Should You Try a “Dopamine Detox?” A Brain Health Expert Shares Signs You May Need One

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I can’t remember the last time I experienced boredom. Sure, I’m an adult with a lengthy laundry list of Things to Be Stressed About. But I’m also a product of our digital era, where at every turn, we’re given something to draw us away from the present. Sad? Watch a funny TikTok. Lonely? Watch a Day in the Life vlog. Experiencing any unpleasant emotion? Drown yourself in the depths of Amazon and end up with something in your cart you don’t need. We rarely have to sit in our emotions. Instead, we have endless ways to fill any void. If it sounds troubling, that’s because it is—and it’s why doing a dopamine detox is so top of mind for many.

Woman reading book on couch.

If You’re Doing a Dopamine Detox, Read This First

What largely began—as so many wellness trends do—as an experiment among the Silicon Valley elite has gone mainstream in the last few years. Everywhere, parents are limiting screen time, many folks are swearing off junk food altogether, and I find myself spinning through a cycle of deleting and re-downloading the Instagram app several times a week.

However, it’s important to note that much of what popular media has shared on dopamine has been blown out of proportion. Interviewed for a recent New York Times article, Kent C. Berridge, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan, spoke to the importance of context before demonizing dopamine altogether. “It’s an important part of why we’re here today […] “We wouldn’t have evolved and we wouldn’t have survived, our ancestors, without dopamine.”

What is dopamine?

With the recent campaign against dopamine, many are attempting to write off the neurotransmitter completely. Largely influential in how humans experience and process pleasure, dopamine—as Berridge notes—plays a unique role in our ability to think, focus, plan, and in turn, evolve.

Because of this, understanding dopamine’s influence over our behaviors, habits, and decisions requires acknowledging that dopamine in itself is neither inherently good nor bad. Nuance determines its place in our lives and how we can most effectively work with it. As Jewel Zimmer, founder and CEO of Juna and a certified brain health trainer, notes, “Understanding the role of dopamine, reward mechanisms, and pleasure is crucial to optimizing your mental well-being.”

Ahead, Zimmer and I discuss all things dopamine detoxing. Signs you should consider the “cleanse,” what you should feel during a detox, and activities to consider swapping in to boost your mood and overall wellness.

Jewel Zimmer

Jewel Zimmer

Jewel Zimmer is the CEO and Founder of Juna. As a certified brain health trainer, Jewel is dedicated to helping women everywhere feel their best. She’s passionate about educating on optimal gut/brain axis, the connection between the two and helping people implement daily habits to reach their health goals. Her mission is to equip individuals with the tools to optimize their health, inspiring a wave of healthier, happier humans.

Sanne Vloet working out.

Signs You Should Do a Dopamine Detox

“Detox” is a bit of a misnomer. “Because dopamine is naturally produced in the body,” says Zimmer, “it’s impossible to completely ‘detox’ from it.” Naming conventions aside, a dopamine detox can be a helpful tool in breaking from the overstimulation and instant gratification that dominates our culture today.

These triggers—which can include anything from shopping to sex to smelling delicious food—cause unhealthy spikes in dopamine. Zimmer breaks down the cycle: We begin to compulsively engage in these activities to get that dopamine rush. However, over time, our sensitivity to dopamine decreases. For the same rush, we need to experience more of that behavior.

But the effects span beyond the pursuit of dopamine, extending to periods between these rushes. Zimmer explains that these lulls can generate feelings of anxiety, restlessness, impatience, boredom, low motivation, lack of focus, and even depression “as the brain struggles to regulate dopamine levels.”

If you’re experiencing any of these feelings—the compulsion to do certain behaviors or the lows of abstaining from them—Zimmer encourages a dopamine detox. She explains it as an opportunity to “redirect our pleasure centers and detox the behaviors disrupting our brain’s reward system.”

Woman reading book drinking matcha.

How to Do a Dopamine Detox

At its most basic, a dopamine detox is understood as a Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) method that involves temporarily abstaining from activities that generate dopamine. Zimmer’s first tip for anyone considering taking one on is to remember that it’s a deeply personal journey.

Keep in mind that it’s normal to experience varying levels of discomfort at the beginning of a dopamine detox. Your body is fighting temptation, Zimmer notes, and increased irritability, distraction, and sleep disturbances are common side effects.

Zimmer illustrates her step-by-step of doing a dopamine detox below.

The Dopamine Detox

Identify your dopamine triggers. This usually includes screens and digital devices—social media, gaming, and scrolling. These activities dramatically stimulate dopamine at high levels that our brains can’t sustain.

Incorporate a daily detox practice. Avoid dopamine-triggering activities for 2-3 hours throughout the first half of your day and 2-3 hours before bed. This allows your brain an opportunity to regulate.  

Eliminate dopamine triggers for two weeks. While this is intense, it can lead to significant improvements in mood, focus, and productivity. After the two weeks, go back to your daily detox practice.

Daily Dopamine Regulating Practices

Maintain a daily gratitude practice. Start every day by listing three things you are grateful for to increase positive dopamine levels. I suggest doing so before you get out of bed or think about anything else. 

Prioritize healthy foods. Focus on healthy foods that can naturally increase dopamine throughout your day like green tea, dark chocolate, almonds, avocados, and dark leafy greens.

Choose your supplements mindfully. Taking daily supplements early in the day that can optimize dopamine production such as Gut Therapy by Juna can also lower unhealthy cravings and boost gut/brain performance. 

By incorporating a few of these practices, your brain will learn to moderately release dopamine and allow you to feel good for longer periods.

Creative musings book.

Mood-Boosting Activities to Swap In

So, you’re no longer spending hours scrolling TikTok and you’ve finally kicked your online shopping habit. Congrats! But what do you do with all that extra time on your hands? Zimmer encourages prioritizing mood-boosting physical activities that release dopamine and endorphins. It can also be gratifying to begin a hobby or learn a new skill. “The sense of progress and knowledge can trigger a positive dopamine release,” she notes.

Pull from the following list when you’re feeling stuck on how to spend your time. Trust: these ideas are so much more rewarding than a mindless internet rabbit hole.

  • Running
  • Yoga
  • Dancing
  • Reading
  • Taking an online course or in-person class
  • Do an act of kindness
  • Cross items off your to-do list or finish a project
  • Cultivate a mindfulness or meditation practice
Amanda Gunawan meditating.

Benefits of a Dopamine Detox

Ultimately, the goal of a dopamine detox comes down to experiencing greater satisfaction and emotional balance in meaningful activities. “It allows time to explore or rediscover activities that bring genuine fulfillment without relying on instant gratification,” says Zimmer. She expands on the benefits below.

Increased mental and social capacity. By giving our brains a break from digital desires, you’ll likely experience increased productivity, sustained attention and focus, better connection to family and friends, deeper sleep, and enhanced creativity.

A greater sense of satisfaction. As shared, by consciously limiting or abstaining from activities that often lead to excessive dopamine release, you’ll help reset your brain’s reward system.

Decreased anxiety. A dopamine detox helps you prioritize the present moment. You gain a greater awareness of your surroundings while also helping your brain feel less agitated and anxious.

An opportunity to establish healthier routines. Reducing or completely letting go of the activities you once engaged in compulsively opens up time and space in your schedule to create healthier habits and engage in more meaningful activities. This can look like exercise, reading, hobbies, spending time with family and friends, or whatever resonates most with you.

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