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September 20th, 2019
Most all behavior lays the groundwork for that behavior to be repeated.
A good example is coffee. Here’s a simple explanation of how coffee works:
When we wake up, our brain immediately starts producing something called Adenosine. This chemical is primarily responsible for making us feel tired. Over the course of the day Adenosine levels rise, until it gets to the point that we need to go to sleep, and sleep is the only way to clear the brain of it’s Adenosine levels. Now enters the elixir of productivity, the addiction of the modern world: coffee. Beautiful roasted bitter chocolate taste aside, coffee is consumed in large part for the caffeine it has. Caffeine has a purine structure similar to Adenosine, and because of this, caffeine works as an antagonist to Adenosine by blocking the receptors in the brain that Adenosine would normally use. It’s by this mechanism that we feel more awake than we actually are. Here’s the kicker. Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours. This means that someone who drinks a cup of coffee at 3 pm will still have half the caffeine from that cup of coffee actively blocking adenosine receptors at 9pm, and a quarter of the caffeine will still be active at 3 am! Caffeine’s long half-life ensures that anyone who drinks coffee even remotely close to the time when they sleep will not be able to flush all of the Adenosine from their brain. What does this mean? It means we wake up tired because there’s still some unprocessed Adenosine floating around when the Caffeine finally wears off. But at this point we have to get on with our next day, so what do we do?
We drink more coffee…
And the cycle starts again, and we risk compounding the effects by drinking more and more coffee in order to try to wake up, when really what we need is healthy sleep that has been untainted by Caffeine.
This Caffeine/Adenosine cycle is a pretty straight forward example of how a solution can actually perpetuate the problem it attempts to solve.
In many cases, this is exactly how we deal with anxiety.
We often run away from anxiety and retreat to an activity that gives us some little hit of dopamine. Checking email or scrolling through twitter are excellent examples. But these activities, once repeated enough times, rob us of the time we have to deal with the underlying cause of anxiety. Eventually we pull our head out of the digital media hole we’ve been stuck in and the day is over, and the cause of anxiety is still ever present.
The solution of escape ultimately adds to the sense of anxiety created by the initial thing we still need to deal with.
The problem compounds as we administer the short-term solution of relief via entertainment.
Such a solution isn’t a solution at all –though it might feel like it in the moment- but a further problem.
The solution is often the same as it is with the problem created by too much coffee. We must turn around and go backwards on our strategy. For lethargic days filled with coffee, our best bet it to take a break from coffee, endure a very tired day and get a solid night of sleep. The same strategy works with social media. Putting the phone away, or deleting apps, or putting some sort of lock on them for a little while –at least until more pressing matters are dealt with, clears the anxiety.
Such compounding problems can only be solved by going to the root of the issue, otherwise each short term solution we implement merely works like fuel, allowing the problem to grow bigger and bigger.