You wake up with the mobile alarm and take a look at social networks. After you get up, do a little exercise watching the latest Reel of your favorite influencer fit. You start to work. Today it is not time to go to the office, so you stay teleworking. Time to eat. You heat something up quickly in the microwave and eat it while watching a YouTube video. Then you finish the rest of the day, spend some more time on social networks, meet some friends to talk on Skype, have dinner, watch a couple of chapters of your favorite series on Netflix and go to sleep. We live in one hyperconnected society, in which almost every step we take depends on technology. This has a positive part, but also a more negative one, for which certain people believe it necessary to periodically do something called dopamine fasting.
The goal is to stop relying so much on stimuli and small rewards What technology gives us: a notification on Twitter, a new unread WhatsApp, a video of kittens … But we are not just talking about social networks. Some include other quick and enjoyable activities here, like listening to music, watching porn, or eating junk food.
Thus, it is assumed that the vicious circle in which our brain enters when the dopamine it is released by a stimulus, causing a sensation of pleasure that makes us want more and more. But what is a dopamine fast? And, more importantly, does it work?
A matter of rewards
Before seeing what dopamine fasting consists of, it is important to understand what is the role of this substance that is supposed to be fasting.
Reward systems elicit a sense of pleasure in response to activities necessary for survival
Dopamine is a hormone that acts like neurotransmitter. That is, it is a substance in charge of carrying information through the nervous system. In your case, it has a multitude of functions, but what interests us here is its role in the reward systems.
These systems make up the procedure by which certain beneficial activities for survival provide us pleasure. For example, have sexual intercourse it is pleasant because it helps to perpetuate the species. AND eat something high in calories also, because it will give us the energy we need for our day to day.
Therefore, when we receive any of the aforementioned stimuli, the dopaminergic neurons release a blast of this neurotransmitter, giving rise to that sensation of pleasure that we know so well. Although it generally occurs with stimuli necessary for survival, it can also occur with others, such as playing video games, shopping and, of course, drugs.
The pleasure that is generated is something transitory, that disappears fast. This can lead us to want to repeat that action again. Going back to the evolutionary utilityIf sex gives us pleasure, we will want to practice it again and that will increase the chances of reproduction. But sometimes, beyond the evolutionary, when the action is performed, something known as tolerance occurs many times. Basically, what happens is that the brain needs more and more dopamine to get that feeling of pleasure. And this is where the risk of addiction.
But it’s not always about addictions. There is a middle ground to which we are subjected on a daily basis. That need to quickly look at the mobile notifications or to see the next chapter of your favorite series as soon as the previous one is finished is not an addiction, but the requirement of a new dopamine shot. And while we are looking at that new chapter or attending to the mobile we may be neglecting other activities, such as playing sports, reading or studying. Now is the time to talk about dopamine fasting.
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Dopamine fasting does not exist
If someone goes on a hunger strike, they subject their body to a fast real, since he does not ingest anything during the duration of the protest.
However, we cannot subject our body to a dopamine fasting, because this will not stop being generated. Dopamine is necessary, it carries out many other functions in our body. In fact, its deficiency is related to diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Dopamine deficiency is linked to many diseases
Therefore, it is impossible to remove it completely. On this basis, we cannot speak of a dopamine fast. In fact, the creator of the concept himself, the psychiatrist Cameron sepah, explained it in statements to the New York Times collected by Harvard University: “The title should not be taken literally.”
So if it’s not a dopamine fast, what is it? Some of the people who practice it define it as a way of focusing on the present moment. Something like Mindfulness and other related meditation techniques. For Sepah, it helps us to be less dominated by unhealthy spurs of modern life. “Instead of automatically responding to these reward-inducing signals, which provide us with an immediate but short-lived load, we must allow our brains to take breaks and restart from this potentially addictive bombardment.” Thus, we are supposed to be able to regain control of our lives. But how do you do that?
Looking for the affable face of boredom
According to Sepah, by allowing ourselves to be alone or bored, we can find pleasure in doing simpler activities. Let’s say those dopamine circuits are diverted to other types of stimuli.
Socializing should not be avoided, as this is very necessary
But it is not clear what are those behaviors that we should avoid. In fact, it depends a lot on who practices it. If we ask two people who are undergoing a dopamine fasting, we can meet someone who has removed Netflix from their routine. However, it could be that someone who is not a fan of movies and television does not have that need because, in reality, it does not work for them. enjoyable or addictive.
Anyway, roughly Sepah usually cites six behaviors that can be eliminated during one of these fasts: emotional eating (eat when we feel anxious), the excessive use of the internet and video games, gambling and the shopping, the for not and the masturbation associated with it, the search for new emotions and the recreational drugs.
What is clear is that there is no scientific evidence behind all this. Neither that it works nor that it does not. It’s more, it is not a scientific concept as such and the mechanisms behind it have not been studied. Therefore, there are no defined guidelines, each person does it in their own way and it can lead to errors. In the same article from Harvard University, they explain that some people also limit their social relationships, as a way of focusing on themselves. However, social relationships are a much needed encouragement. You just have to see the amount of mental problems that have derived from the isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, Cameron Sepah himself, in an article published on Linkedin in 2019, sought to clarify some misconceptions, among which was precisely that dopamine fasting does not mean to stop socializing.
So is dopamine fasting any use?
What is clear is that some of the points of the dopamine fast can be useful, but not applied to a period of time, as the fasters advise, but implemented in our day to day life. For example, it is of little use to leave junk food for a few hours a day for three days a week. It is best to search a healthy lifestyle and reduce this type of food in general, but without regrets if we resort to them from time to time.
On the subject of technologies, of course it can be useful keep mobile phone away when we try to focus on something else or use software blockers to reduce our hours on social media. All of this can be helpful. Naming it depends on each one. Of course, a dopamine fast is not; since, as he insists on remembering his own creator, it is impossible to fast this substance. And thank goodness.