Confession: My dopamine addiction


I’m hooked on seratonin too … and oxytocin …

But before you stage an intervention, let me explain …

I’m not a science geek (although I do love a good dinosaur or galaxy discovery) but in my search for inner peace following my marriage break-up – which keeps being thwarted by 3am mental gymnastics – I’ve discovered the most fascinating thing about the human brain.

I like the way Women’s Health explains it best: “When we are stressed or anxious the body produces adrenaline as part of what is referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenaline readies the body for action by elevating blood pressure and increasing the heart and breathing rate.”

This protective response to threat is a product of evolution and is hard-wired into your brain. But, by producing more dopamine, seratonin, oxytocin you can thwart those primitive responses.

But how?

Women’s Health suggests: “It makes sense then that one way to reduce adrenalin levels is to behave as nature intended, by ‘fighting or flighting’ in the form of exercise. Exercise gets rid of excess adrenalin and reduces built up feelings of tension and stress.”

It’s true – I’ve been having the most divine bursts of joy when I walk in the sunshine. While the kids were away last week, I took things up a notch. One day alone I took the dog for two walks, went to a pump class at the gym, went for a 45-minute bush walk with a friend and an awesome 45-minute night power walk with another friend (which proves there doesn’t have to be sunshine involved).

It felt fantastic.

Now the kids are back, I’ve had to improvise – can’t really disappear for three hours a day to feed my habit. Yesterday I joined them in the local soupy indoor pool for a splash before swimming lessons. We had a blast tossing a ball backwards and forwards … while I jogged on the spot and mentally noted that children are much like dogs in their inexhaustible enthusiasm for repetitive activities involving balls.

When I’m at home and feeling down, I’ll suddenly realise there’s no music filling the room. That’s where dopamine comes in. Dopamine is released in the brain as a result of rewarding experiences such as food (not working so well for me at the moment, feel a bit queasy most of the time), sex (definitely not getting it from THAT), and other pleasurable experiences such as listening to music. 

So I’ve been playing my Alana’s favourites CD on high rotation … and volume.

And I’m making sure every day includes fun with friends … and serotonin. Serotonin acts as on-off switch, controlling your emotional states. It’s released during positive social encounters.

Finally, oxytocin produces feelings of calm, contentment, and trust. 

Psychology Today reckons: “Oxytocin is a powerful hormone. When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels drive up.”

I’m not much of a hugger or a kisser, but I’m working on it. And it’s working on me.

So many people are congratulating me on how I’m handling this terrible, terrible situation. They’re positive I’m going to come out of this on top. And if I can keep those dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin levels up I’ll be positive too …

There’s just that pesky 3am problem. At 3am there’s no sunshine or powerwalks or hugs. Just a dark room, a heavy heart and a whirring brain.

Any tips for beating insomnia? I could do with some right now …

Song of the day: Katrina & The Waves “Walking on Sunshine”


5 thoughts on “Confession: My dopamine addiction

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  1. Restavit! It’s an over the counter sleeping tablet. And not addictive. Just take 1/4 at bedtime and you’ll still wake up at 3am but you’ll find yourself floating back to sleep. The instructions suggest 2 but a friend recommended a quarter and it works well for me I still hear the kids and can get up for them if needs be, but then go straight back to sleep without engaging with those dark thoughts. And getting enough sleep makes the rest of the day easier too xxx

  2. I did one of my Simple Life radio shows about sleep and insomnia. I was a shocker for the 2.30am wakeup, thrash about until 4am then sleep until about 5.30. I suspect over indulgence of wine had alot to do with it but also surfing the web right up until the moment I wanted to go to sleep. So, in no particular order, quit alcohol, all caffeine, last hour of the day electronics free, and a thorough read of the excellent Sleep Health Foundation website.

  3. Hi Alana,
    I found that when I started talking to the girls (aka friends) the 3am anxious wake up was pretty common. Eg. I’m completing some intense study at the moment and I find during that deep sleep period my brain id downloading all the info as images and words causing me to wake up anxious. My solution curtisy of a friend is: Andrew johnston – deep sleep app!!! If you’re ok with a little hippee/alternative breathing and a Shaun Connery voice this should work!! I have it on my phone. Put your head phones on and you should be asleep for most of the night. Let me know how it goes xxx

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