Dopamine and Me (you too)

My dopamine is awack (my non-scientific term).  I know its so because every medication I’ve tried for fibromyalgia that impacts the dopamine system has affected my feelings and actions.  

Many years ago I tried a medication that enhanced dopamine receptors and thought I’d found the holy grail.  For the first time in decades I remembered what I had felt like BF (before fibro) . . .  It was wonderful for a few years until I developed insatiable cravings for sweets, especially cinnamon rolls.  I MEAN CRAVING which I was hard pressed to control for more than a few days at a time.  I periodically told colleagues and doctors that something was wrong – my obsessional craving for all things sweet checked off all the boxes on the classic addition list (including hiding my sweet loot).

Everyone either dismissed my “confessions” or told me to eat more protein.  It’s a long, long story but I started Googling, and finally discovered research showing the medication I was on created addictive behavior in 25% of people taking it.  I stopped the meds, my cravings vanished and my fibromyalgia symptoms reappeared.

I’m now on another dopamine enhancer and am on alert for when I start hiding ice cream under the mattress or moving to Mexico where churros are considered patriotic.

judy

This research got my attention . . . obviously . . . .

UC Berkeley researchers have discovered that the brain neurotransmitter dopamine has a yin-yang personality, mediating both pleasure and pain. Credit: Christine Liu.

“For decades, psychologists have viewed the neurotransmitter dopamine as a double-edged sword: released in the brain as a reward to train us to seek out pleasurable experiences, but also a “drug” the constant pursuit of which leads to addiction.”

“According to a new study from UC Berkeley, that’s only one face of dopamine. The flip side is that dopamine is also released in response to unpleasurable experiences, such as touching a hot tea kettle, presumably training the brain to avoid them in the future.”

“The yin-yang nature of dopamine could have implications for treatment of addiction and other mental disorders. In illnesses such as schizophrenia, for example, dopamine levels in different areas of the brain become abnormal, possibly because of an imbalance between the reward and avoidance circuits in the brain. Addiction, too, may result from an imbalance in reactions to pleasure and pain.”

SEEK and ye shall find Happiness, The Neuroscience

Many of my clients would get depressed after they had accomplished a major goal.  After all the planning, effort, time and money there was at best a let-down and at worst actual depression.  I had experienced it myself every time I reached a major goal in my life like getting college degrees or sought after promotions.  What I didn’t know was this is a neurological function of my brain.

Neuroscience shows that the act of seeking itself, rather than the goals we realize, is key to satisfaction.  We need to actively want something more in order to live well. 

Neuroscientist Jaak Panskepp believes ” . . . that of seven core instincts in the human brain (anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and seeking), seeking is the most important. All mammals have this seeking system, says Panskepp, wherein dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure, is also involved in coordinating planning activities. This means animals are rewarded for exploring their surroundings and seeking new information for survival.” 

Seeking High, Seeking Low by Peggy

Science and the arts bear this out.  The process of art, always creating something new, trying new techniques, different modalities is what drives me, not the the product.  Likewise science is about questioning, new ways of looking at things, new directions to explore.  Two fields that are entirely open-ended.

“The human desire to seek can help make sense of studies showing that achieving major goals, or even winning the lottery, doesn’t cause long-term changes in happiness. But our drive to look ahead needn’t cause a permanent state of dissatisfaction, as seeking is itself a fulfilling activity.”

Fascinating!  A neuro-scientific explanation for the old adage “The process is more important than the product”.

According to neuroscience the quest is an end in itself.  An innate human desire for seeking.

There will never be an end to the to-do list, future goals and plans, the things we want to achieve and see. But the fact that we don’t have everything we want is exactly what makes life so fulfilling.   Who knew?

 

Read the entire article here: Neuroscience confirms that to be truly happy, you will always need something more

 

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