Can You Have Too Much Wellness?

Too much wellness can be a real problem. If you always feel like you haven’t done enough, you create stress that burdens your body. You undermine the well-being you seek if you constantly berate your diet and exercise choices. You are better off celebrating your healthy lifestyle choices instead.

“But I haven’t done enough!” you may say. This conundrum is real. Goals stimulate the joy of dopamine as you see yourself approaching them. But if you set the goal so high that you anticipate failure, you miss out on the dopamine and release cortisol, the stress hormone, instead.

This is how people people get “addicted” to wellness. Goal-setting feels great at first. But your quest for more of that good feeling leads to bad feelings as you endlessly increase your diet or exercise regime.

If you never feel satisfied with your accomplishments, you train your brain to expect failure rather than reward. The solution is to set a realistic goal and then feel satisfied with your efforts.

Few of us are in the habit of feeling satisfied, alas. Feeling satisfied is not what got you where you are. You fear a resurgence of bad habits if you feel satisfied. So you focus on the shortcomings of your choices, and deprive yourself of the great feeling of dopamine.

Our brain is not designed to make you feel good all the time. Happy chemicals evolved to reward you for steps that meet survival needs. These chemicals are quickly metabolized, so you always have to do more to get more. This is why people get addicted to diet, exercise, and many worse things.

The problem is that the brain quickly habituates to what you have. For example, water makes you happy in a desert but it won’t make you happy right now. It takes something new and improved to trigger your reward chemicals. If restricting your diet feels good, more restrictions are needed to keep feeling it. If exercise felt good when it was new, you may try to recapture that feeling with more and more exercise.

When your happy chemicals dip, you are suddenly aware of your unhappy chemicals. Our brain is designed to scan constantly for potential threats. Of course we are threatened as long as we’re alive, so we can end up with a lot of threat chemicals. This is why we’re so eager for anything that relieves threatened feelings. Your wellness efforts may relieve threatened feelings, which is why they’re so important to you. But the more you turn to them for comfort, the more your natural threat-detector looks for their flaws.

You want your wellness efforts to relieve your stress, not add to it. So it’s important to focus on your accomplishments instead of on what you woulda-coulda-shoulda done.

You may think you will slide into bad habits if you do that. You may think you must constantly berate or deprive yourself in order to be safe. But that thought is just a habit. It’s an old pathway in your brain that you can replace with a new pathway.

A new pathway builds when you feed your brain new experiences repeatedly. If you celebrate your healthy choices for thirty seconds every day for 45 days, you will build a pathway that celebrates good choices. Then you will be able to feel good and still make good choices.

This feels awkward at first. You’re not used to feeling satisfied with yourself. The words “self-satisfied” have even become an insult! It takes courage to work past these negative associations, but you can invest thirty seconds. You have the rest of the day to criticize yourself if you want.

When you learn to applaud your healthy choices, you will finally enjoy the deeper sense of wellness that you seek. To learn more about Loretta and the Inner Mammal Institute, visit

4/16/2024 4:00:00 AM
Loretta Breuning
Written by Loretta Breuning
Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD is founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and author of Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain your brain to boost your serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphin levels. Her work has been featured on Forbes, NPR, Psychology Today, and a wide range of podcasts. The Inner Mammal Institute offers f...
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Thanks for this today Dr.Breunig,
I've met my weight loss goals and wonder if I should try to lose another 5 pounds.
But with this understanding, I'll create fitness goals instead to keep earning my dopamine.
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