Five Warning Signs And Dangers Of Mental Burnout

Our fast-paced modern society allows us to dismiss the symptoms of mental burnout and exhaustion as something temporary and trivial. There is no shortage of distractions which can help us ignore the signs of our declining mental health until we begin to spiral into full depression or anxiety.

Sometimes we turn sharply into our work, we begin to isolate, and we may even self-medicate with alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine to alleviate the symptoms.

Doing this will not work of course.

Early symptoms of mental burnout can include feelings of depression, physical and mental fatigue, excessive pessimism, insomnia, or oversleeping.

Today we are going to go over five possible warning signs of mental burnout that you should be aware of.

Noticeable Changes to Your Eating or Sleeping Habits

Have you found it hard to get to sleep recently? Maybe you’re finding it harder to wake up at all in the morning. It’s normal to experience shifts in sleeping patterns while undergoing significant life changes. But it’s a red flag to experience these things when your lifestyle and daily habits haven’t changed much.

Losing sleep or sleeping too much can negatively affect your concentration, reduce your productivity, and increase anxiety.

Changes in eating habits (eating less or overeating) can be just as detrimental to your health. Loss of physical energy, lowered self-confidence from weight gain, and the onset of depression are a few of the side-effects of unhealthy changes to your dietary habits.

Frequent Mood Swings

One of the more recognizable signs of mental burnout is frequent and dramatic shifts in your mood. As our physical and emotional energy reserves continue to drain, it becomes more difficult for us to maintain stress loads the way we used to. Even minor inconveniences can seem like daunting obstacles to overcome – and when we feel unable to handle them, we can lash out at family, friends, or colleagues. 

The longer we allow ourselves to feel overwhelmed, the harder it is for us to see a way out of our daunting circumstances. Over time this will lead to feelings of anxiety and a growing lack of motivation.

Social Withdrawal

Even if you are usually an outgoing and social person, mental burnout can make you feel like you want to isolate yourself to recharge your batteries. It may never feel like enough. You may begin to sleep at every opportunity or to turn to substance abuse to alleviate the constant emotional burden of feeling mentally exhausted. 

Some people may be embarrassed that they don’t feel like themselves anymore and can withdraw even from close friends and family.

One of the most insidious aspects of isolation is a slowly growing sense of apathy – of just not caring anymore and feeling emotionally numb. Long-term social isolation can become damaging and lead to a downward spiral of depression and anxiety.

Difficulty Concentrating

Mental and emotional exhaustion can make it hard to conduct day-to-day activities at the level that we are used to performing them. I have often compared the experience of this temporary cognitive stress to thinking through the mud. The name for this is brain fog. It can make maintaining focus and the completion of even simple tasks harder than they should be.

People may turn to self-medicating with caffeine or seek prescription solutions to restore their previous cognitive function. Without identifying and addressing the underlying cause, medicating will not yield the results you’re looking for. It will only prolong your dependence on chemical substances to alleviate symptoms. 

Increased Frequency of Depression

The end-result of experiencing these symptoms is a recurring and seemingly inescapable feeling of emptiness, emotional numbness, and a constant dread of feeling ‘on-edge’.

Take time out of your day to scan your body and mind for tension, changes in mood, and feelings of anxiousness.

Be brave and reach out to friends and family – tell them what you’re experiencing.

Most importantly, seek out professional help. You don’t have to carry any of this on your shoulders.

If you’re thinking about whether therapy is right for you, read our blog entry ‘How do I Know if I Should Try Therapy’?

Thank you for reading!

Sources:

Psych2Go. (2020, September 14). Is Your Mental Health Falling Apart? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Nk04hFnYHWU

Killgore, W. D. (2010). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. In Progress in brain research (Vol. 185, pp. 105-129). Elsevier.

Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2005). Mental health and eating behaviours: a bi-directional relation. Canadian Journal of Public Health/Revue Canadienne de Sante’e Publique, S43-S46.

