Can you imagine living life without doing anything that you enjoy? Well, Silicon Valley thinks people should cut back on things and activities that make you feel good—sex, food, alcohol, video games, and social media, to name a few—to be more productive. They call it “dopamine fasting.”
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked to how we feel motivation to do things. The common misconception is it’s a “pleasure chemical,” but it sends signals to our brain “related to functions such as motor control, memory, arousal, and reward processing.” As Science Alert explains: “[The] brain’s reward system can “learn” over time—cues in our environment that we associate with potential rewards can increase the activity of dopamine even in the absence of an actual reward. So just being in a sweet shop and thinking about sweets can activate our brain’s dopamine.”
People who have tried dopamine fasting say it’s a great way to “reset your brain” because you’re supposedly reducing overstimulation caused by fun activities. They say it’s important because of the rise of social media and the high people get from it. Once you’ve given up these dopamine triggers, they claim you’ll be able to do more things.
We know it’s weird to hear about this during the holiday season when everyone’s getting presents and relaxing from work. But we’re also curious if dopamine fasting really works. Here are some pros and cons to the wellness trend.
If one of the main points of dopamine fasting is to lessen time in social media, then we’re not totally against it. We’ve talked about going on social media breaks multiple times because we believe in just how toxic it is to be hyperfocused on online validation. It also takes up a lot of our time—time we could’ve dedicated to getting stuff done.
Psychologist Dr. Cameron Sepah tells BBC that because of the “always-on, high-stress nature” of Silicon Valley jobs, employees become prone to addictive behaviors to suppress their negative emotions. This is why he suggests short-term abstinence from dopamine triggers to help them rebalance their lives.
Regardless if you’re working in the tech industry or not, we all need that kind of detox every once in a while—not just from social media, but also from unhealthy habits and vices.
There are two issues with dopamine fasting. First, people might think dopamine is bad, which isn’t true. Science Alert emphasizes that we need this neurotransmitter for everyday normal functions. Cutting down on things we enjoy won’t completely reset our brains—sometimes it might actually lead us to crave things more, which is dopamine in effect.
Second, followers of dopamine fasting suggest that we drop everything we enjoy, including human interaction. That’s extreme!
Dr. Kent Berridge, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan, tells Healthline that dopamine fasting shouldn’t be seen as a total solution to becoming more productive. People can indeed do mini-dopamine fasting where they cut down on unhealthy habits like spending too much time on social media and indulging in sweets. Dr. Berridge suggests that people should be more mindful of what their mind and body need, and not reach for their phones to mindlessly scroll through their Twitter feeds.
Whether you believe in the benefits of dopamine fasting is up to you. Just make sure you’re not putting your physical and mental health at risk in your journey to stay productive.