Monday, August 23, 2021


 I've been doing some reading and listening around the subject of dopamine and emotional intensity. To put it into simple language, it seems that our brains like to be in a balanced state, in a state of homeostasis. 

In today's culture, there is excess supply of ways to get dopamine in a not particularly healthy way. We can play a video game, watch porn, drink alcohol to excess, take drugs. Over time, and when the activity takes place often enough, when we are not doing those activities, our brains tilt over to the low side, a sort of depression or craving state.

It seems that our brains don't want to be either too low or too high in dopamine, or too low or too high in emotional intensity. How high or low our emotional intensity is appears to be dictated by our genes, but whether it is a high or low emotional tendency, it seems that our brains find it uncomfortable to be too high or too low and so people are motivated to raise or lower their emotional levels to optimal levels.

As I write this I know that I am mixing two areas of research together and seeing what might gel together. Since I can only use myself as an example since I don't know anyone else's internal state, I would say that my whole range of emotions weren't at all welcomed in childhood, and not really in adulthood either. I think that  low outward expression was learned and conditioned, but I think I also was born with a relatively low emotional intensity.

One example an article gave of low emotional intensity was someone seeing a dorm house on fire and walking to the hose and then walking back with it to the dorm. I don't tend to go into high gear when confronted with a dilemma, usually, although I don't back away from a dilemma either.

Inside, there's a lot more emotional intensity going on. I definitely experience the whole spectrum of emotions inside. It wasn't always so but I learned to tune into my emotional state in later life. I can experience intense bliss at the same time as I can feel deeply sad, and all the emotions in between those highs and lows.

I am keenly aware of what the researchers talk about, that either a low mood or a high mood can be uncomfortable for me. When it is uncomfortable enough, I seek to bring my brain back to homeostasis.

In the case of a high emotional state, for example, the sense of deep connection I felt with my husband on a difficult hike we did together, I think the brain just starts to come down quite naturally. I register the bliss as deeply fortunate and know it won't last. I savor the high.

In the case of anxiousness, or depression, I make a mental note that no good with come of this, and I distract myself, quite naturally bringing the emotional state up towards a balanced state.

Dopamine levels are a bit different, I think. When dopamine has been raised in an unhealthy way, not these natural leveling outs of the brain but an induced state of excess such as takes place with too much of any sort of drug (be that a substance, an activity or a person), it appears to be the case that a cleanse is vital: a dopamine fast.

As the medical people like to say, you are going to feel worse before you feel better. Unless it is an extreme situation a 30 day fast will mean that the first two weeks won't be pretty, but by week 3 you will start to feel more balanced and after 30 days, you will be sober, so to speak.

Then, it's about deciding where you want to go from there - abstinence or  a return to your substance of choice but with good solid boundaries in place.

Is it the emotionally intense who are subject to addiction of some sort? It seems so, yes. Emotionally intense people want variety and novelty.

A caveat here. Whilst I don't think I am a particularly emotionally intense person, I can be. I  think you can be enticed to experience emotional intensity; have a proclivity to it in the right (wrong) circumstances. 

This is a more complicated conversation for another day but generally I think that someone like me has a proclivity to be manipulated and that relates to an empathic nature and some appetite for intensity. You only know you are addicted to something or someone after it has happened. In fact, we are all capable of addiction to something.

Meditation is a time when the brain will naturally go to homeostasis, in time. Yoga is an activity that also allows the brain to reach a balanced state. Gardening tends to balance the brain; walking, maybe running (not a runner).

I think there is a very logical explanation for why the practice of meditation and yoga have infiltrated their way into our Western culture. When the seeking of pleasure in our culture can result in excess dopamine highs, we are in great need of tilting that situation back down to a balanced state.

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