Stetz, M. C., Thomas, M. L., Russo, M. B., Stetz, T. A., Wildzunas, R. M., McDonald, J. J., … & Romano, J. A. (2007). Stress, mental health, and cognition: a brief review of relationships and countermeasures. Aviation, space, and environmental medicine, 78(5), B252-B260.

Never Feel Guilty for Doing These Five Things

Feelings of guilt and shame can be tough to avoid, and even harder to let go of. There are times when we allow too much guilt and shame to interfere with our emotional and mental well-being, but why do we have these feelings?

Shame is a painful emotion that allows us to recognize that we have either done something wrong or are harboring intentions to do something wrong. The notion of shame begins with the understanding that the individual is aware of what is right and wrong. Feelings of shame lead us to want to hide our intentions from others.

Guilt is a closely associated emotion that tries to convince us to make amends for our mistakes to people that we may have harmed through our actions. While this sounds like a good thing, some people will use guilt to manipulate others. Some of us will hold onto feelings of guilt (sometimes for years).

We will delve further into the interplay of guilt and shame in a later article. For now, we are going to focus on five things that you should never feel guilty about under any circumstances.

Saying No When You Have to

Sometimes it is difficult to say no to a friend, spouse, or supervisor. Many people want to be agreeable and maintain a pleasant conflict-free environment for themselves and others. However, this can come at a steep cost to your own needs and desires in certain situations. If you find yourself agreeing to do things that you find uncomfortable, your mind is trying to tell you that something is wrong. Don’t ignore it! Continuing to appease others when you feel that it is against your interest will eventually lead to resentment of that person. Eventually, you will even begin to resent yourself. 

Removing Toxic People

People we love may also become the source of our unhappiness. The desire to love and be loved in return may also mean that we turn a blind eye to the emotional burdens that we end up carrying for others. It is admirable to stand by a friend, significant other, or even a parent who is going through a difficult period in their life. It is also just as important to recognize when allowing that person to use you as a sounding board for their insecurities and fears becomes too toxic.

Wanting to be Happy

There are situations where you may find yourself caught in a relationship with insecure people. They may take their frustrations and failures out on you – the very person who us there to support them. You may have a friend, love interest, or parent who intentionally belittles and undermines your self-esteem. They may try to make you believe that you need to share in their misery (or worse, that you are the cause of it). Nobody should ever make you feel guilty that you want to be happy, and you should never allow another person to hold that power over you.

Being Successful

Have you ever accomplished something that you’ve worked hard for but feel bad for a friend, classmate, or colleague that was not able to reach the same level of accomplishment? While it’s good to feel empathy for others, feeling guilty for realizing your achievements is harmful and unproductive. Always be a cheerleader in recognizing and celebrating things that you have done well. You can always reach out to others who are still trying to accomplish what you have already achieved, but if they start making you feel guilty for what you have accomplished, it may be time to separate from that person.

Asking Others for Help

Being independent and self-sufficient does not mean that you never have to ask for help. We all face situations that can become too daunting to handle on our own or that fall outside our areas of expertise. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone you trust for a little help now and again. Reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist can give you the confidence and insight that you need to succeed in whatever you are striving toward.

Hopefully, these tips can help you better understand your relationship with guilt and help to reduce or eliminate them.

Are you struggling with feelings of shame or guilt? Please leave a comment and tell us your story – the first step to healing is sharing your experiences with others who have gone through similar circumstances.

Sources:

Shen L (2018) The evolution of shame and guilt. PLoS ONE 13(7): e0199448. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199448

Tangney JP, Stuewig J, Mashek DJ. Moral emotions and moral behavior. Annual review of psychology. 2007;58:345–72. Epub 2006/09/07. pmid:16953797.

Harder DW, Cutler L, Rockart L. Assessment of shame and guilt and their relationships to psychopathology. Journal of personality assessment. 1992;59(3):584–604. Epub 1992/12/01. pmid:1487811.

Designing Your New Life’s Vision (PART 2)

Last week we introduced the idea of a ‘Life Vision’ and why it’s essential to have one. We even went over a few questions that you should ask yourself (and answer) before you can define your life’s vision.

