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Mental Health and Well-Being

This group serves as a community of practice for Extension personnel and their community partners who share a commitment to improving mental health through a focus on social and emotional well-being. Members are encouraged to create blog posts, publicize upcoming events, share resources, and engage with other members on issues of common interest.

Make a Dopamine Menu and Keep Yourself Full(filled)


If you’re like me, you may spend your free time scrolling through social media whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit,… There are so many virtual portals that suck us in! That’s not a bad thing, but at some point, between always working and taking care of others, I’ve forgotten what I enjoy doing for fun! I also look for those quick brain boosts that don’t exactly fulfill me. When we are mentally satiated and releasing dopamine due to healthy and meaningful activities, we tend to be more productive and fulfilled.

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released in the brain when we do activities that are pleasurable or that we enjoy. When we are being healthily stimulated and releasing healthy amounts of dopamine, we teach our brains to go back to those activities. Our brain is a messenger, and when we do activities or eat foods that we enjoy, dopamine is released, and it tells our brain, “We love this! Good job! Let’s keep going!” This is why junk food, sugar, and the Internet are so addictive. These things trigger the release of large amounts of dopamine into our brains and make us want to continue eating and repeating those experiences.

Why is dopamine important?

When we have healthy amounts of dopamine, we typically feel happy, motivated, alert, and focused. If our dopamine levels are low or unbalanced, we may feel tired, unmotivated, unhappy, and you may experience memory loss, mood swings, sleep and concentration issues, and a low sex drive. Having unhealthy amounts of dopamine, whether those levels are too high or too low, can be troublesome.

What can we do?

Something we can do to maintain healthy levels of dopamine is to make a Dopamine Menu to remind ourselves what it is that brings us joy and make an intentional effort to engage in those activities.

Beige Sand Simple Fast Food Menu

Let’s follow the flow of an actual menu to create our Dopamine Menu.

First let’s think of Starters or appetizers. These are quick boosts of joy that can be done in under 10 minutes. What are those things you like to do that don’t take much time?

Some examples of starters are making a menu and grocery list for the week, playing a quick card game with your partner, friend, or child, going for a walk, painting your nails, styling your hair, dancing, gardening, writing a note and sticking it in the mail,…

Next, we have Mains. These are those big passions we have that take up a more considerable amount of time.

Some examples of these mains or entrees might be working out, doing yoga, swimming, playing a sport, going on a date, making a meal for someone you love, going to the beach, hiking, learning a new language, reading a book, having an at-home spa day, painting,…

Our next section on our Dopamine Menu is Sides, and these are those activities you can do while doing something else. These are activities we can do that make unpleasant things a bit more pleasant.

Sides can include listening to music or a podcast, watching a show, talking on the phone, dancing, singing, drinking your favorite drink, eating a snack, walking on a walking pad/riding a stationary bike, race against the clock,…

Desserts are next on our menu. These are things that are tasty in moderation but make us feel yucky if we have them too much.

Examples of dopamine desserts are scrolling social media, eating actual dessert (for me that is ice cream!), playing video games, binging tv shows,…

Finally, we have Specials. These are like specials at a restaurant. They are not always available, and typically they cost a bit more than others. So, these are the activities we love but we cannot have or do all the time.

Some examples of specials may include going on a trip, shopping sprees, attending a concert or sporting event,…

I want to encourage you to make your own Dopamine Menu, and keep it somewhere you’ll see it often. You can use this as a tool to remind you to engage in things that actually fill you up rather than binging on “brain desserts” that tend to give us a false sense of satisfaction.


Cleveland Clinic medical. (n.d.). Dopamine: What it is, Function & Symptoms. Cleveland Clinic.

YouTube. (2020, May 26). How to give your brain the stimulation it needs. YouTube.


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  • Beige Sand Simple Fast Food Menu

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