In a world of constant rush, stress, and feeling like you're not good enough, that dopamine rush is invaluable.
During its brief moments, it makes you forget about all your worries. It makes you happy, relaxed, and satisfied, yet it goes away quickly.
Dopamine addiction leaves you hungry and wanting more of that stimulation—whether visual, auditive, or physiological. For some people, the desire for instant pleasure can become constant—so much as to keep you from working; taking care of your home and family; and maintaining lifelong healthy relationships.
Digital Addiction and Dopamine: The Modern Paradox
What happens when you're no longer able to thrive off dopamine?
Like all other addictions, digital content is pleasurable at first. However, the longer you use it, the less pleasurable and more necessary it becomes. You need to consume messages, interactions, shows, music, and games just to feel alright.
If you don't have access to your favorite content, you start to feel squeamish and irritable. You can't focus, and your mood quickly declines. Does this sound familiar?
An addiction to the internet only becomes a clinical problem when it significantly impairs your ability to go about your daily life. When you can no longer control your desire for games long enough to go to work or take a shower, it's time to see an expert.
How Digital-Induced Dopamine Addiction Hurts Your Mental Health
Luckily, an average person is not quite there. However, a more dangerous connection exists between dopamine addiction and mental health, and it's the one that makes you more vulnerable to depression.
Before we explain how being internet-happy is likely to contribute to depression, let's explain how your mind changes as a result of dopamine addiction.
First, you need constant gratification from consuming online content. You almost feel rewarded, like you're doing something significant, but it's hard to pinpoint why.
Then, dopamine addiction consumes your entire life because it creates dozens, if not hundreds, of addictive behaviors that you're most likely unaware of.
Are You Addicted to Dopamine?
Unlike substances that require hassle to go out, get, and take, devices are legal and all around us. No one will give you a strange look for playing a video game on the subway. In some environments, consuming online content is even encouraged.
Ask yourself how often you do the following things, and why:
Doing these things from time to time doesn't make you a dopamine addict. Feeling upset, aroused, and squeamish if you don't do them means that you need to rethink your habits.
You see, the problem with dopamine addiction is that it makes you feel upset, down, and even depressed if you're not getting those micro daily doses hour after hour.
How Digital Addiction Ties in With Dopamine and Depression
Now, let's talk a little bit about depression. Depression is a large spectrum of different mood disorders, so it can't be explained in simple terms. Most modern experts explain it as the inability to maintain a balanced mood and having predominantly negative feelings.
When you're depressed, you have difficulties focusing on your work. Doing things that you used to love no longer makes you happy. You're frustrated, disappointed, and unhappy with yourself and the world around you.
These are only a few most obvious signs of depression, though its roots and manifestations are much more diverse and vary individually.
So what's the link between dopamine addiction and depression? As it turns out, it's twofold:
No. 1: Dopamine Addiction Leaves You Vulnerable to Pessimistic Moods
The unhappier you are, the more you want instant digital pleasure. The more you rely on devices to stay happy and satisfied, the harder you cope with daily hurdles without them. The more you use digital devices, the more instant gratification you need.
The more you want instant gratification, the more time you spend on the internet...
Do you see the pattern?
As years go by, you rely more on internet gratification for pleasure and to cope with stress, all while your "mental muscles" that help you regulate feelings and cope with stress weaken.
No. 2: Addictive Habits Hinder Emotional Regulation and Resilience to Stress
Adult lives are difficult. Our predecessors knew how important it was to cope with troubles mindfully. They cherished education and culture and valued time spent with family and friends. They relied on their inner resources to deal with life, so they strengthened their resilience muscles.
We, on the other hand, choose not to cope—at least before it becomes critical. We use the internet as an escape from looking into things that deeply hurt and core changes that we need to make.
In its essence, healing from depression requires us to face our worries and sorrows and open up to learning coping skills. These coping skills serve to get us back on our feet and make us able to be happy while we manage problems—not just when we don't have any problems.
How to Break the Digital Habit
As long as you rely on the internet to get instant gratification, pleasure, and resolution for problems, you're weakening your resilience muscles.
So what should you do?
The solution isn't, of course, to go off the grid and give up technology overall. Remember, dopamine addiction is only problematic to the extent in which it affects your willing behavior.
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Willpower is the ultimate solution to regain the ability to be once again happy without needing the adult pacifier that dopamine is whenever life isn’t perfect. You can do this with the following steps:
#1: Control Internet Usage
Enjoy online content by all means but only during those times—you decide in advance. That way, you teach your brain, like one raises a toddler, to indulge in healthy measures.
#2: Spend Time Without Electronics
Do you feel worried about leaving your house without your smartphone? If so, that's not healthy. Aim to spend at least 30 minutes each day without a single electronic device by your side while doing something you love.
#3: Turn Off Background Noise
Don't casually listen to podcasts and watch TV shows while working or doing chores. Focus on those things and cherish your ability to do a good job and take care of yourself and your home.
#4: Socialize and Bond
At least once a week, spend time with other people without using electronics. Spend an hour, two, or three in meaningful conversations, creative activities, or simple joyful walks.
These few simple steps will help you train your mind to once again feel happy doing things it's meant to get excited about. Physiologically, our brains are wired to encourage healthy behaviors, and when we do the opposite, our mental health deteriorates.
Remember: Electronics are here to serve us—not make us happy. We're meant to be happy from true inner fulfillment, and that comes from doing the hard work of taking care of yourself, loved ones, and your community.
You can only truly heal from emotional and mental problems when you're able to endure and cope; decide that, no matter what life throws at you, you'll choose to accept and deal with it the best way you can.
No shortcuts, no cheats, no pacifiers—only you, your life as it is, and being your wisest, smartest, most rational self can help you!
Why? Because you know that overconsumption is overcompensation. It will never make up for what you truly need, and only you know the answer to that.
The willingness to put down your phone and confront whatever makes you want to run away means the difference between living a meaningful life and staying forever imprisoned by pain and avoidance.
Break free of the compulsion to consume!
NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.
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