Smartphones Are Changing Our Brains - Here's How
“we all know that dopamine is DOPE. But what’s its deal and how does it affect our mental health?”
Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters in the brain. What’s a neurotransmitter you ask? It’s basically a chemical messenger that sends messages to the brains and prompts an automatic response. It sits alongside Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins as the happy hormones all of which have play a part in the role of depression and recovery.
Dopamine itself is the motivation ninja. It’s all about anticipation. Those craving you get - Dopamine. That goal you want to achieve - Dopamine. The little niggle that tells you to keep pushing for that goal - Dopamine. For sure it’s associated with pleasure but more importantly it’s associated with causing seeking behavior. Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behavior, all of which play a major role in achievement and personal development. Dopamine makes you curious about ideas and fuels your searching for information.
Bad Habits, Die Hard
There are two systems at play in the brain - the wanting and the liking system. Dopamine falls into the wanting system. It motivates you to take action, to do, to go get it whereas the liking system, albeit shamazing in it’s own way can encourage you to enjoy and stop seeking. This is why it plays such a key role in habit forming - both creating new habits and also maintaining old habits. The habit loops goes something like this. The dopamine system is very sensitive to rewards ‘ques’. If it gets a sniff of a reward coming our system goes into production, producing dopamine by default. This gives rise to the addictive cravings we get for certain things (think sugar, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, exercise). It’s not so much the reward that kick starts our dopamine system but the anticipation of it.
Take for example you want to squash a bad habit, let’s take your afternoon cup of tea with 3 sugars. In order to break this habit you must replace it with something new - ideally something completely different i.e. not another drink. So instead of popping out for my 3pm cup of tea in the cafe nearby I decide to go for a 10 minute walk instead and call a friend. Once I do this a couple of times my brain will start to acknowledge the benefits - I get a break from the office, get to clear my head, get to catch up with a friend; and the dopamine system will kick in. Soon by the time 3 o’clock rolls around you brain will naturally start to produce dopamine in anticipation of the fresh air and in no time you’ll be gagging to go! Top if off with a healthy snack when you get back to your desk and your brain will go into overdrive. In simple forms this is the science behind habit formation.
Boost Baby Boost
Exercise - it’s cliche because it's true. 10 minutes of aerobic exercise and you can start to see a change in brain chemicals, with over 20 minutes having a marked effect. Yoga is also great in dopamine production. A 3 month US study showed that people who practiced yoga for 1 hour per day, 6 days per week significantly improved dopamine production in the brain.
Bulk up with protein - certain proteins are needed for the formation of dopamine. Protein is made up of a whole host of amino acids (tyrosine being one). Increasing the consumption of this boosts dopamine production. Foods rich in tyrosine include: beef, eggs, dairy, legumes and soy.
By now we all know the gut is the second brain. And a healthy gut is hugely important in the production of dopamine too. The nerve cells in our gut produce dopamine, as does some of the bacteria that lives in the gut.
Music can be a great way to stimulate production of dopamine in the brain. A recent study reported that when people listened to instrumental music that gave them chillz , dopamine production increased by 9%. Pass the Pixes please.
Meditation, an oldie but a goodie and for good reason. It’s the practice of clearing your mind, focusing inward and letting your thoughts float without judgment or attachment. A study with 8 experienced meditation teachers revealed a 64% increase in the production of dopamine after one hour of meditation. We don’t know why this happens exactly, but we’ll take it.
About The Author
Siobhan is a Trainee Psychotherapist, Mental Health Advocate and Editor of crakd. She’s also embroiled in an intense love affair with eclectic interiors and colourful food.
Follow Siobhan on Instagram @siobhan_scan