TikTok’s Latest Morning Routine Trend Is Actually Good, For Once

Photographed by Stephanie Price.
There’s a lot of pressure resting on the shoulders of our first couple of hours of consciousness in the morning. Books have been written about optimising the first part of your day, entire TikTok communities have been established for those of us that are productive before sunrise, and some even argue that our personality traits stem from whether or not you’re a “morning person”. 
The way we spend our mornings is now a direct reflection of who we are. Your routine tells others about what you value, what you prioritise and what you need to function well. The days when I don’t get to complete my structured AM routine are thrown completely out of whack. Maybe it’s my Taurus moon speaking, but I crave consistency. 
People’s routines should be personalised to their individual needs — it’s why many of TikTok’s prior wellness trends have left a bad taste in our mouths. They rarely take into consideration the reality of people’s lives — no, not everyone can spend their pre-work hours working out or journalling like a (mostly white, cis and thin) ‘that girl’ can — nor do they necessarily want to.
But there’s a new morning routine trend that’s taking off on TikTok, one that looks more inclusive and attainable for the average person. Meet the low dopamine morning routine. It almost sounds backwards — shouldn’t we be seeking out feel-good pleasure chemicals?
@naptown_thrifts Replying to @jemappelletam i think the no-phone-morning thing is the real game changer. #lowdopaminemorning ♬ Law - Yo Gotti
The low dopamine morning routine has been particularly popular with people with ADHD, which makes it difficult to focus. Scientists have also seen that levels of dopamine are different in people with ADHD than people without ADHD.
“Our brain constantly thrives on dopamine hits. We're always looking for the next little bit of recognition or excitement. If you wake up and the first thing that you reach for is your phone, your brain becomes reliant on the dopamine hits that you receive… through notifications, text messages [and] scrolling on TikTok,” says 24-year-old Shelby, who was recently diagnosed with ADHD. 

"[If the] first hit of dopamine that you get is from scrolling… your brain is gonna want to do that for the rest of the day. I feel like many of us have experienced the immobilisation that comes with scrolling in the morning."

One major way to delay that dopamine is by avoiding the use of your phone for the first hour that you’re awake. “[If the] first hit of dopamine that you get is from scrolling… your brain is gonna want to do that for the rest of the day. I feel like many of us have experienced the immobilisation that comes with scrolling in the morning,” says TikTok user Meredith, who’s switched her routine to a low dopamine one six months ago. 

"Ironically, this TikTok video caused me to delete the app."

Plenty of studies back this up — people who check work emails outside of work hours reportedly have worse mental health; news exposure and psychological distress have been found to be linked; and looking at your phone upon waking up is said to increase stress and reduce productivity.
My coworker Jasmine tells me that she’s been trying out this new routine for the past week. “The TikTok trend came up on my feed recently and it made me realise that my morning routine was affecting my productivity throughout the day. I'd wake up scrolling social media for 30-ish minutes every weekday morning and spend the rest of the day reaching for my phone. Ironically, this TikTok video caused me to delete the app,” she says. 
“My brain already feels quieter and I'm getting out of bed earlier and with more ease. I still check messages first thing but it's much easier to get up rather than getting stuck in a doomscroll before I've even gone to the bathroom.”
It’s harder said than done — our phones are wired for addiction and it’s hard to resist the transmitters calling for our attention. Shelby recommends putting your phone on the other side of your bedroom, which will force you out of bed when your alarm rings. Meredith replaces her screen time with other physical activities because journaling or meditating in bed aren't her thing. 
“I've got to get out of bed and complete a task right away. [I] switch [on] the laundry, empty the dishwasher — [they’re] still low stress things to do. But when my first hit of dopamine is ‘I completed a task,’ the reward centre in my brain is like, ‘oh, that's what we're going to seek out today. That felt good, let's let's keep that momentum going’,” she says
Other low dopamine tasks include spending time outside, reading a book, eating a high-protein breakfast and not having caffeine first thing. The last one, though, can be tough. “The hard one for me is not drinking coffee first thing in the morning. I drink it too early, I crash too early. I try really hard to wait 90 minutes [before I] drink my first cup of coffee. I'm not perfect with this,” admits Meredith. 
26-year-old Jasmine agrees. “I’ve also been making sure I drink a big glass of water before coffee [and I’ve been] trying to eat before coffee (still working on that one),” she says, adding that she’ll also try to take a walk before work to get some sunshine and air. 
“I hope it sticks because I've been sleeping better and reading more since starting this routine,” she says. She’s not alone in her optimism tinged with realism. “I hear you and I agree but idk if I can do it,” reads one comment. “I did this every Saturday morning years ago and it was amazing. I stopped and now I’m bringing it back” reads another. “I did this two days ago and noticed a huge difference in how productive I was. Of course today I reached for my phone first thing,” says another commenter.
It's an imperfect response to the heavy doses of sporadic dopamine hits our brains have been trained to accept. But slowing down, even just for the first hour of your day, can make a world of difference.

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