If you have not read Part 1 yet, I highly recommend going through and answering those questions first!

Remember, it’s alright if you aren’t sure about how to answer everything. Do the best you can – the answers might change as you begin to open yourself up to new experiences and change your way of thinking.

Using your questions answered from last week, let’s get into the four-step process for creating your new life’s vision!

Step 1: Figure out what matters to you in your life.

Use last week’s questions to help you better understand what those things are. Knowing what you would like to contribute to the world and the kinds of people you wish to surround yourself with should give you a good idea about what matters most to you.

As an example, you may have determined that you want to be surrounded by highly motivated and career-driven people. Think about where you work; do your colleagues fit that description? Are they unenthusiastic? Do they provide energy or take it from you?

Perhaps career advancement or devotion to your chosen craft is more important than you realize.

Maybe you realize that devoting more time to your family is important, yet you find yourself working a job that takes a disproportionate amount of your time away from your spouse or children. Is climbing that corporate ladder at all costs worth compromising your values?

Although your values may align with family, your chosen career is inhibiting you from living the life you want to live.

This exercise is about honesty – asking difficult questions and perhaps receiving some hard answers in return.

Identify as many of these things in life that are important to you and WRITE THEM DOWN!

Career advancement, personal freedom, devotion to a cause, time with family, or financial achievement are just some of many examples that you may identify.

Step 2: Identify the life categories that are most important to you

Use your answers in step 1 to discover overall themes and categorize them in an easily referenced list. Below is just an example of how your list might look.

  • Wealth
  • Relationships
  • Health
  • New Experiences
  • New Skills

Any way that you choose to approach this list is the correct way – it’s about identifying what’s important to you and figuring out what you need to do to achieve success in these categories.

Step 3: List ways that you can achieve success in each category

For each category, write a few things that you think will get you closer to fulfilling that category. These should be as well defined and measurable as possible so keep that in mind! Using our example list from the previous step our list might look like this.

Wealth – (Career change, self-employment, financial freedom)

Relationships – (Time with your spouse, cultivating family cohesiveness, strengthening business partnerships)

Health – (Weight training routine, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, walking/running)

Experiences – (Travel, self-enrichment, change of environment)

Skills – (Enrolling in courses, learning a new career skill set, learning to cook)

Step 4: Craft a statement that describes your overall ideal life

With all of the information that you’ve now put together, it’s time to do what we all came here to do – write down your vision statement!

Review your categories and all the things that you must do to be successful in fulfilling each one. Look for unifying themes to the best of your ability. Write down a statement that captures the spirit of as many of your categories as possible.

It can be a short statement of just one or two sentences like Oprah Winfrey: “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”

Or it can be much, much longer.

The idea is to simplify this statement to the best of your ability so that it is clear, concise, and easily remembered.

You want to be able to recite and remember this statement wherever you encounter decisions about where to go in your life. Opportunities that go against your vision statement should be avoided regardless of how enticing they may seem in the moment.

Revisiting and revising your life’s vision is extremely important!

What matters to you now may change in the coming years – and that’s alright!

Come back to your vision statement periodically, make it part of your enrichment schedule that these categories and goals are updated.

Without a clear definition of what matters to you, you are prone to the whims and demands of others without a clear way to improve your situation.

This may be one of the most important things that you ever do for yourself!

Healing Arts Institute provides a variety of services that includes life coaching from certified mental health professionals. Don’t leave your life’s ambitions in the hands of unlicensed “life coaches.”

Designing Your New Life’s Vision

(This is Part 1 of a two-part series in defining your life’s vision)

A life vision is a roadmap that helps define who you want to be, what you want to do, and generally how you plan to get there.

It is an overall description of your IDEAL LIFE that is defined by your values and supported by high-level goals. For more on defining your values, read our article Defining a Meaningful Life.

There are many reasons that people avoid creating a vision for their life. It may be emotionally difficult to confront areas in your life that you are not satisfied with, it requires a lot of deep thought and work, and it may seem impossible that any changes can be made anyway.

