Do you find yourself anxious when you don’t have your phone? How about bingeing on a Netflix series or needing a podcast in your ear whenever you walk or go out? Have you noticed a mood change when you can’t get to your phone? Maybe this means that we need a “dopamine detox.”

Dopamine is a brain neurochemical related to the brain’s reward system and feeling good. It is released in the brain when you consume media like TikTok, podcasts, Netflix and more. While not at the same intensity as addictive drugs, this release activates the dopamine pathway or what is called the reward pathway. It makes you feel good for the moment.

When dopamine is produced in large amounts, you feel pleasure, then you want more, which leads to repeating the behavior. There are lots of ways to produce dopamine naturally, e.g., eating foods high in protein, exercising and getting good sleep.

In terms of social media, each time you swipe on Instagram, or get a “LIKE” on a post, a retweet or some emotional interaction that is positive, the brain produces a flood of dopamine and sends it along a dopamine pathway. You feel pleasure and want more. The more you engage in these pleasurable activities on your phone and other devices, the more dopamine is released. Like in drug addiction, this chemical messenger communicates a need for more pleasure.

However, over time with high use, these increased levels of dopamine released by social media stimuli cause deficits in the brain as dopamine levels become depleted, and constantly need more and more stimuli to get the same effect. This deficit can lead to cravings for more but also, depression and anxiety.

If you find yourself going on a device the moment you are bored, think again. You could be “addicted” to that device.  You crave your social media or device. In fact, Dr. Anna Lembke, chief of the Dual Diagnosis Addiction Unit and author of “Dopamine Nation,” calls the smart phone the “modern-day hypodermic needle.” So, if you are a high social media user and struggling with your mood, you may be ready for a detox.

You can begin with a 24 hour fast from all things social media or whatever you turn to for a quick boost of pleasure, e.g., gaming, on-line shopping, etc.  Or begin by cutting back your usage. The idea is to take a break for days or weeks to recalibrate the brain.

But real change involves examining if seeking pleasure has become an idol (anything we put above God). How much time does seeking pleasure take away from prayer, meditating on the word and spending time with God?

Our brain needs moments of silence and rest. The Bible talks about being still and listening for God;  quieting our thoughts, sitting before the Lord waiting to hear from Him, reading the Word and spending time in His presence. Shifting our time and attention to things of eternal importance will produce satisfaction and contentment. The pursuit of digital dopamine may keep us from these important things. So, maybe it’s time to tune in to the things that matter most and detox from those that do not.

Do you need a digital detox?