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  • Writer's pictureEllen Dodd

Dopamine Junkies

We are all junkies. Big, bad, junkies.

“What’s our poison?!” I hear you cry.




“No!!” I say to you, “No!”

What then? Well, the thing we are all really addicted to, is dopamine. Our phones, notifications and likes, they gives hits of dopamine. Almost all real external addictions release dopamine, like smoking, meaning really its part of what we are all hooked on no matter your poison. It’s actually part of a natural reward reinforcement pathway in the body, giving us a sense of pleasure when we complete necessary tasks, such as eating. However, the system has been hijacked by our hyper-pleasure-centric world, meaning we are for the most part hooked on a feeling, that again for the most part we have no idea exists.

My usual day consists of lighting up this pathway. Drinking coffee, smoking, checking my phone, all throughout the day. Contrast this to the natural way, only lighting it up when I eat or use the loo or shower or something. I would much more enjoy doing these daily tasks if they were all I got my dopamine from. Instead the system is hijacked, and I feel wholly satisfied from my bad habits and technology supplying my dopamine needs. This, this isn’t great as far as I’m aware.

Serotonin is another neurotransmitter which causes good feelings. It is released after longer tasks rather than rewarding instant gratification. You know when you need to do the dishes but you realllyyyy don’t want to so you put it off till tomorrow and get that little rush? That’s dopamine. Deciding to push through the laziness and do the dishes, and seeing the results at the end and feeling satisfied, that’s serotonin. I believe we are slowly losing our connection to the good feelings of completion that serotonin gives us, in favour of instant gratification and cheap thrills cause of our dopamine seeking tendencies.

Something I am currently practicing, just in the past few weeks I have started making an effort to do this, is pushing through uncomfortable emotions. That’s what I was actually going to write this article about, then I tried to relate it to the brain chemicals, now I am realising what I am actually doing is pushing through my addiction to dopamine in favour of serotonin, which is a good thing. I think.

For instance, pushing past the laziness to floss my teeth. If I decide screw it I will tomorrow and head to bed without doing so, I would feel good in the moment, but ultimately my mouth health would be worse and could get worse in the future if I don’t do this. Dopamine doesn’t care about us as much, it gives us a rush oftentimes for avoiding responsibilities. So feel this uncomfortableness before doing something you should be doing, and push through it.

This same philosophy can be used for overcoming fears. Feel the fear, notice the fear, then push through it. I tried this at a trampoline park (lol) and felt a huge rush of adrenaline afterward, and had a newfound confidence in myself. Obviously some fears are there to keep us safe, but some fears are irrational, such as mine of running up one of those running walls. Or, the fear of public speaking. Of talking to your boss, or your crush. Feel the fear, breathe, and push through it.

Emotions are tricky. It is good to feel them and not stuff them down, yet at the same time when it comes to fear pushing through it can help us overcome the fears. I don’t think how we should treat our emotions is a black and white matter. Fear and anxiety can be helped by pushing through the emotion, exposure therapy I guess.

When I was 20, I had awful anxiety. I suffered panic attacks, attended counselling, overthought everything and was a bit miserable. I started to overcome my anxiety when I came to the realisation I was in charge of my life. I worked a job I hated so I quit and got one I liked, I moved back home for a period to rebalance myself, I started doing things I enjoyed with people I liked. I started to get better. The next few months the anxiety started to really subside, I still had lingering hypochondria for a long time but I remember the last attack I had of that. I was 21, and my then boyfriends flatmate made a comment about a small (literally tiny) cut I had, warning me to wash it so it doesn’t go septic.

That was me. 10 minutes later I was in a crumbled heap on the floor jittering, clutching my finger, with my phone open on the NHS “sepsis” page next to me. Some savlon and tears later it was okay, and after the anxiety attack I realised how disconnected from reality my irrational fears were. That was about the last anxiety attack I can remember having. Reflecting on the fears which caused my anxiety and how I can remove them from my life OR see that they are not based in reality, helped me overcome my anxiety.

Pushing through the fear and going to interviews that scared me helped, now I do not fear an interview when I used to badly. Pushing through helped. Now, I am using that same skill but to push past laziness, the folly I am currently suffering from. It is cool how it’s the same thing I am doing kinda, before with the anxiety I was a lot less aware that that’s what I was doing. But this time I am conscious of the fact I am pushing through the laziness, the “what’s the point” mentality, the fear. It needs to be overcome. It is starting to become easier. And also, other things are starting to become fun. Back to neurotransmitters.

I think by bypassing this dopamine hit of ignoring responsibilities, I am starting to naturally induce serotonin, which is overtime making other tasks I usually ignored enjoyable. This is literally my brain getting over the dopamine addiction slowly, I think. I am not sure but it feels that way. Other things I would’ve had to force myself to do in the past with resistance, I now freely do and enjoy. I believe it because I am training my brain by pushing past laziness and doing things I CBA doing but probs should. It’s about not pushing yourself, but taking little steps. That’s what I’m realising. I would beat myself up about not being perfect, or try to do tonnes of stuff at once and inevitably fail then feel shitty. But taking these small steps is actually working, and not changing much else except these little things. Then one becomes effortless and you naturally do something else. The best thing I am getting from this little practice is a feeling of self-power, power over oneself. Not being at the mercy of my bad qualities any longer.

So, our dopamine systems have been hijacked by the modern culture of instant gratification. Practicing moving through negative emotions, giving yourself delayed gratification, working for your rewards, can rebalance your dopamine centres so we again get hits for simple pleasures such as eating healthy food. Plus, it gets you in touch with serotonin which you get from working for rewards essentially. Pushing through fears and laziness and other negative things can help you build confidence, overcome anxious tendencies and overall feel better about yourself.

All worthwhile, I swear, I feel like I am just getting started with this kind of thing and already it is becoming a lot easier, I don’t have to force it. I’ll simply say “push past the laziness” to myself and do something even though a huge part of me doesn’t want to. Put the wash on, do the dishes, cook something healthy instead of a quick unhealthy fix. Try it!

Push on mofos,

Peace n love always,

El x

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