Emotionally difficult? Maybe.

Hard work? Yup.

Impossible? Never.

If you feel like you are stuck without hope, joy, or any real aspirations in your life you likely have no vision. What are your goals to strive for and give your life purpose? Are you just passing time on this world, or do you have something to work towards?

The basis for this week’s blog entry is inspired by an article written in 2015 by Corbett Barr for Medium.com titled ‘How to Create a Vision for Your Life’. The most highlighted quote reads:

“Being able to change your life and having a vision for it are the yin and yang of living a great life”. – Corbett Barr – ‘How to Create a Vision for Your Life’ 2015

And that’s what we want to talk about today – learning how to live a GREAT life.

The two sides of this coin are as follows…

Does your life change because you have a vision for it?

-or-

Does having the ability to change your life allow you to then make a vision for it?

The answer is that both are simultaneously true – they are interdependent and supportive of one another. The breakthrough mindset that will allow you to travel down this path of life fulfillment is to believe that change is possible to begin with. I will take it one step further and tell you that change is not only possible, but highly likely.

Asking the Important Questions First is Key to Success

Before we can begin defining our vision, we must first define terms and ask ourselves a few questions.

Get a pen and paper handy (I told you there would be some work involved)!

Vision – This is a ‘big picture’ perspective that will help to define our life. It will answer questions such as ‘who do you want to be’ and ‘what do you want to be known for’? Your vision will become the over-arching framework that helps to define and evaluate the goals you set for yourself.

Goals – These are the accomplishments, experiences, and individual actions that you strive toward. They should be measurable and well defined.

Now comes the fun part – and I hope you remembered that pen and paper…

Write down and answer the following questions to the best of your ability:

  1. What kind of life do you want to live at each stage of your life? (i.e. When you’re 20, 30, 40, 50 etc.) You may not know the answer to this right away, and that’s alright. In fact even if you think you know the answer right now, it could change as your life circumstances and values change. More on that later though. Just do the best you can – it’s not an easy question.
  2. What kind of people do you want to be surrounded by? Be honest with yourself. You don’t have to be ‘correct’ in your thinking, remember this is YOUR life – there is no right or wrong answer here. The only way you can get this wrong is by not being honest with yourself.
  3. What are the greatest things you think you can accomplish if you had the time and resources to do them? You can be as ‘realistic’ or extravagant as you want. The idea is to explore your wants and desires out of life. If you are having trouble with this question, then start small – remember you can always change your answer to these questions down the line.
  4. What would you like to contribute to your community, family, or profession that would make you feel the most accomplished or proud? Again, you may not have the answer to this right away –  that’s alright! Do your best, and be honest with yourself.

Ok, that was a lot of work – time for a break!

We’ll pick up again next week with a four step process to create your life vision once you have some answers to these questions – so sit down in a comfortable place with your favorite beverage and start jotting down your ideas…

The Most Powerful Barrier to Ascending Maslow’s Pyramid

You may have heard of Maslow’s Pyramid (or Maslow’s Hierarchy as it’s also known) in many different areas of your life. From self-help guides to sales meetings, Maslow’s pyramid is often invoked because of the simplicity and elegance of its message – but do we really understand the implications of what the pyramid is teaching us?

In today’s article, we’re going to talk about the power of using this simple diagram to help you determine where you may be held back, and hopefully provide a better perspective as to how your life can be more fulfilling and complete.

The basic idea here is that our needs can be broken down into 5 basic categories, and those categories fall into one of three groups:

Physical Needs:

Physical needs consist of the first two tiers of the pyramid. We need to have access to food and water for basic survival, but we also need to feel safe and have access to shelter.

Psychological needs:

The next two tiers tell us that we seek out the friendship of others and try to live accomplished lives.

Spiritual needs:

Finally, we have ‘self-actualization’. This is a little harder to define but it comes down to this: you are the person that you are meant to be and are able to pursue all manners of creative and spiritual endeavors.

