By Emily Roberts MA, LPC
Could your Candy Crush addiction be due to more than your lack of willpower? Perhaps you put off that project until the last minute or feel lazy instead of motivated at the thought of another monotonous task. Your brain chemistry, not laziness may be to blame. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure, has been found to be a major component in procrastination, motivation, and impulsivity.
Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder published a recent study in The Journal of Psychological Science showing that procrastination and impulsivity is genetic, and link dopamine levels to one’s avoidance or impulsive responses to tasks. Pleasurable activities or pushing away the things that top your to-do list are ways dopamine effects your life. Whether you are addicted to instant gratification activities, such as refreshing your Instagram feed, or avoiding your taxes like the plague, your dopamine and your genes are to blame.
If a task has a higher historical likelihood (or perceived future likelihood) of producing dopamine, our brain becomes addicted to reproducing these activities… and avoiding the others. We’re a society that’s addicted to dopamine.
We also consume too much of addictive stimulants: chocolate, caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, tea), sugar and cigarettes, which further impact the production of this neurotransmitter. Almost all abusive drugs and addictive substances influence it. Alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, even prescription medications such as amphetamines alter our dopamine balance.
Why do smokers eat more when they are trying to quit? Or video game junkies consume soda and sugary snacks when they are not glued to the screen? Because both food and nicotine share similar dopamine reward pathways, their brains are wired to crave pleasure. When less dopamine is stimulated as nicotine or the pleasurable activity is reduced, food and sugar cravings naturally kick in to overcompensate.Unfortunately, stimulating dopamine consistently, with medication, foods, nicotine, or any unnatural substance, can cause a depletion of dopamine over time.
How to Balance Your Dopamine
1. Test Your Levels of Dopamine. Without testing it is difficult to know which neurotransmitter is out of balance and, making it a guessing game to treat. According to Dr. Oz’s, Alternative Health Expert Bryce Wylde the best way to know if your dopamine levels are imbalanced is to have your neurotransmitters tested. The way to do this is easy and uses cutting edge science. Urinary neurotransmitter testing – a simple pee-in-a-cup test – is reflective of total-body neurotransmitter activity.
2. Create a Dopamine-Friendly Environment. Setting small goals, breaking up tasks and rewarding effort can help rewire the brain. A 5-1o minute Facebook feed session after an hour of doing that dreaded task, can stimulate the reward center. Turn off distractions – for example television, or put your cell phone ringer on silent while working on a task.
3. Positive feedback. Allow yourself to experience frequent positive feedback as you work towards goals. Dopamine will flow as a result of your brain’s positive reinforcement every time you complete a step and meet a challenge. People who provide positive reinforcement can help you to push through the blocks that keep you stuck in your behaviors. A trainer, nutritionist, AA sponsor, therapist, or anyone to help push you along the way.
4. Embrace a new goal and take small steps toward it every day. That may be saving money or stopping the nicotine. Putting a dollar away every day and watching the jar grow, creates incentive. The less puffs you take and the less frequent you stop to pick up a new pack the more your brain rewards itself. With dopamine each time you take a step. The repetition can help reinforce new behaviors by assisting in building the dopamine pathway until it’s big enough to compete with the habit you are trying to get rid of.
To learn more about dopamine and balancing your neurotransmitters please visit www.Neurogistics.com
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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