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Lust For Life: The Dopamine Addiction

Co-Editor in Chief Nicole Quy explores our over reliance on short term endorphin rushes, and stresses the necessity of processing all emotions for mental wellbeing.

By Nicole Quy, Co-Editor in Chief

The Croft Magazine// Contentment is not gained through constant distraction.

The happy hormone. The reward centre. A neuromodulatory molecule. Whatever name you may know it by, there’s no doubt that you’ve experienced the rush of dopamine that comes with indulging in activities you love. Sex, eating good food, achieving something you wanted, shopping  or watching your favourite film, can all release this chemical.

In the age of social media, online shopping and unlimited streaming, we have a constant stream of content readily available to us in various formats. Pornhub. Twitter, Shein, YouTube, Tiktok; stimulation is consistently at our fingertips. It’s not like we haven’t heard this argument before, that too much time on our phones is bad for us. But this is not the argument I am making.

Truthfully, I think social media is not an inherently bad thing, it has the capacity to connect people and allows for expression. I don’t think all porn is evil. The problem I’m addressing here isn’t the content; I’m not going to rehash the well-worn, even at times condescending, argument that our phones are point-blank bad for us. That’s up to you to decide. For, of course, seeking fulfilment from online content is redundant, but this notion also extends to the real world; sex, drugs, excessive drinking, and, less obvious, over-exercise, shopping.

The problem is that we’ve become too accustomed to turning to short term dopamine rushes as a means of keeping ourselves content. And why wouldn’t we? Quite literally the ‘happiness hormone’, dopamine regulates our hormone levels and keeps us feeling good. When we’re in low moods, wellbeing professionals will often advise us to do things that prompt a dopamine release; go for a run, listen to your favourite music.

Intrinsically, this is not bad advice. And I am by no means suggesting that you shouldn’t employ trusted coping mechanisms and seek out the things you love to regulate negative feelings. I’m a big advocate for finding the joy in the ordinary. What we need to be weary of, however, is when we become too dependent on short term rushes for modulating tumultuous feelings. When does picking up become drowning out?

There is a fine line to toe between finding ways to make yourself feel fulfilled, and fuelling an over reliance on short term rushes of endorphins to maintain happiness . This has likely stemmed from the mantra that ‘happiness’ means a permanent state of business and activity. But this is simply not true.

True contentment is not characterised by a picture-perfect life with an abundance of plans and varying activities, but is rather necessitated by being able to cope with periods of less favourable emotions and learning to feel optimistic, or at the least, stable, about life even during these down moments.

Here is where our devices prove themselves a culprit. Their accessibility means we truly never have to sit with feelings of discomfort or discontent. Not even for a second, if we don’t want to. Our phones allow us to tap into an unlimited world of stimulating content, and, whilst seemingly harmless, such apps leverage the same near circuit as slot machines and cocaine. I’m not saying that using Instagram is as bad as using cocaine on a regular basis to keep you feeling good, but what I am saying is that we are collectively feeding into a pattern of utilising external measures for endorphin regulation instead of processing our feelings, or even simply sitting with them and accepting them as normal and healthy.

Despite what your instincts, or even your desires may tell you, general feelings of sadness, boredom and frustration are valid, normal and HEALTHY. Trying to suppress them by doing something which prompts an influx or surge of euphoria sets you up for a dangerous pattern and an inability to sit with those emotions when you might need to.

Feeling blue sometimes is an unchangeable part of human nature; to try and subdue any ‘negative’ emotions is to prohibit yourself from riding out the result of normal hormonal function and a healthy social life. It’s great to want to surround yourself with the things that give you a rush, and only focus on the good in the world, but to take this to extremes, and shun any feelings of sadness or frustration is not only unsustainable but also counterproductive. Do the things you love. Practice what makes you smile. But I challenge you, every now and then, when you begin to feel down, don’t reach for your phone to fill your online shopping cart and close the tab- sit with it. Breathe. Ground yourself and remember that you’ll be okay.

Featured Image: Bernardo Santos

Have you ever found yourself turning to your devices to curb feelings of boredom or discontent? How do you get around this? Let us know!