If You Are Carrying Trauma, You Are Stuck at a Fundamental Level

Safety is often misinterpreted to just mean physical safety, but emotional and psychological safety is every bit as important. People suffering from past traumatic events have conditioned themselves to be hyper-vigilant as a survival response to avoid additional distress.

People living with PTSD, anxiety, or similar debilitative conditions often find themselves stuck at the second tier of the pyramid unable to find a way to move past their need to find safety, even if they are perfectly safe in the physical sense.

If this is where you find yourself, it will be extremely difficult to maintain meaningful friendships let alone be professionally accomplished or spiritually fulfilled.

Little Things Add up Over Time

Trauma does not always have to come from experiencing a tragic event or by living under abusive conditions. It is possible (and even likely) that over time we accumulate small traumas that we hold onto. Stressful jobs, family relationships, and the intricacies of modern living can all contribute to accumulating feelings of insecurity and uncertainty – in other words, trauma.

Mistakes We Make

To minimize the pain and anxiety of trauma, we often attempt to bypass the rest of the pyramid and go straight to filling our lives with ‘spiritual’ activities. While our intentions are good, we cannot build a spiritual life on top of an incomplete and unstable foundation. If we try, we will always find ourselves repeating past mistakes and finding ourselves struggling once again with finding safety – and the cycle continues.

As difficult as it may be (and it is), the only way to move past this level is to begin the hard work of moving past your trauma with the guidance of a trusted therapist.

Why Modern Society is the Source of Mental Illness

Oh, where to begin on this topic…

Entire careers can be made on exploring this material, and we have a trillion-dollar pharmaceuticals industry that is taking advantage of our population’s growing reliance on quick-fix solutions to anxiety and depression brought on by our increasingly unbalanced, self-absorbed, and stress-filled modernity.

I won’t even try to pretend that what we’re going to cover today is an exhaustive list of reasons – I don’t think I have enough hard-drive space to cover even half of them.  I will however try to highlight a few that I believe are some of the worst offenders in our modern culture and to try to offer some counter actions that can help put them in a more healthy perspective.

Perfectionism

We are constantly bombarded with images and narratives that only shows the ideal image of an individual or situation. Even a short trip through your Facebook or Instagram feed will present a highly idealized (and completely false) portrayal of reality.

Why aren’t my vacations this amazing? Why don’t I have this many friends? Why isn’t my skin this angelically flawless?

All good inquiries – but these are the wrong questions.

Social media is a cultural cancer that promotes unrealistic expectations and its use demands that we strive towards unattainable standards.

Solution: It’s alright to look at parts of your life and want to improve them, but it’s not alright to think that you are lesser for not yet having achieved everything that you want – and it is even worse to compare yourself to others based on those unrealistic standards. Accept your current place in life, and start developing small and sustainable habits to move yourself closer to where you want to be.

Romanticism

Modern society has filled our heads with the idea that there is one special person out there for each of us – and we must find them to be whole and balanced. Once we find them, we will live a life of perfection and bliss and we can finally fill our Instagram walls with sunset yoga poses and 4ct. diamond rings.

Without this other perfect person, we will never find happiness.

As a result of this highly distorted belief, we develop unrealistic expectations from our romantic partners and unknowingly sabotage nurturing and healthy relationships in pursuit of a mythical unicorn. The other damaging consequence when buying into this mindset is that we give control of our self-esteem and self-worth to another person instead of taking control of them for ourselves.

Solution: Realize that there is no such thing as the perfect relationship. Everyone has flaws, and we should look at all of our friendships in a holistic and forgiving way rather than expecting others to meet impossible standards that we can’t even attain ourselves – nor should we try (see ‘perfectionism’ above).

We can never control others, and therefore we should never place our self-worth in someone else’s hands. Our self-esteem is ours to nurture, and ours alone.

The Media

Next to social media, I believe that mainstream entertainment and the news media are the biggest offenders and cause of mental illness in society. News outlets sensationalize and hyper-focus our attention towards issues that scare, intimidate, and anger us. We become inundated with a one-sided point of view that is coming from a source that many people find to be trustworthy.

