I Did A Dopamine “Detox”
A global pandemic, isolation, living in one of the most dangerously polarizing political climates in US history, and living with my parents seriously has me on edge. So on edge, in fact, that concerned friends reached out to me because it seemed like everything on social media was making me angry. I’m also very unmotivated to do almost anything, productive or not, even though I have a lot of time on my hands. This isn’t an article about how I am trying to self optimize to make myself more productive. However, I still have things to do, and it is just becoming increasingly harder to bring myself to do anything. No matter what I try, I end up eating or scrolling (sometimes both) instead of what I should be doing. This leads to me agonizing over what I have to do, procrastinating, and taking way longer to finish even the simplest of tasks.
Of course, these feelings are common for those who are social-distancing at home and unemployed. I’m also taking a semester off of school, so when I say I have a lot of time on my hands and no structure, I really mean it. Luckily enough, while I was mindlessly scrolling, I came across a Youtube video called “How I Tricked My Brain To Like Doing Hard Things (dopamine detox)”. Essentially, the video argues that we as a society are overstimulated with dopamine through social media, the internet, junk food, and porn. The overflow of stimulus makes us unmotivated to do whatever task that isn’t “fun” but is more rewarding in the long run because the dopamine we release for those tasks aren’t as high as other activities that may be highly stimulating, but not as rewarding in the long run. Then, the video suggests to go on a detox where you don’t engage in any highly stimulating activities for a whole day and just be bored, or, you can pick a day out of the week where you don’t engage in only one of the highly pleasurable activities. This practice is supposed to wean you off of your dopamine “tolerance” so you are able to do whatever you have been putting off on a regular basis. The scientific claims behind this are definitely oversimplified and suggesting that you can control your dopamine levels is misleading, but the suggestion to take a break from these activities seemed valuable regardless, so I decided to give it a try.
I’m no stranger to taking a break from social media, but usually, I’ll just get off of my public accounts and continue to post on my private accounts for my select friends to witness. Since this “detox” goes beyond social media consumption, I had also planned to not eat any junk food or listen to music. I would have also extended my plan to not use my computer or phone at all, but since I still had work that requires technology, I had to keep those and hope I had the self control to complete the day. The night before the day of the “detox”, I deleted all of the apps that I procrastinate on: Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Tumblr, and Youtube. From there, I logged my day.
Sunday, October 11, 2020:
9:00 AM: Woke up to my phone alarm. Immediately tried to get on social media, realized I deleted the apps, and went back to sleep.
10:13 AM: Woke up for real, brushed my teeth like normal.
10:17 AM: Made a late breakfast. Had a long conversation with my mom. Fed the dog.
12:02 PM: Showered. Without music. :(
12:27 PM: Did prep work for an acting project that I would have procrastinated otherwise.
1:20 PM: Worked on some videos for Mi Voce Y La Tuya.
3:14 PM: Ate a banana. Had another long conversation with my mom.
3:44 PM: Somehow ended up on Instagram on my computer. Oops. Found my friend’s cooking page. Had to message her about it.
4:30 PM: Pasted my day logs from my notes app to this article. Edited the beginning portion.
4:54 PM: Layed in bed and stared at the ceiling.
5:10 PM: Edited my iOS 14 home screen.
5:25 PM: Practiced the Spanish I’ve been procrastinating.
6:13 PM: Had a cookie.
6:19 PM: Worked on some music. I never said I couldn't listen to my own music.
7:02 PM: Had dinner with my parents who like to have the news on during dinner.
7:47 PM: Worked on music.
8:00 PM: Walked my dog.
8:36 PM: Went on Youtube.
9:11 PM: Did more prep work for the acting project.
10:00 PM: Instagram.
10:18 PM: Netflix and knocked out.
In between most of these logs was a lot of me staring at a ceiling or window. I wasn’t doing something at every second of the day, and to expect that of myself would be unfair. I also broke the rules a few times, but I do not feel guilty about it because, compared to how I spent my days recently, this day was much more productive. Productivity does not automatically make everything better, but it was nice to actually do the things I knew I needed to do instead of thinking about them for hours. In the long run, I knew I saved myself a lot of anxiety by doing the work for my projects incrementally instead of all at once at the last minute. I seriously hadn’t done that in years, and I don’t want to see how much farther I can take that habit. As you can see in the log, I did not complete the “detox” but I ended up doing most of the highly stimulating activities after I finished the tasks I had to do that day (the videos, the acting project, and updating this article). However, that seemed to fit with the logic of the Youtube video where the narrator said he would regularly do all the hard stuff first before “rewarding” himself with dopamine (again, the scientific explanation should be taken with a grain of salt, and you cannot control the levels of dopamine in your brain).
One of the most interesting parts of the day was when I had dinner with my parents. My parents were watching the news with political commentary about the current US presidential election, and I hadn’t seen any news for the whole day. Normally, if they are watching something I don’t like or agree with, I would just go on my phone and try to tune it out. As stated before, I have been on edge and angered easily, so the current political climate is something that can set me off. I could have just posted a private story writing a rant-y think piece on my opinions after dinner, but I did not have that option. Ranting to my parents who would rather hear the news than my opinion didn’t seem appealing either. As I was listening to the commentary, I started to feel something so intense that I couldn’t sit still, and it was becoming increasingly hard to keep my food down. I had to think for a second on what I was feeling, and it was fear, not anger. While that sucked, I was forced to learn something about my emotional intelligence and how quick I am to jump to anger instead of trying to process whatever I may be feeling in the moment. This probably wouldn’t have happened if I was not doing the “detox”.
Another important thing to keep in mind with this experiment is that my recent lack of motivation and misdirected anger is most likely a mental health issue and a result of everything going on in the world. It would be unfair to isolate my habits from my environment, judge them, and then recommend advice from some pseudo-scientific Youtube video as a way to cope. The advice from the video would be better described as a way to practice mindfulness rather than a cheat code to your brain’s chemicals. As a stereotypical Gen Z person who has the attention span of a fly because of my consumption habits, this felt like a good way to be more mindful of how I spend my time and how it affects my thoughts. I learned some things about myself, and I also did not procrastinate for the first time in years. Realistically, we always have things to do that aren’t fun, but that is not the most important lesson from this experiment. To me, the most useful aspect in this practice was about taking time to ground myself, and not as a way to self optimize for maximum productivity.
Do I recommend this “detox’? Sure, if you understand that this isn’t about controlling your dopamine levels. It can simply be about taking a break from intense amounts of stimulus for your mental health, but it shouldn’t replace a mental health professional’s help if needed. Plus, there are ways you can modify it to fit your lifestyle instead of the radical version that I attempted for this article, and I think it is worth a shot if you have been facing similar problems to what I have described at the beginning of this article. If you have any mindfulness or self care tips that you would like to share, we would love to hear from you, especially during this intense time.