My experience doing a 7-day dopamine detox

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Brain scans showing a brain's decrease in anxiety after a dopamine detox. The reaction speed of this person's brain also got quicker. (photo from Leon Hendrix)

This week I challenged myself with a dopamine detox. During a dopamine detox, you stay away from stimulating activities that cause an excess of dopamine. This floods the receptors making you desensitized to normally satisfying stimuli.

I’ve personally seen a stimulation fast as a great way to try and limit instant gratification activities, these pastimes instantly satisfy cravings and cause you to be addicted to dopamine. 

So for my one week dopamine fast, I avoided many instant gratification activities. 

Non-educational tv shows or movies: Ever since the pandemic, I made the habit of watching a lot of Netflix just to pass the time. During this stimulation fast, I tried to cut out of watching Youtube or Netflix and only watch videos for school if I needed to.

Video games: I love playing video games with friends, this usually takes up most of my time besides school. Didn’t play once this whole week.

Social Media: For me, this means not going on Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram. Sometimes I catch myself scrolling through social media for hours. I haven’t jumped on Twitter yet and I allowed myself to use Snapchat if it was for school.

Refined carbohydrates: This included artificial sweeteners and all refined sugars, and grains. Still consumed healthy complex carbohydrates.

Instead of those activities, I tried incorporating delayed gratification activities. Things like reading, journaling, and meditating. Delayed gratification is putting off immediate satisfaction which releases happy hormones like dopamine, in hopes of getting more valuable satisfaction later.

Those who attempt a dopamine detox aim to detach themselves from everyday stimuli, such as social media, sugar, or shopping. They are replaced in favor of less impulsive habits and lifestyle choices. The fast can last for a few hours or several days.

It is very important to note that a dopamine detox is not a scientifically researched approach. Evidence of any benefits is anecdotal, and most benefits come from refraining from potentially addictive activities. However, they are not related to actually detoxing from dopamine — it’s more like resetting your fried dopamine receptors.

Some have suggested the term “stimulation fast” as a more accurate description of the time spent avoiding pleasurable activities. And while some people have taken the concept to an extreme, spending time offline in a quieter and more meditative state isn’t a bad idea, This study shows a stimulation fast has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.

The hardest part of this detox was settling down alone with a book.However, the relatively short duration of the fast made it doable, and after the first day or two the temptations were greatly reduced. It has subsided. In fact, by the end of the week, my life felt almost normal. Looking back over the past seven days, these are my takeaways.

1. I had more time

That was the biggest change I noticed. I didn’t realize how much time I was spending mindlessly scrolling on TikTok or being in front of the TV or out of tune. With the extra time, I actually finished all of The Great Gatsby, got eight full hours of sleep each night, and was finally able to start a few side projects that I had been on my to-do list for months. 

2. Previously boring tasks have become more interesting

When I consumed a lot of intense, fast-paced TV shows before I detoxed, doing chores, working, or reading a book felt painfully slow and boring by comparison. As a result, I started to appreciate smaller pleasures more highly. The Great Gatsby turned into a suspenseful page-turner and I was starting to really enjoy listening to podcasts and surprisingly cooking. After I cut out all of those refined sugars, fruits seemed so much sweeter.

3. Made me feel happy

In general, instead of playing game after game on the computer, watching TV, or going for a walk, I found my lifestyle much better when I read a book for an hour or more. I also no longer blamed myself for staying up late the night before and scrolling through social media when I struggled to stay awake in the afternoon. By eliminating activities from my life that would inevitably lead to regret if I didn’t exercise self-control, I felt much happier and more satisfied with how I spent my waking hours. It goes without saying that the increase in energy is from getting enough sleep at night.

In conclusion

I found this week-long detox completely doable and incredibly beneficial and will most definitely do it again if I find myself in need of a mindfulness reset. The whole concept of a stimulation fast is delaying satisfaction so that when you get satisfaction it’s valued more. I would recommend this to anyone who feels like they are underperforming in life — it’s highly customizable to whatever you need a week may be too long for some or too short for others. Try and figure out what is causing you to underperform and set aside time to develop good habits that can help you perform better.

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