Humans, for reasons still unknown to science, enjoy music. Filmmakers have been exploiting this for decades. The most masterful of them all spend years working on their film’s soundtracks with composers. Think of the 2010 classic animated film How To Train Your Dragon. Its soaring melodies, tense edges, and rich, full-bodied resonance perfectly encapsulates what it is to be a dragonrider: The excitement deep in your gut, the terror and joy, mixed with a healthy dose of courage, which are all trademarks of film composer John Powell. A strong heartbeat lays beneath each piece, providing a rippling current for listeners to hold onto as they watch the movie.
Just as music sets the tone for the movies and television we watch, so too does it provide a backscore for how we see the world. There’s a reason you always feel better after a good jam session. What we listen to has the ability to impact the way we feel. When we listen to music we like, dopamine is produced in our brains, making a ‘feel-good song’ quite literally Feel Good. Because brains with ADHD have low levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, as well as dopamine, these ‘hits’ of chemicals related to pleasure are nearly addictive. Lower levels of these transmitters and chemicals is why people with ADHD often struggle with impulse control. Essentially, the bigger a risk, the bigger the hit of stimulation. The same reason we think that stimulants work in treating ADHD is why scientists believe music could be an effective tool in assisting executive function in people with this condition.
Because people with ADHD are less able to tune out background sounds, they are more sensitive to distractions and more easily drawn away from their work. This can lead to frustration, anxiety, and
insecurity, which is likely part of the reason why 50% of adults diagnosed with ADHD have also been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. However, that same sensitivity hides a secret superpower: some people with this condition report being able to ‘hack’ their brains using the rhythms of music.
As under-stimulation can quickly lead to feelings of anxiety, burnout, and stress, utilizing the beats of various genres might be a useful tool to provide just enough stimulation to complete tasks that might be ‘boring.’ To an ADHD brain, boredom is literally physically painful, so providing background stimulation might smooth the edges out to help achieve success in less interesting activities. Don’t just take our word for it, though: try it out and let us know! (Note: The author has been dealing with ADHD since the age of thirteen, and has found self-administered music therapy to be of massive help. The importance of leveling out stimulation in one’s brain cannot be overstated, especially when many people are struggling to fill their Adderall and Vyvanse prescriptions due to Federal limitations on production and refusal to issue more after the completely preventable opioid crisis. Hang in there, folks, it’s gonna be a rough ride for a little while yet.)