Understanding Me - Dopamine
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is nature’s reward drug.
When we accomplish something, like crossing a job off your to-do list, finishing a course, meeting a deadline, closing a deal or even completing a game on your phone, your body rewards your success with dopamine. It is a feel-good chemical (known as a neurotransmitter) designed to make you want to repeat successful behaviour. You complete a task, you get a hit of dopamine and feel great, which makes you want more dopamine so you repeat the successful behaviour.
What does it do?
In caveman times, dopamine was great, the feeling of success after catching your dinner made hunters want to repeat the behaviour, therefore it was a great way to ensure the survival of the species. In modern times we have changed but our bodies haven’t, your dopamine production can’t tell the difference between a positive success, like doing some exercise or completing a vital job from a negative success like eating fast food, playing a game on your phone, or even smoking a cigarette.
How do I manage it?
Because dopamine is addictive and this is such an easy way to get it, we end up with children (and adults) who get anxious/stressed/angry if they are away from their phones for any length of time. - there is now even a recognised medical diagnosis of notification anxiety, which shows how epidemic the problem has become.
A natural antidote to the addictive nature of dopamine is oxytocin (insert a link to oxytocin article) however, oxytocin comes through physical contact, communication with loved ones, none of which you get when staring at your phone.
Why Does it Matter?
Dopamine working correctly is wonderful, unfortunately, it is quite easy to 'trick' the body into releasing dopamine and it is highly addictive. This is why we are getting children (and adults) addicted to their phones, the small, simple 30 second games give a feeling of accomplishment when you finish a level and you get a dose of dopamine, getting notifications that someone has liked your post gives you a sense of achievement, therefore you get dopamine, then 30 seconds later, you get another, and another and so on. You then become addicted to the feel-good rewards of the action and you need your phone more and more.
Texting is the same, you may think you are communicating well (often doesn't always equate to well) with someone when texting them but it doesn’t replace the basic human need for face to face, personal interaction. This is why the longer you go without tech, the easier social interactions become, anxiety levels drop and it becomes easier to get by without it. The need to check your messages when you hear your phone beep is a craving, fueled by addiction. If you can’t ignore Facebook or Instagram notifications when they come through then that is a sign you might be addicted to your phone.
This addiction leads to sleep deprivation as you can’t be away from your phone, meaning you are exposed to unnatural light long into the night, this causes your body clock to fail and can lead to bad sleep patterns, especially if you have your phone on all night next to your bed, meaning you are woken up by it beeping or buzzing. Negative sleep patterns affect mood and bodily functions such as digestion and immune systems and that can lead to other issues/complications in regard to your health. (see our blog on sleep here)
Now I’m not saying technology is bad and we shouldn’t have phones etc, that isn’t the way forward and you can’t fight that wave even if you wanted to, but we need to learn to counter the addictive nature of the technology and not lose personal interaction in the wake of the technology revolution. As with all things in life, it is about balance. Too much of anything is bad for you so we need to learn or come up with new ways to live in the new world.
The main thing we struggle with is that humans evolve over huge spans of time, thousands of years are required to make even small changes to how we work, we aren’t able to change quickly. For example, if you took someone from the year 1400 and placed them in 1850 I suspect they would be able to adapt to the new world quite easily, apart from fashion and better housing, the world was fundamentally similar, using animals to farm, men going to work, women staying at home, kings and queens in castles etc. But if you took someone from 1800 and placed them in 2019 they would be completely overwhelmed.
Electricity, cars, planes, internet, phones, tv, space travel, lasers, medicine, laptops, robots, ships the size of towns, buildings so tall the tops are in the clouds - our world has changed so rapidly over the last 100 years and our bodies systems cannot keep up.
Your mind still works as it did in 1400, or 2000BC for that matter - fight or flight, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, needing physical exercise to work properly etc are all designed to run in a world without technology, so it’s no surprise that we are having huge growth in illness related to the new world, new addictions, chronic illnesses that simply didn’t exist 100 years go, or if they did were so rare they went unnoticed, but are now epidemics.