You wake up, grab your phone anticipating possible messages, and social media news. Who had a birthday, baby or wedding? "OMG, Aunt Mary's daughter in law had a baby????"
Then, you read your mother's high school friend's opinion on current affairs and how disappointing it is followed by a sarcastic meme for a little morning chuckle- screen shot it and message it to your meme group on WhatsApp.
Now, you are inclined to post your opinion and favorite meme because sharing your opinion gives you another quick hit of satisfaction, especially when people start to like and comment on it.
20 minutes later, you are still laying in bed swimming in an unnaturally high pool of neurochemicals produced in your brain based on this external stimulation.
Excessive screen time stimulation gives you an overload hit of neurotransmitters such as dopamine (DA) and serotonin (5-HT) eliciting the warm and pleasurable feelings of happiness, motivation and reward.
This dose of dopamine is 400% higher than its natural baseline and sits just below that of cocaine use.
The more we experience this extreme unnatural high, the more we will experience an underlying sense of pain or withdrawal and anticipate when the next high will come. So what do we do?
We end up aimlessly scrolling, checking and tapping our dang devices on average 2-4 hours per day.
Roles of Dopamine and Serotonin in the Brain
It is part of our biochemical intelligence to maintain healthy levels of DA and 5-HT for survival- at the bare minimum.
When we flood our system with excessive DA and 5-HT time and time again from social media and video games, we become desensitized to their effects which can lead to anxiety, depression, lack of motivation and libido.
Dopamine is naturally released from the ventral tegmental area in the midbrain signaling to other areas of brain for:
Serotonin is naturally released from the brainstem and the gut and can effect:
What does this mean for Our Ability to Feel Pleasure and Motivation?
The more we rely on this passive source of arousal, the less we are able to experience pleasure and motivation from other ways, because it takes even MORE of a stimulus to elicit the same feeling as the screen time. It is immediate satisfaction with little effort so why search elsewhere?
Simple pleasures that also release DA and 5-HT but to a lesser degree and require a bit more effort are
being in nature
learning a new skill
enjoying a meal
spending time with a loved one
According to our neurochemistry gauge, this is boring and energetically costly in comparison to wondering how many likes you have on your latest post or if you will beat the next level of your favorite video game. As we go about our day, everything may seem just "meh" or mundane.
You aren't as happy because serotonin levels are low, and may even become depressed or anxious. This increases stress, yet we have forgotten how to cope with stress. We grab the device again to numb the pain.
We thrive off novelty and excitement, so when we get tired it is easier to return to the quick hit time and time again. It is a vicious cycle that is slowly making it harder to feel pleasure and happiness.
How Can We Reverse This to Find Joy Once Again?
It is challenging to break this habit and underrated addiction. It is a skill that needs to be practiced. An addiction doesn't change itself overnight. You must re-learn how to appreciate other means of stimulation to rewire your brain to associate pleasure and happiness with other activities.
We can activate the dopamine and serotonin systems on our own because we do have this innate ability. It is much more fulfilling when we alchemize these chemicals from our internal power source. This will:
increase self worth
reduce stress and anxiety
The withdrawal and downfall is less drastic too because it is all self regulated. Our body that is producing these chemicals also produces the receptors and control the rate with which we can handle clearing them out of the system. It is like spiking your blood sugar real high with a candy bar or eating a sustainable snack that slowly rises the blood sugar for sustainable energy. You know the feeling!
Finding pleasure in taking wholesome deep breaths, reveling in the blank space between the inhale and exhale or being in nature and absorbing all the wisdom are excellent. Going for a walk in nature can make your day instead of how many memes you have laughed at scrolling through social media. You may be surprised of the novelty and enjoyment we are surrounded by all the time!
Breathe. Move. Recover.
Ready to get started? Need some accountability and guidance? My Breathe Move Recover system is an excellent way to ween off the screen time and get your pleasure and happiness back in your control.
Book a private session with Casey to get your personal daily routine.
Join our next Neuroscience of Self Care Workshop to be a part of a community where we learn and practice ways you can use everyday to rewire the brain and activate your dopaminergic and serotonergic systems all from the comforts of your couch ;)