Dopamine Fasting


Gelila Zeray, Writer

What is dopamine? Dopamine is a compound present in the body as a neurotransmitter and a precursor of other substances including epinephrine. It is well known as the feel-good-neurotransmitter, a chemical that ferries information between neurons. The brain releases it whenever we give in to a craving or scroll through our notifications from social media. Anything that is stimulating to us contributes to the feeling of dopamine, that pleasure is a part of the brain’s reward system. This important neurochemical can boost your mood, motivation, attention, regulate your movement, learn other concepts, and help with your emotional responses.

Although, dopamine, whether too much or too little, can influence your behaviors. In a laboratory experiment known as ‘The Rat Park’, scientists discovered that dopamine continually prompted rats to press a lever for rewards like food and drugs. That is no different from human behavior: it’s the reason we partake in eating more than one helping of cake. This press-the-lever action applies to addiction as well. Dopamine can cause addictions. Even if you have too little or too much, it can affect you. Though people with low levels of dopamine can be more likely to be prone to addictions. Due to the lack of dopamine, a person will constantly seek pleasure to increase their levels. It can create reward-seeking loops, which will cause a person to seek satisfaction from destructive behaviors. That can be: constantly scrolling through your phone for notifications from social media, having a drug addiction, disordered eating patterns, etc. The lack of dopamine usually begins in childhood. A person must receive healthy levels of dopamine during that time frame. If not, then this will result in a dopamine deficiency.

Luckily there are ways to manage your impulsive behaviors of addiction. Whether you found yourself scrolling through your notifications on social media for hours or you seem to have found yourself engaging in destructive behaviors: try dopamine fasting to understand and manage your addictions. A dopamine fast is temporarily abstaining from any stimulation, such as addictive stimulating behaviors. These can include technology and social media, sugary or high in fat food, and even interactions with friends or family. 

To partake in dopamine fasting, schedule a day where you can do so for a minimum of 12 hours for a beginner and soon have a 24-hour cycle, do whatever works for you. To prepare for your dopamine fast, inform your friends and family that you will be isolated from them so your dopamine fast will remain efficient. Then, understand what your impulsive behaviors and their triggers are. You may separate yourself from those precursors once you have done likewise. Afterward, find less stimulating activities that you can engage in during your dopamine fast. It can be mediation or praying for your spiritual life, walking, exercising, and even writing. These activities can release endorphins, another feel-good hormone, but my focus will be on dopamine instead and so should yours. Finally, researchers have shown that you can use a journal to document your experience, thoughts, ask yourself questions, and even answer prompts to help you understand. 

Examples: 1) ‘Do I feel any discomfort today? Where in my body am I feeling it? Is this emotional or physical? Try to describe it as best as possible. What does it feel like?’, 2) ‘Why do I feel this way? (Don’t blame others, there’s always something that you can control that is causing this), what are the things that I have been doing that are causing me to feel this way?’, 3) ‘What can I do to fix this? What are 1-3 things that I can do tomorrow that will at least somewhat address this pain? Things that would get me a couple of steps closer to solving whatever problem is causing this pain’, 4) ‘What would my life be like if I did not do any of these 1-3 things for the next 5 years? Assume the worst possible scenario, and describe it’, 5) ‘What would my life be like if I stuck to these 1-3 things consistently for the next 5 years? Assume the best possible scenario, and describe it.’

Though dopamine fasting won’t decrease your dopamine levels, you-whether you don’t or you do have enough dopamine-you can always try it on your own to understand your behavioral challenges. Most importantly, after completing your dopamine fast: remember what you learned from the experience and apply your learnings to your life.