The result of constantly focusing on the least admirable traits of humanity is a highly distorted and incomplete understanding of our surroundings. At best, this leads to arguments with friends and family based on biases and the need to defend our world view. At worst, it leads the more emotionally susceptible among us to pursue violent acts in the name of justice.

Solution: Unplug. You don’t need to be involved in every single nuance of the news cycle. You don’t need to update yourself every hour on the latest COVID-19 count. You don’t need to memorize someone else’s opinion so that you have enough ammo to win the next argument with a friend or relative who may have a differing opinion.

You just don’t.

While it’s important to keep up to date on big issues, you also don’t need to wallow in the dirt and mud with the rest of the muck-dwellers. Step back and begin to take a more active role in your immediate environment and life.  Appreciate the things you have, and the goals that you are working towards. You have control over your life and your ambitions – make these your primary focus of attention.

Dopamine Fasting: Proven Techniques to Master Your Impulses

(This is part three of a three-part blog series on dopamine fasting and recovery techniques).

If you have been following our series on dopamine fasting, congratulations on making it this far! If you’re just reading this for the first time, I would highly recommend reading Part 1 and Part 2 before continuing.

In the first two parts of this series we’ve been introduced to the idea of dopamine fasting, some of the science behind it, and a few basic things that you can do to slowly reduce your dependence on dopamine hits from meaningless and potentially destructive habits.

Today we’re gong to wrap up with some more detailed methods based in cognitive behavioral therapy to help you succeed!

Technique 1: Avoidance

We touched on this a little bit last week, but it bears repeating. While avoidance is technically the quickest way to wean yourself from a habit that is providing you with that sweet dopamine fix, it is also a rather unpleasant experience and requires a tremendous amount of willpower.

There is also the high chance that immediately forcing yourself away from a habit that is providing you with some level of addictive behavior will result in a relapse to engaging in that habit.

Not good.

But if you think you can do this, then instead of indulging in the behavior that you are trying to remove, engage in an activity that is completely incompatible with the addictive behavior. For example, if you’re trying to remove or reduce your desire to spend hours searching the internet (for whatever reason), you can replace that with activities that have no association with computers – like reading a book, working out, cooking, or spending time outside.

Technique 2: Exposure and Response Therapy (ERP)

ERP involves allowing yourself to be exposed to small doses of the urge that compels you towards unhealthy habits, recognizing and then avoiding the response behavior.

Follow these steps to effectively reduce your perceived ‘need’ for that addictive dopamine hit:

  1. When you feel the urge surfacing to engage in your bad habit, identify and recognize the event that is triggering the urge.
  2. Be O.K. with the urge that you are feeling – recognize it and accept that it’s there (do not try to suppress it).
  3. ‘Meditate’ on that feeling and allow it to subside.
  4. Describe the sensations you are feeling when the urge arises. Be as specific as possible (bonus points if you write it down).
  5. Set an activity to engage in for the next time the sensation arises.

Over time you will become adept at recognizing these feelings and will be able to redirect your energy and intentions much more easily towards better activities.

Technique 3: Reward Replacement

Reward-replacement gives your brain something new to focus on in place of the bad habit that you’re trying to remove.

Follow these steps to master reward-replacement:

  1. Identify the problematic triggering event or behavior (i.e. stopping work every hour to get a new drink). There can be many different sources that trigger the unwanted urge:
    1. Being in a certain location
    1. Certain people
    1. Time of day
    1. Emotional state
    1. An activity or action that immediately follows the unwanted behavior.
  2. Identify the reward that is being craved (i.e. that delicious sugary soft drink)
  3. Describe how engaging in the activity makes you feel. This gives you a better understanding for why you are choosing this ‘reward’ to begin with.
  4. Experiment with new rewards that replace the bad habit. For example, try sugarless flavored drinks (not one with artificial sweetener! – more on that in another article), tea, flavored water, etc.
  5. After trying each new reward, describe (and write down) how they make you feel. You’re collecting data here!
  6. Over time, look back over what you wrote and discover patterns for what you are truly craving. You may discover that it’s not the drink itself you crave, but a distraction from an unfulfilling job or the joy from social interaction in the break room that sells you the sugary drink.

