Dopamine fasting is the latest fad in Silicon Valley, California. The goal is to reduce the brain’s feel-good chemical by cutting back on things that make us feel good like sex, alcohol and technology. By doing this, you can “reset” your brain to appreciate simple things in life.
Sound like something you’d like to try? Before you start depriving yourself of the things you love, let’s learn more about this controversial tactic and if it’s truly the best way to achieve an effective and thoughtful brain.
What is Dopamine?
For starters, let’s cover the basics on dopamine. This chemical is found naturally in the human body and is responsible for a wide range of functions that affect sleep, mood, memory, learning, concentration and motor control. When dopamine levels drop, it can lead to certain medical conditions like depression, ADHD and addiction.
Sometimes, levels drop because the body stops producing dopamine or because there’s a problem with the receptors in the brain. But, too much dopamine can also be a problem. For example, people who have schizophrenia tend to have hyperactive dopamine systems that cause hallucinations and delusions.
It’s clear that the right balance of dopamine is essential to good mental and physical health, so why the craze over dopamine fasting? And where did this idea come from?
Dopamine Fasting and its Origin
Dopamine fasting has taken off in the last few months after YouTuber Improvement Pill published a video where he coined the term “dopamine fast” and discussed how this routine would help people get their lives back together. The video has received nearly 1.9 million views in one year and has become a fad among Silicon Valley tech professionals.
If you watch the YouTube video, you’ll get full instructions on what you can and can’t do. However, people have different ideas for what dopamine fasting is. If you do find this to be a practice you want to try, you’ll have to find a system that works for you. In other words, there is no right or wrong way to fast. Instead, it’s about making an effort to avoid social media, TV and other distractions that leave you feeling mentally drained.
Things to Avoid During a Dopamine Fast
The purpose of a dopamine fast is to reset the brain, so you need to start by giving up all the things that cause a rush of dopamine. Thankfully, you only have to do this for a single day. In the dopamine fasting world, this day is called a “holiday.”
People have different practices they follow when dopamine fasting, but here are the things to avoid, according to the video.
- Food. Only water is permitted, so grab your water bottle and be ready to fill it up frequently!
- Phone and internet. This includes social media and YouTube videos. You can leave it on for emergency calls but that’s it.
- Substances. No substances of any kind are allowed, including cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol and caffeine.
- Video games or music. Sorry guys – no playing video games or music during your fast.
- Social interactions. Some people may not mind having a day without socialization, but some will. During a dopamine fast, there is no spending time with friends or talking.
- Reading. Reading books, articles or magazines of any kind, even nonfiction, is not allowed.
Things You Can Do During Fasting
Now that we’ve covered all the things you can’t do (which is pretty much everything), let’s cover some of the things you are allowed to do during a dopamine fast.
- Drink water. This is important because water flushes out toxins, prevents dehydration and keeps you feeling full.
- Light exercise. Only light exercises and stretches are allowed.
- Walk around outdoors. You can walk around outdoors, but remember not to make eye contact with anyone!
- Meditate. Thankfully, you can meditate, which will help you pass the time.
- Write. You can also write in a journal. Answer questions like, “How am I feeling? Why do I feel this way? How can I control this pain?”
What is the Purpose of a Dopamine Fast?
People tend to do things automatically as long as there is some type of reward. This is how habits form like in drug and alcohol addiction. But, when things get tough, we tend to indulge in the things that make us feel better like television or food. This causes a rush of dopamine that makes you feel “full.” As a result, you’re no longer satisfied by simple things like a walk in the park or writing in a journal.
A dopamine fast starves the body by taking away what it wants. This makes it easier to appreciate simple things more easily. Second, dopamine fasting prevents you from masking physical and emotional pain. With no distractions, you’re forced to think about what’s wrong and how you can make positive changes in your life.
Is Dopamine Fasting Safe?
While we certainly understand the hype surrounding dopamine fasting, it’s not something that our outpatient addiction treatment centers in Phoenix recommend. A better solution is to learn new, healthy habits. But, you can take some of the ideas from dopamine fasting and apply them to your life, such as cutting down on technology, facing your problems and spending more time on mindfulness practices.
Furthermore, you can’t really “reset the brain” because there is no way of knowing what a baseline for dopamine is. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is necessary for everyday functions, so even if you could do this, you wouldn’t want to reduce your levels. Again, the healthier alternative is to replace negative habits and behaviors with positive ones.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Better Alternative
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy where you work with a mental health counselor in a structured setting. This therapy helps you to be more aware of negative thinking so that you can respond to situations in a more effective way. CBT is an excellent way to manage your emotions, learn techniques for coping with stressful situations and overcome emotional trauma.
Continuum Recovery Center offers CBT as part of our holistic outpatient addiction treatment program. When combined with holistic healing practices and lifestyle changes, you can develop healthier behaviors. If you’re struggling with substance abuse in Phoenix, contact us to learn more about behavioral counseling and how it can support a healthy lifestyle without the need for deprivation.