IT'S ALL ABOUT BALANCE
YOU South Africa|9 December 2021
How our brains manage pleasure and pain makes us vulnerable to overconsumption of all kinds, says a new book– and it could be one of the reasons behind today’s rising rates of depression and anxiety
IT’S instinctive for human beings to seek pleasure and avoid pain. We are programmed to do so – it dates back to a time when people needed to find food and shelter every day or risk death.

But we don’t live in that world anymore. Today these basic needs are often readily available. In fact, we’ve transformed our world from a place of scarcity to a place of overwhelming abundance: not only of food, but of all sorts of things that stimulate our pleasure centre – shopping, news, gaming, gambling, texting, Facebooking, Instagramming, YouTubing, tweeting, alcohol . . .

This overabundance changes things, says psychiatrist and addiction specialist Dr. Anna Lembke, and understanding the relationship between pleasure and pain has become essential for a life well lived.

This extract from her book Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, shows how and why we’re vulnerable to compulsive overconsumption of all kinds, and why it’s critical to do something about it.

MY patient Sophie, a Stanford u n d e r graduate f r o m South Korea, came in seeking help for depression and anxiety. Among the many things we talked about, she told me she spends most of her waking hours plugged into some kind of device: Instagramming, YouTubing, listening to podcasts and playlists.

In a session with her I suggested she try walking to class without listening to anything and just letting her own thoughts bubble to the surface. She looked at me both incredulous and afraid. “Why would I do that?” she asked, open-mouthed.

“Well,” I ventured, “it’s a way of becoming familiar with yourself. Of letting your experience unfold without trying to control it or run away from it. All that distracting yourself with devices may be contributing to your depression and anxiety.

“It’s pretty exhausting avoiding yourself all the time. I wonder if experiencing yourself in a different way might give you access to new thoughts and feelings, and help you feel more connected to yourself, to others, and to the world.”

She thought about that for a moment. “But it’s so boring,” she said.

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