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Chasing dopamine

Dopamine is the chemical of ‘reward’. It is internally generated, provided by our emotional brain that is telling us, “What you are doing is a good thing, do it some more!” So, we do.

Our brains spend a lot of time looking for dopamine. That really means we look for the situations, activities or substances that lead to the brain giving us a hit of dopamine. When we do get that hit, we feel good; dopamine helps us feel alive, happy, engaged and motivated.

Without it, we can descend into depression; so it really is essential.

But how much do we need?  Can we have too much? Is it always a good thing?

The truth is that dopamine is highly addictive and we can become slaves to chasing it. And the things we do to get it might not really be healthy for us or our relationships.

What gives us dopamine?

  • Feeling like we are a part of something, connecting with others.
  • A sense of freedom or independence.
  • Being seen and appreciated.
  • Cocreating with others.
  • Hope.
  • Exercise.
  • Winning a game or solving a problem.
  • Getting Likes or mentions on social media.
  • Drama.
  • Getting revenge on someone who has done us wrong.
  • Sugar, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping, chocolate, opioids and other recreational drugs.

While dopamine can be good for us and even lifesaving, the ways we go about getting it, and the incessant chase can lead us down a dark road.

How healthy is your search for dopamine?

Review a typical day of yours:

  • What do you do to get dopamine?
  • How much time do you spend trying to satisfy cravings – either substances you imbibe or emotional needs you want to fulfil?
  • Is that activity healthy for you – emotionally and/or physically?
  • How long does that satisfaction last when you actually acquire it?
  • Is the payoff worth the investment of time and energy you spend in the chase?

Dopamine detox

If you see that you spend a lot of time chasing dopamine and the way you go about it may be unhealthy for you, consider doing a dopamine detox. Try a day (or week or more) without your favourite source of dopamine – skip the shopping, chocolate, drama, and/or social media. Notice how you feel without it. It might take some days to really detox. But most people who try this, end up feeling more in control of their life.

Rewired to Relate

Learn more about dopamine: how it drives your behaviour and interactions with others and what you can do to build a healthy relationship with it.

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