Well, that’s it! You can use any one of these techniques, or a combination of any of them to help you be free of dopamine additive behaviors.

Remember, it’s always a good idea to get a little bit of help if you are having trouble doing any of this on your own – and if so, we’re here to help you succeed with your life goals. Call or email us today to find out how we can help!

Dopamine Fasting: Your Kickstart Guide to Proven Success

(This is part two of a three-part blog series on dopamine fasting and recovery techniques).

In last week’s article, we introduced you to dopamine – the neurotransmitter that’s responsible for that amazing feeling we get when we accomplish something good. The flip-side is that it’s also responsible for many of our really bad habits and time-wasting pursuits.

This week we’re going to continue with our discussion about dopamine and introduce dopamine fasting techniques to reset your brain, kick addictive behaviors, and find your motivation again.

So, what is dopamine fasting anyway?

Essentially, the idea of dopamine fasting is to avoid activities that are producing excessive dopamine release as much as possible. Dr. Cameron Sepah wrote in ‘The Definitive Guide to Dopamine Fasting 2.0’ that avoiding dopamine stimulating activities for extended periods of time will help you to reset your brain and let go of addictive behaviors. 

The idea of dopamine fasting is based in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Dr. Sepah writes that the key to success is found in reducing excessive dopamine stimulating behaviors in small, regular, and manageable increments. You are essentially re-training your brain to be less influenced by emotion and desire by providing rational alternatives.

In other words, you don’t have to go cold-turkey and live like a hermit monk. You still have a life and will be able to enjoy the things you like to do.

There are three basic steps to approach dopamine fasting.

Identify the Stimulus – Whatever is Causing Addiction, Distress, or Impairment

Yes, I know that sounds obvious – but it may not be as straightforward as you might think. Some destructive behaviors are easy to recognize like eating too much, watching pornography, or indulging in sugary drinks. Other dopamine stimulating behaviors can be much harder to pinpoint – like the unhealthy reliance on other people for your emotional validation (think social media).

Take a few days to be as self-aware as you can. Start a list of behaviors that you want to change, and give each behavior a rank. For example, you may find that you drink a little too much soda and you would like to cut down, but really it’s not that bad (maybe you give it a 2), but that you spend way too much time on social media keeping tabs on comments (maybe you give that a 7).

Work on one behavior at a time. You can start on your lower ranked numbers first if you think that will be easier to get into the habit – or if you’re feeling really determined, start with the worst of the worst.

Set a Fasting Schedule

Set aside at least one day out of the week where you don’t engage in the activity that you are working to reduce. If that seems too daunting, then perhaps you can set aside two half-days. The scheduling is completely up to you, but the idea is to develop a regularly scheduled pattern of avoidance to begin weaning yourself off of the behavior.

It’s best to start small and ease into this – you don’t want to become discouraged and quit before you give yourself the chance to succeed! Build up slowly by adding more time as you gain confidence.

Reward Yourself for Following Through

You did it! You got through your first scheduled week of dopamine fasting. As you progress, it’s important to provide yourself with a new source of stimulation – but this time it will be from the accomplishment of sticking to your goals.

When choosing your reward, try to pick something that will not reinforce the behavior that you’re trying to reduce. For example, having Coke as a reward for avoiding soda on your fast-day may be sending the wrong signal to yourself.

Here is a link to a great website that lists hundreds of different ways that you can reward yourself for a job well done!

Next week we wrap up our three part series on dopamine fasting with slightly more advanced techniques that will help to guarantee your success in reducing or eliminating unwanted behaviors.

Dopamine Fasting: Kick Addictive Obsession and Restore Your Drive

(This is part-one of a three-part blog series on dopamine fasting and recovery techniques).

Have you ever had a habit that you wish you could break, but just could not seem to find a way out of it? Sometimes bad habits can be a minor nuisance, but some behaviors can develop an addictive quality that prevents us from being productive and realizing our full potential. Taken to the extreme, these habits can negatively impact our ability to be social, ruin our professional ambitions, and keep us enslaved to meaningless life-wasting activities.

