Is Dopamine Fasting a Way to Fix Your Brain or a Silicon Valley Fad?
Dopamine fasting is a new trend that has grown in popularity over the past year.
The term ‘fasting’ usually refers to diet – with people not eating for a certain number of hours per day.
A dopamine fast instead has a person avoiding any activity that they would find pleasure from.
Experts, however, explain that this may not have the same effects as a traditional fast as dopamine does not work this way.
Let’s take a closer look.
Dopamine fasting has become popular in the Silicon Valley region in particular, with the aim of the process to reset the dopamine levels within the body.
To do this, an individual abstains from anything that they enjoy, where dopamine would usually spike.
This can include activities such as watching tv, accessing social media, eating great food or using their smartphone.
It can go as far as impacting interactions with other people, such as avoiding eye contact or abstaining from sex.
The idea behind ‘resetting’ dopamine levels comes from the theory that the more we are exposed to experiences that make us happy, the more we need to chase a higher level of stimulation in order to feel enjoyment.
The practice of dopamine fasting was first developed by Cameron Sepah, who is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
The Psychiatry expert develops this, writing his guide to dopamine fasting.
He describes that taking a break from any behavior that increases dopamine levels can allow the brain to recover and restore to lower levels.
His theory is based on the idea that fasting dopamine is vital in an age of overstimulation.
However, he did not recommend the levels of avoidance that are now popular in the Silicon Valley – especially those experiences related to human interaction such as eye contact and relationships.
Instead, he advocates avoiding actions that you think are problematic, such as constantly scrolling on social media.
The Science Behind Dopamine Fasting
Let’s take a closer look at whether dopamine fasting can have a positive impact on your brain.
While this is a field that definitely requires further study, some experts are beginning to believe that it can have an impact, but for different reasons than initially thought.
The dopamine system within your body will stop turning if you reduce or stop the stimulating activity you often participate in.
Although the dopamine system stops, Kent Berridge – a professor of Neuroscience, states that it will not be reset entirely.
It may make you enjoy the small pleasures more, but this is because you may have been abstaining from them or abstaining from more exciting activities, rather than the dopamine in your body being regulated.
There is much confusion on whether it works or not, as many people do not understand how dopamine works and impacts the body.
Dopamine was originally thought to be a chemical that is simply based around pleasure, however, it is much more than that, as scientists have discovered in recent years.
Instead of being focused on pleasure, dopamine is far better described as being linked to a person’s levels of motivation.
This is why the chemical is so vital when looking at addiction, as it is linked to the idea of rewards within our brain – if we are addicted to something, then our brain feels stimulated and rewarded when we do it, and dopamine levels spike.
Dopamine persuades us that we want something over and over again.
While large actions can trigger dopamine, such as additions to alcohol, it can also be spiked with smaller examples such as a notification popping up on your phone to inform you that someone has liked your social media post.
Instead of the comment, or like that makes you happy, it is the notification itself triggering the higher levels of dopamine in your system.
For a while, getting these alerts or spiking your dopamine in other ways is exciting and gives you a good feeling.
But Berridge believes that this can go too far to when you are relying on it, and it can actually become distracting or overwhelming after a while.
Therefore, dopamine fasting can be a good way to remove yourself from this addictive cycle.
Can A Dopamine Fast Help A Smartphone Addiction?
Trying to get out of bad habits is a good step for anyone with any kind of addiction, and by doing so, you are removing something that does not make you feel good or makes you unwell over a longer period of time.
Dopamine fasting will not be the total solution to this, but it is one way to help resist the temptation that can be used alongside a number of different techniques.
Berridge stated that “Dopamine fasting is a great strategy,” but it is important to ensure that it won’t be taken too far to the extent that a person is avoiding interactions with other people and isolating themselves.
He believes, however, that it is not the total solution.
This is because studies on resisting temptation have found that the best way to resist temptation is directly to avoid what you are resisting – for example, if you are trying to cut down your sugar, actively avoiding cakes at a buffet.
This helps deal better with the temptations as you are actively avoiding them, and a dopamine fast does not replicate this.
If you are looking to reduce a smartphone addiction, alongside dopamine fasting, it is recommended that you introduce the practice of mindfulness to your day.
This will allow you to focus on your feelings and emotions and how to approach challenges.
If you find yourself picking up your phone for no good reason, instead put it down and begin thinking about your feelings and why you felt like you needed to reach out for it.
This will help you understand your addiction and be more likely to try and avoid it.
While dopamine fasting can make you feel better, as it distances you from those actions that are constantly overstimulating your brain, it may not ‘reset’ the brains dopamine levels like many believe.
If, however, it does have a positive impact on your mental health, it is worth trying. Just ensure that you do not take things too far by cutting off physical contact and connection with people, as this can have adverse effects in the long run.