Given the lifestyle of most professionals and the way they deal with broadcast & social media “many of us are highly overstimulated at best and addicted at worst to things that grab at our attention. Even worse, we don’t realize the extent—as I wrote, Americans spend a whopping 11 hours a day engaging with media of some kind! It’s unclear what the long-term implications of this overstimulation are on our brains, but in my private practice working with executive clients, I have observed that this interferes with our ability to sustain attention, regulate our emotions in non-avoidant ways, and enjoy simple tasks that seem boring by comparison.”
In chemical terms what is happening is that our brains have become accustomed to seeking dopamine shots relentlessly. “Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in our brains that’s responsible for motivation and reward. To grossly oversimplify, dopaminergic drugs (e.g. stimulants such as Adderall, cocaine, & methamphetamine) act on dopamine receptors like a key opening a lock, and over time, downregulate these receptors, which makes us less sensitive to dopamine. This results in using more and more of a stimulant to get the same effects, enabling the cycle of addiction. But even behaviors such as gaming or gambling can become problematic and addictive through the reinforcement that dopamine brings….This is not to demonize dopamine; it’s an important brain chemical,… my point is that we may be getting too much of a good thing, especially when dopamine reinforces behaviors that are out of line with our values.”
So what is remedy? How can we calm down and rid ourselves of our dopamine addiction? The author, Dr Sepah, says “I am popularizing “dopamine fasting” as the antidote to our overstimulated age. Dopamine fasting has precedent from psychiatric practice….To be clear: the goal is not to achieve a no/low dopamine state! Rather, taking a break from behaviors that trigger strong amounts of dopamine release (especially in a repeated fashion) allows our brain to recover and restore itself. Most importantly, dopamine fasting is training yourself to have more control and flexibility over whether or not you engage in a behavior when you need to (e.g. choosing not to procrastinate when you have a deadline).”
The doctor proceeds to recommend six types of behaviours from which we need to do take breaks from (i.e. avoid or “fast”) on an intermittent basis:
· Pleasure eating
· Thrill/novelty seeking
· Recreational drugs
The doctor then gives you a fasting timetable: “A suggested schedule for dopamine fasting is as follows:
1-4 hours at the end of the day (depending on work & family demands)
1 weekend day (spent it outside on a Saturday or Sunday)
1 weekend per quarter (go on a local trip)
1 week per year (go on vacation!)”
To our untrained eye, this appears to be a “beginners guide to vipassana”. That being said, as a way to settle down our monkey mind, Dr Sepah’s remedy sounds useful.
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