BENGALURU: Dpamine. A neurotransmitter wrongly called the ‘pleasure chemical’ induces motivation and makes you feel pleasure and excitement after having good food, sex, and a dose of appreciation. The same gets triggered a bit too much through notifications on social media which fools the mind into believing doses of happiness every time your phone buzzes telling you who liked or commented on your post. For some, it can be even euphoric. So, there’s an unlimited flow of dopamine through smartphones which can, according to researchers, drain one from experiencing real joy.
It’s believed that reducing the flood of dopamine can regain the balance. It was in Silicon Valley that ‘dopamine fasting’ became a trend. It’s not just the tech addiction that people are taking a break from, it’s also from other pleasures like food, music, sex, and incessant conversations. Sometimes while on ‘dopamine fasting’, people even avoid eye contact. Almost two months into the new decade, we’ll have see whether the trend will stay.
But while there can be healthy habits related to technology like reading an online book or listening to music, it’s the constant checking of notifications which triggers anxiety. Sarath Sai N (24), a pharmacist heard about it from his techie friends and decided to try it. In December, he took a few days off from work, informed his family that he won’t be available for a certain number of days and set off to a remote rural area switching off his phone.
He ate simple food cooked on firewood and rested; read a book or just watched the ripples in a pond. “I didn’t have this stress to be socially presentable or crack a conversation. The best was not to have this constant pressure to check emails, answers call or receive notifications from social media. I felt light, slept better, connected with myself, and released angst,” says Sarath, who now plans to do it every two months.
What do the mental health practitioners say? It was Dr Cameron Sepah of San Francisco, who popularised the term ‘dopamine fasting’ in August-September, 2019. He stresses that the focus is on reducing the impulsive/obsessive behaviour that trigger dopamine, not dopamine itself. In one of his articles, he writes: “All of the behaviors can be done in moderation, but are dangerous temptations when you can’t get away from it and you’re stressed — we need to be vigilant about the increasing encroachment that the attention and stimulation economy is placing on our health.
Given that the smartphones aren’t going away anytime soon, we need to learn to lie with the devil in our pockets, and using techniques like dopamine fasting to restore order and health to our minds and bodies.”To this adds Baijesh Ramesh, a clinical psychologist practicing at Chetana Hospital, Telangana: “This idea can be used as a tool to curb any kind of addiction which can be food, too much conversation, spending long hours on social media, sex among others. Dopamine fasting doesn’t have a scientific base. It is a trend which people are gearing towards.”