Monday, August 7, 2017

Ding, Double Click, Dopamine Dump

Ding. Chime. Notification received.  Perhaps we continue through our moment.  But our brains caught it, received it and responded. We were alerted. The dopamine was dumped. Conditionally we learn to respond to our phones through the notifications we receive.  

Ding.  Dopamine dump.  Respond.  Ding.  Dopamine dump.  Respond.  No ding. Quiet. Pick up the phone and check. What did I miss?  Precisely the moment you are living in real life, right now. Here. The moments not in the phone world, or social media front. The living breathing moment in your life now.

Chemically, we are reinforced to be engaged on our phones and technology which is a concerning piece of information. A dopamine dump happens in response to the alerts that come in from your phone and other devices. Dopamine use to be thought of as the “pleasure giving” chemical released in your brain.  Research has found that this is actually the opioid system that gives us pleasure. The dopamine system motivates you with “pleasure seeking” behaviors. Pleasure seeking behaviors include searching, seeking out, desiring more.  Dopamine effects your general level of arousal and goal directed behaviors which when you think about it, are critical to our daily life. The dopamine process sets you up to do basic things and elevates you to be creative and curious, developing new things. (Weinschenk & Wise, 2012)

There needs to be a balance between the two systems (dopamine and opioid) between “wanting” and “liking” that chemically keeps us going. With our technology, we are amping up the "pleasure-seeking" behaviors. We are continually searching, seeking out and desiring more - double clicking.  We need to shut off the dopamine process – or put it on pause – in order to allow the opioid system to reward us and give us pleasure. With the quick response to our texts, twitters, we have immediate gratification and are quickly moving back into the behavior-searching mode. If you don’t put this process on pause, you begin to do a looping through the dopamine system.  It is a matter of seeking constantly, getting rewarded, and seeking again. The constant stimulation of the dopamine dump can be exhausting and addictive.

We need to be aware. More and more we are required through our work, etc. to be on technology.  We leave work and come home to be on it. Our children are surrounded with it. We need to take steps to make sure we are not setting ourselves up for looping and developing an addiction to our technology.  Here are some ideas for managing the technology world.

First, you can turn off your notifications.  Although these notifications can be a nice feature, they often prevent us from staying focused and centered on our task at hand.  Even when we aren’t checking in after being notified, we are still getting the dopamine response and being distracted. Turn off all visual and auditory cues. Check your phone and computer less often. Be deliberate. Set it aside waiting the deliberate time you establish for checking emails (maybe twice a day). When you are with real live people, put the phone away. Reply later, maybe hours later. Set your boundaries and stick to them.

Have technology-free zones such as when you are eating or when you are in bed.  Turn off your phone when you are driving, in meetings or spending time with your children. Fill in time when you are bored with other activities such as reading, meditating, working out or putting a puzzle together. Remove social media apps from your phone so you can only access it on the computer.  (Smith, Robinson, & and Segal, 2016).  We can gain a lot from our technology world.  However, we have to manage it, just like anything else or it can be a set up for losing ourselves and what we have in our real world.  Take the necessary steps to keep things in order so they are enjoyable not consuming your life.

Works Cited

Smith, M., Robinson, L., & and Segal, J. (2016, December 31). Retrieved from

Weinschenk, S., & Wise, B. (2012, Sept 11). Retrieved from

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Death – The Shock Stage

Image result for grief images
My dad died March 15, 2017 at 3:51 p.m.  By a chance of fate, I was with him when he died.  It seemed that the minute or two leading to his final breath were in slow motion and went on forever, suspended in time, as we approach the finality of his time here. Frozen in that moment, my husband and I stood there by his bedside, holding him. Again, what might have been only seconds gave into a feeling of a long, long pause. The world stopped at 3:51pm. The world we knew. The quiet of the moment quickly left as we “came to” enough to realize we had to communicate with the others who had been holding vigil. Trying to come back into the reality was tough, as we were both numb, shocked. Now what? My husband called my brother to let him know and asked him to go pick up our mother who had not left our dad’s bedside, except only minutes before after being encouraged to go get some rest while we sat with dad.

Image result for grief imagesIn a quiet, surreal place, we sat with dad until mom arrived – time stood still. I wasn’t tracking time or anything, as my mind was “offline”. Even with all the expectation of dad’s impending death, at this moment there was no thinking, or planning or organizing. It was just walking through the motions as we did one task at a time. At one point, as people gathered by my dads bedside, my sister-in-law took my mom’s phone and began calling people as they had planned she would.  I didn’t do anything. I just was there watching the scene, feeling sensory overload, not really in the scene, frozen.

And as we gathered together in dad’s room, others started arriving – dad’s priest, the hospice social worker and nurse and then, finally, the mortuary staff. The vigil continued until dad left and then with nothing more to do, feeling the stark void, we headed to our home place where people were gathering.  It is all a blur.

In my sensory overload state, I couldn’t help but notice as family gathered, the room began to fill. Watching from afar, as I sat there in the midst, I noted the phones going off throughout the room, loud and intrusive. The noise level continued to build with a crescendo as the conversation picked up speed and volume. The calls for each family member, from their own circle of people, were rolling in. As if managing the calls on one phone weren’t enough, people were calling my mom and she would hand me the phone. Holding two phones, I would talk to her caller, but then she would decide she could talk too. The connections in that moment, went way beyond managing it. We just did our best to respond, going through the movements.  At moments, I would retreat. Needing quiet I would take a moment and disappear to the next room, in my mom’s bedroom. Staying there only for a minute or two, or five or ten, I am not sure, before going back out into the family room.

