The Era of Dopamine.

How our brains chemistry changes when we use smartphones and social media.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that powers our brain’s reward-pleasure pathway, driving our motivations and desires. Before the modern era, it’s function worked exceptionally well for human development and progression. It motivated us to procreate, eat, and survive. It’s triggers were sparse so it’s function worked to our advantage. Too much dopamine was never a problem the brain had to solve for.

Today, dopamine triggers can be found in every corner, accessible at the snap of a finger. Our brain's circuitry was not prepared for smart phones, social media, or Black Friday shopping. On the surface it seems harmless but our whole economy is built on creating the most attention-capturing, dopamine-stimulating experiences. Companies fight for your attention to make money by exploiting your psychological vulnerabilities. To understand how much time you spend on your phone you can use apps like Moment (iOS) and Breakfree (Android). I was alarmed to discover that I use social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram nearly 12 hours a week . That’s almost two hours a day!

In the short term, excessive dopamine feels wonderful however it causes an imbalance which the brain adjusts for, also known as tolerance build up. Over time the number of dopamine receptors available are reduced. It’s like a game of musical chairs where each seat is a dopamine receptor and the people running around are dopamine. Fewer receptors available for docking result in things like depression, anxiety, inability to focus, lack of motivation, lethargy, etc. It’s a game you don’t want to play.

You wouldn’t reward your dog with a treat for sitting around the house and then expect him to listen. Why would he put in the work if he gets rewarded for doing nothing. It’s important to be aware of the bad habits that cause dopamine triggers so we can build new ones which are in harmony with our brain’s chemistry. This doesn’t mean we revert back to caveman living, we just have to focus more on experiences that are conducive to our health and happiness. So put down the phone, and go outside for a run!