Fangirl Dilemma: Sophia’s question
December 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
How does fangirling incorporate anxiety?
Sophia, I had to write an entire book to answer this question (coming soon!). But to give you a concise but worthy answer, I’m going to be pulling truths from Robert Sapolsky’s fantastic book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. (A great Christmas present for the neurotics in your life who need to know why freaking out all the time is going to destroy them.)
Fangirls chase after stress.
The thing about anxiety, or stress, is that we always assume it’s bad news. But the reality is that just the right amount of stress is delightful. It feels fucking amazing. We wouldn’t watch scary movies or bungee jump if it didn’t. So as fangirls, we are constantly chasing that right amount of stress, that perfect roller coaster of plot or sky dive into OTP feels that keep us happy.
Fangirling is about the anticipation, not the reward.
Think about your favorite fanfic. What are the moments where you feel the biggest high? Usually they’re the ones right before something happens that makes you hide your little head in your sweatshirt. That’s because in our brains, the biggest bursts of dopamine occur before the reward. And this of course, fuels us to keep reading, or keep watching. This anticipation pumps oxygen and glucose even faster to your brain, which is why you often feel as high as a kite the day your favorite show comes back on the air.
We can’t keep track of our dopamine reserves.
When some people finish a great movie or an episode on Netflix, their dopamine levels drop back to normal. But sometimes when a fangirl reads the last sentence of a fic, the reserves in her brain have lost count and dip just a tiny bit below normal. She might even experience sadness or irritability. So what does she do? She seeks out an even greater level of stimulus to achieve the soaring heights of squee. This is called habituation (aka the reason why I could eventually go from only watching 3 Breaking Bad episodes in a row to watching 6).
We become less sensitive to our obsessions.
If you bombard your dopamine receptors with Google alerts, fanfiction, gifs, and filmography, they have to compensate, and they do this by becoming less sensitive to the addiction. And instead of wanting to check Tumblr, we need to check Tumblr. Our lives depend on it. They become consumed by it.
Our past and present influence this relationship.
Our past experiences and environments, even our time in the womb, influence our susceptibility to hairporn. But the immediate anxieties of day-to-day life also play a role. For example, if a rat is exposed to stress immediately before you give him a giant bowl of cocaine, guess what? He’s going to use more of it. Short-term stressors create increases in dopamine, and then the fangirling releases them in huge, crey-filled amounts.
So Sophia, for better or worse, fangirling is one way our brain responds to anxiety. The trick is to introduce as many other alternatives to dealing with stress, like exercising or being mindful, as the ones we choose through fangirling. So rather than cutting off the feels cold turkey, consider the buffet of coping available to you.
Got a fangirl dilemma or question? Ask here.