Escaping the Dopamine Trap

Did you know that high levels of negative information interact with the pleasure centers in your brain, releasing a chemical reaction not unlike what happens when you’re addicted to pain killers? Negativity addictions are not as obvious as other forms of addiction like drugs or alcohol, but negativity plays with the same parts of the brain and can be as addictive as some chemicals.

The internet plays host to this kind of negativity daily.  Trolls love to watch for moments to post content they know will bait an argument, just to feed off of the energy that moment produces as unsuspecting, but well-intentioned people stumble into their trap.  Online drama can be like the drug dealer on the corner for people unknowingly hooked on drama-based dopamine hits.

Even the best of us can stumble into the dopamine trap.  Here are a few suggestions for escaping the cycle.

  1.  Put your phone down and step away from the computer for a few days so you can remember what it’s like to be without the constant influx of negative content.  A few days of being disengaged allows your brain to relax.  It’s hard to see when you’re in the middle of the cycle, but after a few days, you start to remember who you really are and it gets easier to apply better perspective to what you’re intaking.
  2. An article in Psychology Today suggests that you turn off notifications on your devices.
  3. When you turn your social feeds back on, consider removing the negativity from your social feeds.  Some of us need to step entirely away from the drama to stay healthy.
  4. Recognize irrationality.  You can’t rationalize with an irrational person.  That’s a life rule to remember forever.
  5. If you’re an advocate or social content producer, avoid angry rants.  An angry rant will produce a reflexive response that can alienate followers and detract from your overall online presence.  The reflexive response to anger or fear producing content is emotional and lacking in logic. One article says, ” … anxiety start[s] with a catalyst – an environmental stimulus that provokes stress. The amygdala reacts to this stimuli by preparing to either stand and fight or to turn and run.” Anger and fear may result in “social engagement”, but may not be as likely to result in learning.  This produces a response without associated change.
  6. Teach through story telling.  A story engages a different part of the brain,  It’s more likely that a story will be retained by your readers and responses may be more thoughtful instead of reflexive. Stories are more likely to yield learning and change.
  7. Most importantly, measure your content by asking if it adds value to others. If it doesn’t, don’t click post. That one simple step will increase the value of your feed… a win, for everyone.

Jenn is the Founder and CEO of Cotton Babies. She holds an Executive MBA from Washington University. She was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging Category for the Central Midwest Region in 2011. Among many other awards, she recently received a 2017 YWCA Leader of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurship. Jenn holds many patents on various inventions in a number of different countries and is listed as one of 50 Missourians You Should Know. She is particularly fascinated by languages, chickens, and children (she has four) when she’s not reading economics journals.

Do you have thoughts to add?

3 thoughts on “Escaping the Dopamine Trap

  1. This is so good. And I like that you’ve included resources/references. I think this post could definitely use a reprise right around now… 🙂