*The translation of this article in French, German, Portuguese and Spanish has been made through machine translation and has not been edited yet. we apologise for any inaccuracies.
What are the best ways to stay motivated despite heavy workloads and hardships as a healthcare professional? Read more about the neuroscience of dopamine, how to stay motivated, and the latest M3 Pulse results on which practices healthcare professionals use to stay motivated.
In the fast-paced world of healthcare, maintaining a long-term sense of motivation and drive can be challenging. Neuroscientists have found that dopamine, which is naturally released from our brains, not only affects our reward centre and motor control but is also a vital component in how we feel and behave.
Given its extensive impact on our bodies, moods, actions, and overall health, it is essential to understand how dopamine functions, recognise when our level or baseline is out of balance, and learn how to regulate dopamine accordingly, in a natural way.
In last month’s M3 Pulse, we asked over 1800 M3 members what they do to stay motivated as a healthcare professional, and if they recommend these practices to their patients.
Continue reading to understand more about the neuroscience of dopamine and how to stay motivated as a healthcare professional:
Don’t forget to share this article with a colleague if you found it interesting and let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
What is Dopamine? Myths and Facts
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that transmits signals in the brain and other areas of the body. It plays several important roles in both the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system. While it is involved in several key functions, it’s most commonly associated with pleasure and reward.
Dopamine is produced in several areas of the brain, including substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area.* Once produced, it is released by neurons to send signals to other nerve cells. Its functioning is not about the release alone but also about the receptors where it binds. This binding can either excite or inhibit the receiving neuron, causing the necessary action or inaction.
3 Dopamine Myths:
- Dopamine equals pleasure: While it is often linked to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, its primary role is about seeking rewards, not enjoying them. It’s more about the anticipation of a reward than the pleasure from the reward itself.
- Higher dopamine, more happiness: The relationship between dopamine and happiness is multifaceted. The feeling of happiness isn’t solely governed by dopamine; serotonin and oxytocin also play roles, among many other things.
- Dopamine is only about reward: it is also crucial in functions unrelated to pleasure and rewards, like movement, sleep, memory, learning, and behaviour.
3 Dopamine Facts:
- Dopamine plays a role in motor control: Many patients with Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder, have decreased dopamine, which affects their movements.
- Dopamine is involved in mood and emotional responses: Imbalances can lead to conditions like depression and schizophrenia.
- Dopamine levels can be influenced: Activities like exercise, meditation, and certain diets can naturally boost dopamine levels.
What Is a Dopamine Baseline?
Every individual has a ‘standard’ or ‘baseline’ dopamine level, which refers to the amount present when no additional factors are stimulating its release. This baseline represents a delicate balance; having either too much or too little dopamine can lead to health problems.
When our levels align with our baseline, we feel content, motivated, and alert. However, engaging in activities that significantly or rapidly increase dopamine release, sometimes referred to as dopamine peaks, can lead to temporary feelings of elation. Yet, these peaks are often followed by a crash. Such a “crash” can result in feelings of low energy, reduced motivation, and reluctance to take action. Experiencing consistent dopamine peaks or numerous peaks in a short timeframe can elevate our baseline, meaning we need heightened dopamine levels to feel ‘normal’ or content.
Maintaining a steady dopamine level and preserving the baseline is essential for mental health. Too low levels can manifest in symptoms associated with depression, such as a lack of interest in life and diminished motivation. Conversely, continuous pursuit of dopamine-releasing activities, such as too much sugar, nicotine, gaming, sex, social media usage, etc., can overstimulate our dopamine circuits, elevate our baseline, and ultimately lead to feelings of frustration, irritation, and dissatisfaction.
Factors like diet, sleep, stress, and daily habits can influence our dopamine levels and baseline. Fortunately, there are several habits and practices that can naturally and sustainably increase dopamine levels without leading to unhealthy peaks and crashes, promoting a stable baseline and overall well-being.
10 Practices to Manage Dopamine Levels
Healthcare professionals often grapple with demanding schedules, high levels of responsibility, and emotionally charged situations. Over time, these stresses can lead to burnout – a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion that can seriously undermine a professional’s well-being and efficacy in their role. Burnout can manifest in various symptoms, from persistent fatigue and reduced empathy to feelings of cynicism and a decreased sense of drive and motivation. While numerous factors contribute to burnout, one essential element is the regulation of dopamine levels.
When healthcare professionals, or anyone for that matter, consistently push themselves without adequate breaks or engage in habits that cause significant fluctuations in dopamine, they’re more susceptible to feelings of dissatisfaction, fatigue, and burnout.
Below are ten practices that can assist in managing dopamine levels, promoting a sense of well-being and motivation, ultimately helping in the prevention of burnout among healthcare professionals:
- Prioritise Sleep: Sleep is crucial for dopamine regulation. Research has shown lack of sleep can decrease dopamine receptors.
- Regular Physical Activity: Exercise not only boosts it but also increases its receptors in the brain.
- Mindful Caffeine Consumption: Avoiding caffeine late afternoon ensures it doesn’t disrupt our sleep patterns and subsequently our dopamine balance.
- Limit Night-time Screen Exposure: Avoiding bright light and screen time in the evening and during the night helps to not interrupt our sleep cycle and dopamine release.
- Dietary Choices: Consuming tyrosine-rich foods can boost dopamine and certain probiotics have shown potential in increasing its production.
- Morning Sunlight: Getting enough natural light into our eyes, especially early in the morning, helps regulate our circadian rhythms, positively influencing dopamine release and sleep quality.
- Cold Exposure: Whether it’s a cold shower or a plunge in cold water, such experiences can increase dopamine levels naturally and sustainably, without causing a crash.
- Regular Sauna Use: Similarly to cold exposure, sauna, or heat exposure, can increase dopamine levels without causing a spike or crash.
- Mindful Dopamine Release: Being aware of activities that cause dopamine spikes and moderating them can help in maintaining a steady baseline, sometimes called “Dopamine Fasting”.
- Meditation: Mindfulness practices have shown potential in balancing dopamine levels, bringing about a sense of calm and focus.
Which Practices Do Healthcare Professionals Use to Stay Motivated? M3 Pulse Results
Here are the results from October’s M3 Pulse survey, showcasing the top five practices, out of 1899 M3 members, that healthcare professionals utilise to boost their motivation. The results also indicate how many of these professionals recommend these practices to their patients.
As a healthcare professional, do you practise any of these 10 techniques to naturally boost your motivation? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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The M3 Pulse results indicate that among 1899 M3 members, the top five most commonly used practices to manage dopamine levels and maintain motivation as healthcare professionals are: prioritising a minimum of 6-8 hours of sleep per night (75%), engaging in regular exercise (65%), avoiding caffeine after 2pm (39%), refraining from bright light and screen time between 10pm and 4am (33%), and exposing themselves to early morning sunlight for 10 to 30 minutes daily (22%).
Less commonly practiced methods, such as cold and heat exposure, following specific diets, and avoiding peaks have lower adherence, perhaps due to personal preferences or accessibility challenges.
Regarding the recommendation of these practices to patients, a notable 63% of professionals believe in their efficacy and suggest them when appropriate. 24% are more reserved, occasionally recommending these practices, while 12% believe such practices are not suitable for their patients.
Being more aware of how dopamine influences our sense of motivation, moods, and behaviors, as well as how we pursue life, can be empowering. Understanding how to naturally regulate our dopamine levels and dopamine baseline can significantly enhance our well-being.
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