As we approach the end of the year, many of us use this time to reflect and be grateful for our loved ones and the blessings in our lives. But did you know that gratitude can actually help your brain? We hear it all the time to be grateful for what we have, but why is it so important?
Gratitude has a big impact on mental health for everyone, but especially for those with ADHD, as it releases serotonin and dopamine the brain craves.1 “fMRI studies have shown that regular gratitude practice changes the neural structures of our brain and helps regulate not only mood but executive functioning and the immune system.”2
How does gratitude benefit the ADHD brain?
It helps your brain shift focus from negative to positive! By regularly practicing gratitude, you’re able to re-wire your brain toward the positive by strengthening these neural pathways. Your brain literally changes when you’re grateful! With repetition, gratitude can help with anxiety, sleep, productivity, handling rejection, and even executive function, which individuals with ADHD often struggle with.2
One of the main differences in the ADHD brain is that the prefrontal cortex does not receive enough dopamine and serotonin.2 The prefrontal cortex is where the executive functions live, so without these neurotransmitters, it makes it more challenging to manage emotions and actions. Since gratitude provides that extra boost of dopamine and serotonin, it can help with executive function.
The more grateful we are, the less we focus on the problems and fears that bring anxiety as the brain can’t be positive and negative simultaneously. It can also help improve sleep, which can inadvertently assist with anxiety symptoms as well.3
For many with ADHD, rejection is difficult to handle, which is known as rejection sensitivity, but gratitude can help ease this phenomenon as well by reducing watchfulness. When something like rejection is triggering, our brains are on constant alert for any sign of danger, making the impact more pronounced. By re-training your brain to see the good first, you can ease this “on-guard” approach to rejection, which makes it easier to accept and move forward.
We also become more productive when we fill our minds with the positive because we are fully enjoying the good things life brings. Success becomes sweeter, which fuels our brains to keep doing the tasks that will bring that success rush and makes it easier to stay productive. A great way to start a success spiral is with gratitude.
But I have ADHD, how can I do this?
All the mental health benefits sound great, but how do you get in the habit of gratefulness with ADHD brain? Consistency can be a challenge, especially when it sounds boring or doesn’t capture attention. But remember that each time you are grateful, you’re reaping the benefits little by little, even if it’s not on a perfect schedule or part of the routine immediately. Of course, continually practicing gratitude is going to bring the most benefit but remember to celebrate the little wins too!
Here are some great ways to start incorporating gratitude into your day:
- • Journal 3-5 Things You’re Grateful For
The great part about journaling is you can reflect on past joys and victories to see how far you’ve come in your journey to a positive mind.
- • Text or Talk with Family
Many families take time to say what they’re thankful for at Thanksgiving meals, but why not make it a part of dinner time together? Or if life gets too busy, send a simple text to your partner, parents, or family group chat. It helps with accountability to have gratitude partners!
- • Social Media Challenge
A lot of people will do a gratitude post every day in November, which can be a fun way to stay consistent and have the accountability of those following you. It also spreads the mindset of gratitude to those around you.
No matter where you are on your ADHD journey, we hope that a grateful heart will be healing to your mind. Give it a try and let us know who it goes!
 The neuroscience of gratitude. (n.d.). Wharton Health Care Management Alumni Association. Retrieved November 16, 2022, from https://www.whartonhealthcare.org/the_neuroscience_of_gratitude
 The Power of Gratitude: A magic tool for an ADHD brains. (2022, November 15). ADDept. https://www.addept.org/living-with-adult-add-adhd/the-power-of-gratitude
 Miller, K. (2017, November 26). ADHD and the practice of gratitude. ADD freeSources. https://addfreesources.net/adhd-practice-gratitude/