So, what is dopamine?

Dopamine is essentially a reward chemical. It is a neurotransmitter that tells our brain that we are being rewarded for the activity that we are engaging in. Evolutionarily, dopamine is meant to act as a means of positive re-enforcement – but in the modern age of instant gratification and cheap excess, constantly chasing a dopamine high has become a hindrance to people’s development and life goals.

In the modern world, there are many stimuli that provide quick and sustained dopamine hits. Smartphone usage, playing video games, looking at pornography, and social media are just a few of the most common highs that we chase.

Natural dopamine release from pleasurable activities like eating a delicious meal is strongest when we first engage in the activity but will tend to wane the longer it goes on. At some point we are full, and we want to find another source of stimulation.

However, modern addictive activities like those previously mentioned introduce new stimuli consistently, which keeps us hooked without ever wanting to do something new. Our brains are tricked into thinking that we are doing something good and meaningful…

Things that you once enjoyed are no longer exciting when compared to the new addictive activity.

So… what’s the solution?

Simply, we need to reset our brains. By reducing the frequency in which we engage in these damaging behaviors, we can retrain our brains to recognize NORMAL levels of dopamine stimulation. Doing so will increase the number of dopamine neuroreceptors in a process called up-regulation – the result is that we will be more sensitive to natural levels of dopamine stimulus.

We can return to enjoying things that we used to without the excessive craving for more.

The concept of Dopamine fasting is incredibly simple, but in practice it can be extremely challenging.

In our next two articles, we will cover scientifically proven techniques rooted in physiological and cognitive research to help you successfully break your dopamine addictions and restore your motivation.

Do you have any addictions or addictive behaviors that you would like to get rid of? Click the title of this article and leave a comment – share your story! You are not alone.

Talk Therapy is Extremely Effective: Here’s Why

Talk therapy can be described as the ‘traditional’ therapeutic process that most people think of when the subject of mental health is at hand. The industry jargon for this type of treatment is referred to as psychotherapy. A strong relationship is built between therapist and patient allowing for a free exchange of information in a confidential and safe environment.

There are a couple of challenges with talk therapy. It can be time consuming, and depending on the traumas experienced by the patient, possibly emotionally painful – but the benefits of continuing to do the hard work far outweigh those difficulties.

Here are three of the ways that talk therapy helps you heal:

Discovery

Not everyone is aware of what is causing their pain, and so they’re unable to articulate what exactly is wrong. Not knowing this information makes other rational-based treatment methods like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) far less effective. We must first know why we’re hurting before we can address the problem.

Talk therapy provides a safe and nurturing space for whatever thoughts come into our minds. There may be underlying repressed memories and emotions bubbling up from our subconscious space that we were not even aware of.

It is through the discovery and exposure of these hidden feelings and memories that we can then begin to heal, integrating other therapies such as CBT to begin rationalizing and removing distortions in our thinking.

Transference

Over time, patients may begin to communicate with their therapists in ways that reflect their past traumas and parental relationships providing clues as to what the patient’s underlying conditions may be.

The therapist-patient relationship can mimic that of a parent-child, and so feelings of sadness, nervousness, rage, or insecurity that were experienced by the patient towards their parents can transfer to the therapist. It has also been observed that those parental feelings can be transferred towards spouses or children, so it’s extremely important that negative feelings are resolved in the safest way possible before they adversely affect the ones you love.

Relationships

For many people, their relationship with their therapist may be the first positive and reliable relationship that they have ever had. Parents, friends, and confidants may have let them down, and so the therapist becomes a surrogate for that parental deficiency in many ways.

Once a trusting relationship has been established between patient and therapist, it is possible to regress to earlier stages of development that went wrong and relive them – except this time with a better ending.

This new relationship then becomes a model for building new healthy relationships outside of therapy.

Have you ever tried talk therapy? How were your experiences? Click the title of this article and leave a comment to tell us about it!