When Boring is Better. Acupuncture Strategies to Help You Recover Your Baseline
A few weeks ago, I got a multi-day cold. Colds are not my standard way of getting sick, so I hadn’t had one in awhile and I had forgotten how awful it is to not be able to breathe through your nose. This gave me renewed empathy for every single person I work with who has sinus problems or other respiratory issues. It wasn’t my favorite way to be reminded of anything, but it was helpful (and humbling) just the same.
The recovery time needed also gave me the opportunity to remember what nourishes me and to get back to basics. Food I had been eating just days before this cold was now unthinkable. I ate a lot of soup, broth, and vegetables, basic and boring, but also so good. I even inadvertently gave up caffeine for five days. And, so far, I have continued not having caffeine on a daily basis.
I drink black tea every morning and even coffee sometimes because I love the warm rich taste. This reset helped me remember that sometimes it's habit, or the search for pleasure, that causes us to reach for certain comforts.
I also slept a lot, read some books, and watched an entire mini-series on Disney Plus. I thought it would be fun to watch multiple episodes, but I found that watching multiple episodes was more numbing than pleasurable. I enjoy TV shows much more if I spread them out (like we all did before streaming platforms).
One of the things I watched while getting better was this 20-minute video by the author of the 2023 book “Dopamine Nation.” Anna Lembke is an MD and an addiction specialist at Stanford. She studies dopamine, that “feel good” chemical that lights up when we get a compliment, a social media like, or when we eat something especially yummy.
Though I haven’t read her book yet (but plan to) what struck me in this video was that your dopamine levels will swing an equal amount between pleasure and pain until “balance” (homeostasis) is reestablished.
Eat a little chocolate, experience a little withdrawal. Eat all of the chocolate and you end up in a terrible slump. In fact, the more chocolate you eat, the more chocolate you might later need not to find pleasure, but simply to find your baseline of feeling normal again.
One of the ways to avoid resetting your dopamine levels to a progressively higher and higher level is to participate in dopamine fasting. Eat a bit of chocolate or watch one episode of a show then stop, and allow your brain to rebalance its dopamine levels. When you return to Netflix (or Disney Plus) or that yummy chocolate, it doesn’t feel so much like you “need” it, and it doesn’t take such a big dose to return to the state of enjoyment again.
Resetting your dopamine levels can be profoundly soothing for your nervous system. A few things I’ve done recently to modulate my own smartphone relationship are turning off my search history in youtube and making my phone grayscale.
Turning off the search history in youtube means that when I type youtube.com into my phone’s browser I’m met with a blank page instead of an overwhelming amount of suggested content to start mindlessly scrolling. This allows me to then type in whatever I’m actually searching for and just go to that rather than getting sidetracked. Here’s how to do that. (And actually, as I’m typing this, I realized this also is something my husband did for me and simply told me about later. Bless him. It’s super helpful.)
After the dopamine video, my husband also helpfully put my phone into grayscale. I had tried this before but my google calendar is absolutely color-coded to allow me to see at a glance where I should be: teaching yoga (yellow, like Studio 34’s logo), seeing patients (royal purple), consulting for Drexel (blue, like their logo), or doing something just for fun (pink).
In the past it was clunky to toggle back to color as needed but Hanbit showed me I just have to press the side button three times on my iphone and the phone jumps back to color (or back to greyscale). I think of this like clicking my heels in the Wizard of Oz. It’s easy and it’s doable. (Also I’m getting used to not relying on my obsessive color-coding in the calendar.)
I can tell you that my phone is 1,000 less interesting in greyscale and that, for me, is a really good thing. Here are instructions for putting your iphone, android, or pixel phone into greyscale if you’re interested.
Sometimes being uncomfortable (watching too many shows in a row, having a cold, etc) can help us uncover what matters most, what we appreciate, and how we want to live. May your hardships light the way for more illumination in your own life.
May we be grateful for our blessings this fall.