Have you heard of fasting? It’s basically the idea that you give something up for a period of time. People go on fasts for all sorts of reasons, ranging from their religion to their diet.
There’s one thing that everyone might want to consider taking a break from during COVID-19: dopamine. Or, to be clearer, the impulsive behaviors that dopamine encourages.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical your brain makes. It motivates you to take certain actions. When you exercise, your brain rewards you with dopamine. When you talk to someone, your brain rewards you with dopamine. It feels great. And that feeling encourages you to repeat the action.
But dopamine doesn’t always reinforce useful behaviors. Your brain also creates dopamine when you do the following:
- Check social media
- Eat sugary treats
- Play video games
During COVID-19, have you been overindulging in some of these behaviors? While these behaviors might be fine in moderation, they can come with mental and physical consequences.
Consequences of too much dopamine
In the tech age, dopamine is just a click away. When you want to feel good, you just browse through social media or open a fun app on your phone. You many also grab a bunch of cookies to eat.
Frequent releases of dopamine can make you less sensitive to the chemical. This means you need more and more dopamine to achieve the same pleasurable sensation as before. The result is an addiction to the behavior that releases dopamine. This is why so many people struggle to log out of social media and put down their smartphones.
As with any addiction, indulging in unhealthy habits comes with health consequences. For example, young adults who spend five hours on their phones are more likely to experience signs of depression. Clicking back and forth through different apps can also have a negative effect on your memory. An increase in anxiety is another potential consequence.
Fasting to fix the problem
To break an addiction to dopamine-reinforced behavior, borrow some strategies from a mental health approach called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). If you take certain steps to control the dopamine-boosting activity, you’ll have an easier time resisting its pull. The benefits will soon follow.
For example, people who fast from screen time often see a reduction in depressive moods. They also free up time to take on more productive activities.
Here are a few tips to control your dopamine addiction.
- Make it harder to access the source of impulsive behavior. This might involve keeping your phone in a separate room when you work. When it comes to an addiction to sugar, this step could involve keeping unhealthy snacks out of your kitchen.
- When you feel the urge to indulge, look for a replacement activity. For example, instead of walking to the other room to retrieve your phone, do a few jumping jacks or engage in a breathing exercise. Remember, you’re fasting from bad habits, not dopamine itself. So, using exercise as a replacement isn’t cheating.
- Set a limit on the amount of time you spend indulging. If your goal is to simply reduce a behavior but not avoid it entirely, set a daily or weekly limit. You’ll need a way to hold yourself accountable. Consider using an app that tells you when you’ve hit your limit of allotted social media time. Or, use a good old-fashioned paper and pencil to keep a food journal.
Fasting isn’t always an easy process. It requires willpower and the ability to recognize your urges as they arise.
Need more tips? Learn more about the behavioral health services offered at Mercy Health.