Best-selling author and researcher David Gillespie, who’s new book is called Brain Reset, discusses how our modern society is wreaking havoc with our dopamine levels.
By now it’s likely you’ve heard of dopamine. Maybe you’ve heard it referred to as the ‘pleasure hormone’?
Unfortunately, this definition falls far short of actually describing dopamine, and its effect on the body and your mental state.
Speaking to Body+Soul’s daily podcast Healthy-ish, bestselling author and researcher David Gillespie says that dopamine is actually the neurotransmitter than drives our motivation core.
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“It motivates us towards things which we find rewarding and away from things which are potentially dangerous. So it’s our get going driver,” he tells host Felicity Harley on the Healthy-ish episode Why you’re addicted to social media (and how to stop).
Dopamine helps us get out of bed, eat breakfast, socialise, procreate, but issues arise when it gets over stimulated or under stimulated.
Artificial stimulators include things like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and sugar, and, surprise, surprise, social media.
“One of the big sources of artificial stimulation in society today are pieces of software that are explicitly written to stimulate dopamine. The entire purpose is to do that,” says Gillespie.
“In fact, the coders who write this stuff and I’m talking about things like social media, dating apps, gaming apps, gambling apps, all of those sorts of things. The programmers are called, dopamine hackers.”
“The reason for that is because their one job is to make sure we get lots of hits of dopamine.”
The more dopamine hits we get – from social media, from caffeine, sugar, alcohol, drugs – the more likely we are to become addicted. Our brain enters a state where it’s semi-permanently rewired for addiction.
So yes, you literally are addicted to your TikTok habit, because your brain has been over stimulated with dopamine while using it.
What’s the problem? We hear you ask. Social media surely isn’t that bad, right? You’re not going to or experience drug-related side effects if you use it too much…
“One of the biggest side effects of addiction is wasting time. It destroys time, whether it’s to a drug or to a piece of software, it destroys time,” says Gillespie.
Your productivity drops, work suffers; your time spent on things that are important to you, on self-care, on others is zapped.
Even worse, though, the temporary rewiring of the brain can make us much more susceptible to mental illness.
“It puts us into a state where anxiety becomes really, really easy to induce, where depression becomes easy to induce, and that starts a cascade towards things like psychosis, schizophrenia, self-harm and even suicide. So that’s the real danger from this, is that once your brain is rewired, that addicted state, we are much more prone to anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.”
It’s important to control and overcome social media addiction for your mental health.
Gillespie says you know you have a problem if you couldn’t easily give up the thing you’re addicted to.
“The first thing is admit you have a problem. The first symptom of addiction is denial. Most people will say ‘I could quit at any time’. Well, the way to prove you don’t have an addiction is to actually quit any time.”
For example, he says that he despite liking broccoli, he could quit it tomorrow no questions asked. If you don’t experience that when you try to go without something, it could be a sign you’re addicted to it.
Potentially give it a go. Delete some of the social media apps that are sapping you of your time and see if you’re able to go without them.
Once you’ve identified the addiction that you’re trying to give up, the second step is to find a group of people who are also working towards moving away from their addictions.
“So your friend might be stopping Twitter, you might be stopping Facebook, your other friend might be stopping drinking. It doesn’t matter as long as you get to see each other regularly. And science is about once a week. And talk about the fact that you’re quitting and help each other stay off, whatever it is, then you are much more likely to succeed,” says Gillespie.
Would you be able to go cold turkey without Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, dating apps, gambling websites etc? If not, potentially it’s time to give these tactics a go.
Find out more about best-selling author and researcher David Gillespie on his website here. His book, Brain Reset (Macmillan, $34,99) is available here.