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The Drama of Dopamine


 

Dopamine is a word most of us are familiar with and intuitively know it’s something we want more of.  What we may not realize is that our quest for dopamine can actually lead to addiction and the inability to access it in a healthy way.  Dopamine is what we call a “neurotransmitter”, which is a chemical that helps cells in the brain send messages to each other.  It has many jobs as a messenger, including memory, concentration, physical movement and sleep, but all of its jobs involve parts of the brain that work on feelings of motivation and pleasure.  There’s been enough written about “getting a hit of dopamine” that most of us have internalized the desire for it.  We have a sense that things like being in a new relationship, having a success at work or doing a fun activity can release this motivational chemical.  Unfortunately, those things don’t occur every day.  The problem comes in when we realize (usually subconsciously) that we can also get a hit of that same feeling from smoking a cigarette, drinking an alcoholic beverage or eating a sugary snack.  We can also get that feeling from shopping, scrolling on social media, bingeing on Netflix or winning at gambling.  We can even get that feeling when there's "Drama" in our lives, such as relationship issues or work situations...we get a little hit of dopamine when these situations come up, even if they are difficult. It's a very human thing to want that feeling but if we overuse these behaviors to keep getting “that hit”, it can turn into addiction.  Since dopamine is a chemical of motivation, it makes sense that the more we eat sugar, smoke or scroll on Instagram, the more motivated we are to repeat those behaviors.  Over time, your brain will need more of the substance/activity to get the same effect, leading to addiction.  So, if you suspect that you are spending too much time scrolling on social media, or reaching for too much wine every day, you may want to look at your relationship to dopamine.  Some healthier and more balanced ways to get this feel-good chemical are:

1.       Exercise!!  We all need to move our bodies to stay healthy and balancing dopamine is good motivation (literally) to get in that daily walk or yoga practice or whatever works for you.

2.       Eating healthy!!  Whole, nutritious foods are great for balancing all of our neurotransmitters, hormones and other bodily functions.  We literally become what we eat, so eat well!

3.       Sleep!! Critical for wellness.

4.       Manage Stress to keep your nervous system calm and biochemicals balanced.

5.       Find joy every day in the simple things like Gratitude, Nature, Connection with others, Healthy Food, Music, Hobbies, the list goes on. Be Mindful of the good feelings, sometimes called “glimmers” that you get from these healthy activities.

If you want some help finding ways to feel motivated and energetic, reach out to me here for info on how Health Coaching can support you!

 

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