Everyone does grief differently. Everyone experiences death differently.  Of course, this death was my dad.  And even if it was the right order, (He was 84 years old and the first one to die in our family, including extended family on both sides.), and he was, “Now out of pain,” and “Now in a better place.” And “It was for the best.” And “He was out of his suffering.”  And, “He lived a good life.” And all those things people say to you . . . all those things that make some sense, didn’t make sense at this moment. 

Image result for grief images
All of this was part of the sensory overload, my shock symptoms.  Too many people, too much noise, too many connections via phone conversations and texts.  No time to sit and be still.  Let’s talk about dad.  Let’s share some memories.  Can we just sit still and talk about dad, our dad, the dad that raised us, taught us so much, shared his values with us, disappointed us at times, made us proud, always supported us?  Whatever the feelings – can we just talk? Everyone does their grief differently.  Some want to talk.  Some want to distract from the raw pain by doing things that don’t matter or doing the things that do matter. Some want to avoid it altogether and leave. Some, like me, want to talk about it with those I am closest to, with those that have the same memories. Some, like me, find they have no energy to take care of anyone else at the moment. They just can’t do it.  They can’t worry about making others feel better. Some experience all of the above at different points. Some have other ways to deal with their pain.  Some aren’t feeling anything right now and going through the motions is the easiest way to get through it.  Most do experience feelings of numbness.  How can we let this in all at once?  It is our protection.

Related imageThere is no right or wrong to the grief process. I do think it is important to be mindful of what you, yourself, are experiencing, and honor it. I was surprised at how I didn’t have the energy to give to anyone. I wasn’t able to answer emails and text messages. I finally sat down to answer text messages a week or two later. I didn’t have it in me to talk to anyone unless talking to that person would give me energy. I had one friend who had a similar story as my dad’s story, text me and I wanted to connect with her.  I wanted to talk to my cousin who had some stories to tell me about my dad. But mostly, I didn’t want to talk to people. I didn’t want to “chat”.  I didn’t have it in me to make people feel more comfortable with the raw pain of death.  So I honored that and took my time.

I thought I had accepted the inevitable and was ready for dad to move on. He had no quality of life with his disease. It wasn’t until his death, that I could really allow myself to grieve; grieve all that was slowly taken away these past two years, grieve the loss of my dad and all he brought to my world during his lifetime; grieve the person that is no longer here.  Of course, in my shock state I have only begun this process.  I hope to be accepting of where I am in the moment, not judging of it, but aware in a mindful way of what stage I might be in, what my needs are in the moment, and give myself permission to be wherever I am at this moment.  After all, in death that is all we really can do. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Boost your Brain in 2017 – Be Silent

Image result for silent landscape images

As I write this, our Mindful Approach to Living course is going on and we are getting ready for the day-long retreat – a Day of Silence.  I love the idea of dedicating a “Day of Silence” on a regular basis. The course is designed to develop a habit of committing to a moment of silence, daily, through the formal practice of mindfulness – sitting in silence, focusing on our breath, and being in the here and now.  It is a time that we shut off our phones, don’t let anything interrupt us, and sit, silently, intentionally focused on the here and now –perhaps by focusing on the breath, the body, or just dwelling in choiceless awareness – being aware of all that is going on in our moment.  The day-long retreat is an opportunity to extend the practice of being silent for the day.  It is hoped that after completing the eight-week course, participants have developed a pattern of sitting for a committed period of time, daily.  It is through this process of developing the habit of sitting that we may find ourselves yearning for that “sitting” time, this time of silence as we experience coming home to ourselves over and over again.

If that isn’t enough to entice us to consider the practice of having some silence, silence apparently has more for us than the possibility of peace of mind.  Studies show that silence has positive effects on our brains.  Silence produces new brains cells, activates brain memory and encourages self-reflection. (Mikel, 2016)  This might not be all that surprising if you consider that research has correlated noise levels to increased rates of sleep lost, heart disease and tinnitus.  (Gross, 2016) Other studies have linked noise pollution with hearing loss as well.

Image result for noise pollution imagesThese results of the benefits of silence surprised scientists as they were initially focusing on the effects of noise on the brain. They used various types of noises: short bursts of sound, music or white noise. The control group of mice who had two hours of silence per day showed the brain changes. (Rosca, 2016) Another study found changes in the brain during the pauses between the noise – when the environment was quiet.  (Mikel, 2016)  In the first study, two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus.  This is the area of the brain that is related to the formation of memory involving the senses.  The control group of mice that had silence showed the changes in the brain that were long-lasting.  Scientists are hopeful that these findings may lead to potential treatments for dementia or depression.  But regardless, it can impact us right now in our daily lives.

Other research findings found that people with short periods of “noiselessness” between sounds were in a more relaxed state.  (Rosca, 2016)  The other side of this is that noise is auditory stimulation and it impacts us. Noise forces our brain to listen to the sounds and process it whether we are aware or not.  Sounds waves vibrate the ear bone, transmitting this movement to the cochlea.  The cochlea transmits this to the brain through electrical signals. The body reacts to these signals deeply even in the midst of sleep.  Research shows that sound first activates the amygdalae, clusters of neurons in the temporal lobes which are associated with memory formation and emotion.  This activation prompts immediate release of stress hormones such as cortisol.  People who experience a consistently loud environment, home or at work, often experience high levels of stress hormones in their system.  (Gross, 2016) 

Nonetheless, we all have a lot of noise going on in our world in many different mediums.  It is time to pay attention to this situation.  True silence is becoming a difficult commodity to happen upon.  We have to decide to make it a priority and instill quiet time into our lives. With that opportunity of silence, we are allowed the opportunity to listen to what is going on inside us and have time for self-reflection and just being with ourselves.  What better gift could we give ourselves in 2017 than connecting with ourselves?   


Gross, D. A. (2016, July 7). Retrieved from
Mikel, B. (2016, July 11). Retrieved from
Rosca, J. (2016, July 13). Retrieved from