We Tried Dopamine Fasting, and It Helped Us Appreciate the Present
Yoga Journal|September - October 2020
We Tried Dopamine Fasting, and It Helped Us Appreciate the Present
Amid a pandemic, it’s traveling at warp speed.
MEGAN JOHNSON

On a normal day, my brain moves fast. Amid a pandemic, it’s traveling at warp speed. I told my mentor I was having dreams at night that zipped through my brain as if they were a video cassette fast-forwarding, a nonstop time-lapse show of images and emotions cherry-picked from my daily life. When she pointed out that I just don’t stop moving, that I’m constantly obsessing over my productivity and the next writing assignment I can snag, I realized it was possible that my mental health was taking a hit from my constant need to be go, go, go.

Back in March, I retreated to my mother’s house for a few days for a family funeral, only to find myself there indefinitely to ride out the coronavirus pandemic that had become widespread in my Boston neighborhood. Constantly inundated with tragic headlines and immersed in social media, I began to feel the weight of fear and anxiety over the pandemic tugging at my shoulders. Recognizing that I needed to purge my brain of the static that was affecting my well-being, I resolved to hit the ultimate reset button: a dopamine fast.

For the uninitiated, dopamine fasting is a practice of avoiding impulsive behaviors—such as scrolling social media, having sex, eating certain foods, and drinking alcohol—that are reinforced by a flood of the brain’s feel-good chemicals, the goal being to better manage those potentially addictive behaviors.

Cameron Sepah, PhD, an assistant clinical professor in the psychiatry department at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, is the mastermind who catapulted the trend to fame, thanks to his popularity with tech entrepreneurs looking to optimize their professional performance. He’s said that the phenomenon’s moniker is misleading since we can’t deprive ourselves of something naturally occurring in our brains. But since dopamine levels do increase in response to things that bring pleasure, I wondered if there was any truth to the idea that depriving yourself of stimulation could make your future feelings more vivid. Instead of being consumed by every buzz and beep of my cell phone and mindlessly noshing on my favorite snacks, I hoped prolonged avoidance of my vices would be a means to more fully experiencing pleasure.

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September - October 2020