and play with my camera! Which I did! Practice, practice, practice!

QUESTION: What kind of camera do you have? What do you like to take photos of?