The Dopamine Fast
Written by: Sophia Sprackling
From: São Paulo, Brazil
Edited by: Luana Mayer
Who has spent so much time on social media, because nothing else seemed interesting? Watching episode after episode, scrolling down and down, playing game after game, saying "Just a bit more", but really you just don't have the strength of will to do anything else. I assume that I have, many times. All of this modern distraction and new addictions we receive have become natural and acceptable. But should we just ignore this?
In the 50s, an experiment by the scientists James Olds and Peter Milner took place. The experiment consisted of connecting electrodes to mice’s brains, which transmit electrical impulses that stimulate their brain reward centers and natural pleasure. They trained the mice to associate pressing a lever with receiving a reward of the electrical stimulus - this was so pleasurable and easy that the mice reached up to 2.000 pushes of the lever in an hour, accordingly, pressing the lever became the most important thing to do. As a result, the mice only stopped due to complete physical exhaustion and weren't capable of doing basic activities, such as eating and drinking water.
Now, substitute the lever by likes on Instagram and clicks on the news. Doesn't it sound similar? This is the infinite distraction available 24/7 for us.
Dopamine directs our attention to pleasant activities (eat, socialize, reproduce). Even if this sounds good, it has rather serious consequences. This constant distraction of modern-day activities leads us to feel more attracted to modern rather than the simpler and necessary activities, such as reading and studying. When there is this exaggerated stimulus, we're flooded by loads of dopamine in a small amount of time. Consequently, our brain reward system, which is overloaded and unprepared to deal with so many dopamine stimuli, has to take a vital attitude to rebalance the system. It drastically reduces the dopamine receptors from neurons to reduce your sensibility to the exaggerated stimuli. The brain does this through biological tolerance. To understand this tolerance better, here's an example: When someone drinks a pint of beer, they already feel slightly altered and after some time doing this, you need more pints to produce the same drunkenness. And there lies the problem, the less sensibility your neurons have, the more intense stimuli are required to pique our interest. Therefore, everything that is less interesting, as necessary as it may be, becomes boring and monotonous. Making one read a book, study, stay in silence and really listen to other people becomes incomparably more tedious for the brain than video games, fast food, social media, all of which have high levels of dopamine.
With the unwillingness to do meaningful things, like listen to each other, we end up being the ones affected, as we become superficial human beings. Without focus, our projects are procrastinated. Without silence, our anxiety cracks up. Additionally, modern addictions are usually in five big areas: Food, the Internet, gambling, pornography and recreational drugs. Luckily, there is a solution to these modern addictions: Dopamine Fasting 2.0. Dr Cameron Sepah was the doctor responsible for introducing this fast. By doing periodic fasts of modern, addictive and problematic activities, our dopaminergic system and our sensitivity to stimuli are balanced, so we increase our self-control and activities that produce little dopamine become interesting once again.
To successfully complete the Dopamine fasting, five steps should be followed. First, recognize and accept the presence of an addiction. You know it's present when you feel anguish, you worry about it too much, loss of cognition or emotional balance, harming your school or work commitment and the harmony of social relations and compulsion, when you try to reduce but you don't have control.
Second, focus on reducing only the habits that cause harm to you. It is important to remember that the fast is from activities super stimulants and not from all dopamine, after all, dopamine is not what causes the addiction. In this case, we shouldn't focus on portraying dopamine as the villain, but to reduce and focus on the compulsive acts to you.
Third, determine a fasting schedule. Dr Cameron Sepah recommends strategic scheduling when you deprive yourself of modern addictions during the moment of rest and no work. This will help you increase your success at staying away from the cell phone. Additionally, increasing the time without the use of such could be applied, such as 1-4 hours at the end of every day, one whole day during the weekend, one whole weekend per trimester and one whole week per year. The fourth step is to determine a few limits to the use. If you do not want to do (only) the fast schedule, you can also determine maximal times and specific times when you authorize yourself to enjoy such.
Fifth and lastly, observe and learn with your impulses during the fast. During this period, you're not only controlling the external addiction but also understanding the source of the compulsion.
This process can be difficult, you may feel anguish and boredom, but that is the objective. When you allow yourself to feel your anxiety, you are investigating your internal world. To do this investigation, try to surf the impulse of this addiction - observe it come and go, without surrendering, with no judging and calmly return to the activity you were doing before. Also, you can write down in an agenda when the impulses occur and describe what you feel at that time. Dopamine fasting 2.0 is based on cognitive behavioral therapy. It is a scientific method used to treat compulsive behaviour that goes beyond only controlling it, but also discovering its origin. This is a simplification process proposed by Dr Cameron Sepah and if you need more help, visit a doctor.
When we learn from our compulsions, we enter a state of consciousness less agitated and realize everything around us with more sensibility. In such a state, we're able to appreciate many other aspects, such as reading, writing and the true appreciation for nature’s real beauty. Lastly, in this state of consciousness, we end up valuing the wisdom of the silence that is already within us only waiting to be rediscovered.