Dopamine Fasting: Wash Your Brain From
Toxic Dopamine Release
Humans have an innate and instinctive inclination to pursue things we desire or find pleasurable. When we see something we want or (think) we need, our brains react by releasing a neurochemical called dopamine that drives us to acquire that thing.
Dopamine has served many purposes since the earliest hominids roamed the earth to keep us fed, sheltered, and reproducing — an important and necessary tool for our survival. In the modern era, however, this useful chemical has taken on a sinister edge, urging us to things like on-demand sex, drugs, fast food, and other addictive behaviors, all of which don’t actually help us “survive” in the traditional sense.
Technology is an especially notorious culprit here. The desire-reward feedback loop caused by our constant interaction with social networks via modern technology fuels a vicious cycle of toxic dopamine release, upending our emotions with its highs and lows.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine, known as the “feel-good neurotransmitter”, was first discovered in 1957 and is one of 20 or so major neurotransmitters, a fleet of chemicals in the brain that are released to send signals to nerves, neurons, and other cells in the body.
Dopamine is largely associated with desire, addiction, ambition, and sex drive. It causes us to seek reward but not to actually reward us, thereby causing frustration and anxiety. Dopamine doesn’t act alone but works with other neurotransmitters and hormones, such as serotonin and adrenaline.
In addition to its central function in learning, through identifying rewards versus expectations, dopamine is also integral for the body’s movement control and plays a role in memory, attention, mood, cognition, and sleep.
Toxic dopamine release
The unsettling truth is that companies have really picked up on these short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops to increase profits, keep us wanting more, and creating addiction-inclined neural circuits that are as devious as they are brilliant.
In a 2017 article “How evil is tech?”, New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed, “Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and they lace their products with ‘hijacking techniques’ that lure us in and create ‘compulsion loops’.”
Compulsive behavior in technology
Look no further than your social media apps and accounts for evidence of this phenomenon. While there is nothing inherently evil about smartphone technology, marketers, social media executives, and advertising agencies have admitted to exploiting consumer behavior by means of our brain chemistry.
Every time you hear a beep, ding, or other sounds on your phone, your brain registers the possibility of positive attention via text messages, Facebook likes, or hearts on your Instagram pics. Since dopamine is inherently a motivational chemical, when we have successful social interactions, it motivates us to continue the behavior that produced that outcome.
This behavior can also be seen with gambling activities too. If your dopamine-driven compulsion happens to be slots, good substitutes for slot players are free slots games which you can find at FlashCasino.org. With free online slot games, you’ll still get the good feelings derived from dopamine, without the potential downsides of risking money and the lows from losing.
Many scientific (and pseudo-scientific) organizations have postulated the idea of a “dopamine fast” to abstain from any experience that brings them pleasure, including but not limited to sex, food, exercise, social media, video games, and even talking — all in an attempt to avoid stimulation and “reset” the body’s natural reward system.
Unfortunately, this idea is a bit of a misunderstanding of the science behind dopamine release and can lead to some maladaptive behaviors (see above). Since Dopamine is a neurochemical and a mechanism for explaining how addictions get reinforced by our brains, there is actually no way to “fast” from a naturally occurring brain chemical.
While dopamine in your body does increase in response to rewards or pleasurable activities, it doesn’t actually decrease when you avoid overstimulating activities, so a dopamine “fast” doesn’t actually lower your dopamine levels.
According to experts in neurobiology, the idea of “dopamine fasts” grew out of established methods in addiction therapy and, if executed properly, can be beneficial. The more hits of dopamine the brain receives, the more it morphs to compensate in response.
Take time out for mental rejuvenation
As is the case with most things, the best advice is “everything in moderation”. The key to cleansing yourself of a toxic dopamine release that motivates compulsive behavior is not to take draconian measures but rather to avoid sites or apps that illicit overstimulation and therefore an overdose in dopamine.
The idea behind a dopamine fast was a good one; originally intended to provide suggestions and a logical rationale for mindfully disconnecting from technology and the neural frenzy it causes in our brains and replacing it with simpler activities that help us reconnect to ourselves.
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