If you’ve heard the phrase “dopamine fasting,” you likely thought it belongs in some futuristic movie plot. After all, dopamine is a hormone in our bodies related to pleasure and rewards. How could you possibly “fast” from a hormone you have no control over? Welcome to Silicon Valley, where if it can be hacked (and sometimes, even when it can’t), it absolutely will be hacked.
Dopamine fasting became a buzz word once it caught on with the tech community who never waste a good chance to optimize anything, even their own body’s hormone usage. The concept has some grounding in reality, though, and was originally developed by psychiatrist Dr. Cameron Sepah. Yet, today’s dopamine fasting is not what she has envisioned.
While some overeager fasters are abstaining from anything that brings them even the slightest pleasure, whether that’s sweet foods, sex, social media, or even eye contact in the case of start-up founder James Sinka, Dr. Sepah had a more toned-down approach to dopamine fasting.
For starters, dopamine is a neurotransmitter known as the “happy hormone” for its role in motivation and rewards. It’s dopamine that gets released into your body when you get social media notifications. The idea behind dopamine fasting is that taking a break from the overwhelming amount of highly stimulating factors in our day — from sugar to video games, social media, and constant texting — helps us lower our levels of overstimulation. Breaking the pattern of dopamine triggering helps prevent the development of compulsive reward-seeking behavior in unhealthy ways, like smartphone addiction or stress eating.
However, fasting from dopamine isn’t exactly accurate. Abstaining from dopamine-triggering situations or items doesn’t lower the dopamine levels in your body and make you more sensitive to it when it’s triggered after a fast. Instead, it lets your brain take a break and clock out from being your dopamine butler. The poor thing is just exhausted from constantly bringing you bits of dopamine every time you check your phone, knowing nothing significant has changed in the last 5 minutes.
Dopamine fasting is safe, it’s free, and while it’s not a total savior with breaking those persistent, pleasure-seeking habits, it might prevent your brain from unionizing and protesting against inhumanely long working hours. So the next time you see your friends continually checking their phones while you’re supposed to be spending time together, just tell them, “Lay of the dope(-amine).”