Hello everybody, welcome to episode 210 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is about the need to chase dopamine through addictions like alcohol or scrolling social media.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
So happy to have you here today as we look at a question that’s very important – a question that I fear more and more people are struggling with and will continue to struggle with. What about the highs and lows of life? The all or nothing? We have times when we’re up and everything is so great, almost to an extreme degree. And then it’s followed by lows that hit just as hard, but on the other end of the spectrum. Our asker today is wondering how to cope with this and we’re going to see what we can do to help him out and take a different look at what might be going on and how to handle it. Here’s his question…
QUESTION: “I am struggling today with my ‘all or nothing' approach to just about everything. Relating to my health, it’s either green smoothies, meditation, and long runs or beer, pizza, and Netflix. I struggle to find balance. If a little bit of something is good, as much as I can possibly consume is obviously ideal right? I constantly rotate various addictions chasing that dopamine hit be it from substances like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or other more subtle sources like Amazon or scrolling Instagram.”
Making Sense of Our Highs and Lows
Very good question. I’m not sure we’ve talked about anything like this on the show before so thanks for bringing something original to the table, and more importantly, thanks for trusting in us and being open.
One thing we have talked about recently, however, is bipolar disorder or manic depression. I’m going to proceed with this episode under the assumption that this is not something you suffer from, as it’s most popular attribute is extreme highs and lows. If you’re not sure about this, I recommend talking with a therapist to find out. I’d also recommend going to a therapist if these highs and lows are clearly derived from a specific problem.
But this isn’t always the case. Many people have a hard time making sense of their highs and lows, and aren’t necessarily suffering from something severe or diagnosable, and that’s the lens through which I’ll answer today.
Gather Your Thoughts and Self-Narratives
An important first step for you to take is to consider what thoughts you associate with being in a bad place, being unmotivated, feeling down on your luck, having a low day or a stretch of low days. Do you shame yourself for what you perceive to be your shortcomings? Do you shame yourself and others when they’re down, or at least not allow them to stay down for what feels like too long? Do you feel there’s an innate weakness in people going through bouts of sadness or laziness?
Also consider the narratives you hold about yourself. Do you have very strong work ethic or an unusually strong “don’t quit” type of attitude? Do others regularly look to you to entertain or motivate them, or do you at least feel as though they do? Do you derive significance from this or anything else that has to do with you being happy and energized?
If any of this sounds familiar, the odds are you need to practice being more welcoming of the bad times. It gets very easy for us to put pressure on ourselves to be up all the time. This is even a self-development trap that a lot of us who enjoy personal growth fall into. If we’re constantly practicing how to maintain a good attitude and we’re exposed to what we feel are tools that can help us do so, don’t we have very little excuses to ever feel bad?
Hard Times are Inevitable
When we reject the bad times, these lows feel extra bad and our behavior becomes extra bad during them because we’re fighting so hard against them in the high times. If you have a regular belief that you can, should or have to lift yourself up no matter what, it becomes difficult to make space for the hard times in life.
But the hard times are inevitable. Constantly trying to outrun them is only going to make them more prevalent. It’s the same as the pink elephant anecdote; if I tell you not to think about pink elephants, you’re only going to think about them more because your focus is on them even if you don’t want your thoughts to be. That which you aggressively try to avoid gets a stronger hold on you.
I recommend taking both a mental and physical approach to try integrating the all and the nothing. Mentally, take some to reflect on the bad times.
Is there really anything wrong with feeling low in general? Isn’t it inevitable? Don’t we all go through it? Can you really expect yourself to be high energy or happy all the time? Are there any mental benefits that come with the lows? Are you maybe more creative or introspective, better able to learn some of life’s lessons?
What are Things You Actually Enjoy?
Physically, what are the activities you partake in during the good times that you actually enjoy? Are your smoothies, meditations and long runs enjoyable to you, or are they just transactional; a means to an end?
Think about the parts of the good times you actually enjoy and try to integrate some of them into bad days little by little. Maybe today you’re crushing pizza and Netflix. That’s ok. But this time, maybe you can wash the pizza down with a green smoothie instead of a beer.
Are there other tolerable aspects of a positive phase you can introduce? Like drinking enough water, going on walks, or calling friends? Slowly integrate things like these, even just one a day, into the bad times and see where it takes you. Also think about how your physical space affects you. Are you around negative people that pull you down? Are you living in a messy place? Needless to say, your environment, spatially and socially, has a major effect on you and so should ideally support a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Chasing Dopamine: Conclusion
Conversely, this may be out of left field, but I’m not sure it’d be a terrible idea to occasionally introduce one of your “bad habits” into your naturally high periods. For example, just because you went for a run and meditated doesn’t mean you can’t watch some Netflix before bed, too, or even end the night with a beer. These aren’t inherently bad things.
I’m not sure I’d be as quick to recommend you trying this same approach with the substances you mentioned earlier, especially if you find yourself relying on them (which would be something to explore further). But when it comes to things like beer, pizza and Netflix, integrating them into the good, healthy times once in a while may help you to maintain a sense of control and balance, as well as a lack of judgment for indulging in them.
You’d be proving to yourself that these types of things are still ok and that they don’t have to represent some kind of downfall to you. They can coexist with healthier habits, and you can be the one to say when they do.
And a big thank you to our asker today for seeking help and trusting us. The strategies we’ve talked about today can actually be applied to a wider range of spaces than one might think. For example, if you have no relaxation in your work life and only feel calm at home, bringing one item to work with you from your home that you associate with calmness can work wonders, and a simple, nearly effortless gesture of integration like that can symbolize so much more and reinstate that sense of control we talked about.
Consider this in your own life; at what times or in what places could really use a little bit of a different time or place that’s more relieving to you? How can there be even the littlest bit of crossover? Food for thought. Time for me to get out of here now though, everyone.
Thanks a lot for coming, have a wonderful rest of your day, and as always I’ll see you in the middle of week on Wednesday for another episode. Until then.