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How to Make a Dopamine Menu for Gardening

If your screen usage has hit an all-time high, you’re not alone. From TV to video games to social media, we often turn to these devices for quick entertainment and small hits of dopamine. But it’s not too late to turn things around! As a gardener, your love of the outdoors and all things green can be turned into a highly beneficial dopamine menu.

how to make a dopamine menu for gardening

Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to get away from screens. Unless you’re doing a digital detox challenge or out in the woods with no reception, you probably have some form of screen(s) you rely on for entertainment daily.

If you’re reading this, it means you’re staring at a screen right this very minute! And since I’ve reminded you that you’re scrolling, please keep reading, as I promise that what I’m about to tell you will be a game changer when it comes to reducing your screen time.

Since my kiddo was little, I’ve tried to keep him away from screens. Which, for his generation, is a tough thing to do. I make sure we read together, play board games, go on walks, cook together, and more to reduce how often both of our eyes are glued to a screen.

Dopamine menus are a relatively new trend and tool that people can use to find new sources of dopamine outside of screens. And because I am a woman whose core being relies heavily on plants, I knew I needed to make a dopamenu for gardening.

Today, I’ll show you how you can make your own dopamine menu for gardening and why you should.

Are Screens Bad for Us?

We get the sense that too much screen time can be bad for our health, but what’s the science behind it all?

Harvard Medical School says that screens can affect how the human brain develops. Young brains are constantly building new neural connections and cutting down any they don’t use often. Screens can affect how our brain builds these connections.

Screens provide simulated versions of what we experience in real life. Essentially, they’re watered-down versions of our experiences, and so the neural connections being built aren’t as “strong.”

“Boredom is the space in which creativity and imagination happen,” says Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. And I think that really summarizes how screens have fulfilled our endless need to be entertained.

Why do you think our best thinking happens in the shower? Or if you’re like me, when I’m out puttering in the garden.

make a dopamenu to reduce screen timemake a dopamenu to reduce screen time
I still have screens in my house, but I try to be aware of my usage.

Screens and Sleep

Using screens at bedtime has also been proven to disrupt sleep. Before bed, our body begins to produce melatonin as a response to darkness. But devices emitting blue light will suppress our melatonin and affect our ability to achieve REM sleep, which is essential for processing and storing information.

This means the next day, you may be more tired and less likely to process and retain new information. AKA, having a good memory.

Screens and Mood

Some studies have also linked screen time to symptoms of depression. And I can totally see why. Beyond the traps of constantly comparing ourselves on social media, many people rely on screen activities as a way to deal with stress. So when we go without screens, our anxiety can rise.

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Being outside instantly boosts my mood.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a key factor in why we LOVE screens so much. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that our nervous systems use to send messages. It’s a chemical that spreads within the brain and the body as a messenger for pleasure.

Dopamine works as a reward system. Doing activities you enjoy will release dopamine. How much is released is based on the activity and its frequency.

Many things use this natural reward system, like drugs and alcohol, and yes, our beloved screens. Initially, they give us a big rush of dopamine. But then they diminish the more you use it.

Watching one episode of a show is fun. Binging the whole series? You might feel depleted and groggy afterward.

In response to the diminishing dopamine, we tend to either move on to a different activity to get a new reward or increase the initial activity to try and get more.

Orange and yellow tulipsOrange and yellow tulips
Darwin Hybrids ‘Elite Apledoorn’ Tulips

A dopamenu is a tool we can use to help us find new sources of dopamine when we feel like we need a pick-me-up.

Originally developed by Jessica McCabe, it was originally intended to help those with ADHD. It’s believed that people with ADHD have lower dopamine levels and continually need to find new dopamine hits.

A dopamenu has a list of starters, mains, sides, desserts, and specials. Each of these categories has different activities or various lengths that you can turn to when you’re looking for stimulation.

Essentially, it’s a quick customized list of things that you know will bring you joy.

While originally a tool for ADHD, I think everyone can benefit from a dopamine menu. It’s a useful tool to turn to to get away from screens, get outside, and find more sustainable dopamine hits.

And as a gardener, you know I had to make myself a list of things I could do in the garden to get myself engaged with nature. Nature has many many mental health benefits (which I talk about in this post), and trying to do activities outdoors can double up your benefits.

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Working outside can have immense benefits.

I highly encourage you to make your own dopamine menu. Over time, fill it with activities you like to do outside and in your garden. Eventually, you’ll have a great list to turn to when you need ideas for how to get yourself up and moving.

Here are a few of my go-to’s that you can use as a jumping-off point for your own dopamenu.

Starters

These are quick, 5-minute activities you can do to take a break and get outside.

snake plant sitting on book stack next to a brass watering can on a window ledgesnake plant sitting on book stack next to a brass watering can on a window ledge
A dopamine menu can even be a nice reminder to check on your plants.

Mains

These activities take up more time and are great if you have an hour or more to spare.

Sides

When you’re already outside, these activities make for good add-ons.

Desserts

These are activities that you often default to. It’s best not to spend a lot of time on them, but they are good in small, planned doses.

  • Scroll on social media
  • Shop for seeds
  • Enjoy a cocktail outside
  • Shop at the garden centre
  • Watch a favourite TV show
  • Play video games

Specials

These activities aren’t your everyday activities. They might be expensive or more time-consuming than others, but they are still worthwhile.

seed libraryseed library
A seed library is a great way to engage with your local gardening community.

What will you put on your dopamine menu for gardening? Let me know in the comments down below so that we can all take inspiration as we make our own dopamenus for gardening.

Dopamine Menu for GardeningDopamine Menu for Gardening

More Ways to Find Gardening Joy

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