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Boost mood and motivation naturally with 6 dopamine kick-starters

By Gay Falkowski


Does living with multiple sclerosis sometimes make you feel sad, tired, and unmotivated? If so, what you’re feeling may be a normal psychological reaction to coping with a life-changing disease. Or it may be the result of actual physical changes because of MS. While medication can help restore balance to brain chemistry affected by MS, certain behaviors can also have a positive effect on your mood and motivation. These behaviors work by stimulating the production of certain neurotransmitters (think of them as chemical messengers) that help transmit signals in the brain. One of those neurotransmitters is dopamine. It motivates you to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives you a surge of reinforcing pleasure when you achieve them. Here are six actions you can take to try and kick-start your dopamine and boost your mood and motivation naturally:

1. Make a list of small tasks and then complete them. Even better, make those small tasks lead to accomplishing a big goal. Dopamine is released when you achieve any goal — large or small — but the strongest surge follows accomplishing difficult goals. For example, if your big goal is to get organized, you can break it down into individual tasks such as cleaning a closet, sorting through emails, or filing papers. Enjoy the feeling of crossing each task off your “to do” list. For visual reinforcement, schedule the tasks on a calendar and cross off each day that you’ve actively worked toward your goal. This “don’t break the chain” concept helps to rewire your brain so you’re motivated to keep achieving more.

2. Listen to your favorite music. Listening to music you enjoy releases dopamine in the brain and sends pleasure signals to the rest of your body, according to researchers. And the more pleasing the music is to the ear, the more intensely pleasurable the experience is for the body. In a study at Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University, researchers used brain scans to measure the release of dopamine while participants listened to pleasurable and neutral music. Dopamine release was greater when the participants listened to pleasurable music, such as music that gave them "chills" or prompted a change in heart rate or breathing, compared to when they listened to neutral music.

3. Move your body. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest or run a marathon to get the benefits of exercise. In fact, you may be happy to know that even nonstrenuous exercise can help increase your dopamine levels (along with other “fun” chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin). Play with the dog, climb stairs instead of taking the elevator, do no-impact exercise such as yoga or chair dancing. If the weather is right, move it outside. Gardening is a great and productive way to exercise. As a bonus, sunlight can increase the number of dopamine receptors you have and it helps create vitamin D, which also supports dopamine production.

4. Eat foods that contain l-tyrosine. Eating a diet high in the amino acid l-tyrosine can help ensure you’ve got the basic building blocks needed for dopamine synthesis. L-tyrosine is commonly found in protein-rich foods. Of course, eating a balanced diet from all the food groups is the best approach, but you can incorporate certain foods that are healthy and conducive to producing dopamine. Here’s a list of foods, drinks, and spices known to increase l-tyrosine or dopamine directly:
 
  • all animal products
  • almonds
  • apples
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • beets
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • fava beans
  • green leafy vegetables
  • green tea
  • lima beans
  • oatmeal
  • olive oil
  • oregano
  • peanuts
  • rosemary
  • sesame and pumpkin seeds
  • soy products
  • turmeric
  • watermelon
  • wheat germ
  • foods high in natural probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut 

5. Make time to meditate. Along with increasing dopamine, meditating may enhance learning, increase creativity, promote deep relaxation, and improve focus and concentration. If you’re not the “sitting still in silence” type, you can achieve similar benefits from creative hobbies such as knitting, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography, woodworking, and home repair. When you’re immersed in these types of activities the brain can get into a meditative state.

6. Search for something and enjoy the quest. History suggests we are hardwired to feel intensely rewarded by our discoveries. The survival of our distant ancestors often depended on successful quests. They got a dopamine surge every time they spotted a new patch of berries to harvest or a better fishing spot because this meant they’d live to see another day. If you’re so inclined, you can still pick berries and fish, but modern life offers many other healthy ways to enjoy the quest. You can scour the Internet for new music to download, different recipes for entertaining, a bargain travel package, rare collector’s items, or that perfect gift for a loved one. Consider taking up a quest-oriented hobby such as geocaching, genealogy, bird watching, and collecting of all kinds. Keeping up dopamine levels is easier when there’s always something new to be discovered. Each new discovery provides a dopamine boost!