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Social Media, The Internet, and Your Brain

Drawing of a Brain

Social media has really made an impact since it was first introduced. Last month's blog discussed how social media can create loneliness and depression. This blog will focus more on the changes it (or any overuse of screen time) can make in your brain and how to limit it.

Can social media really change your brain? Absolutely. Let's look at how:

  • 1. When looking at a brain scan of someone who struggles with the amount of time they spend online versus someone who struggles with substance use, the scans both show deterioration in the areas that support emotional regulation, decision making, and problem solving. Both addictions (physical and psychological) activate the brain reward center. (For more information on this, read the study here).

  • It lowers one's ability to tolerate frustration and things that are uncomfortable because it provides instant gratification. Back before the internet or social media existed, when someone wanted to know the answer to something, they had to wait. Now because you can just ask google or alexa, you don't have to wait long.

  • It lowers one's ability to focus. When you are on the internet, you have the ability to have many windows open at once. Let's say you have your favorite social media platform up, your music, your essay or work presentation, your email account, and you are instant messaging. That is a lot for your brain to be doing at once, and yet it is very common for someone to have all of these up at the same time. It can be hard to give your 100% attention to just one of these when you are multitasking (since you are focusing on them all), so it makes it harder for your brain to decipher what is important.

  • It changes your nervous system. Ever heard of something called, "phantom vibrate syndrome?" WebMD actually has an article on it that you can find here. Basically, your brain starts to misread any sensation that feels like a vibration (which is a notification that someone is trying to reach you via text, call, DM, or an update on a social media site) and you believe that your phone is vibrating when it is not.

  • It can disrupt your sleep. Screens emit light that interfere with our melatonin production. Essentially, the light tells our brains it is still time to be up, so it makes it difficult to actually fall asleep.

Now that you have more of an idea of what it can do to your brain, how can you limit it so that the effects are damaging?

  • Schedule time to disconnect. Some people will have a period of time during the day where they turn off their screens. This can help us spend more time with people in front of us or focus on something other than notifications, likes, updates, etc.

  • If it is not important for you to know right away, try waiting to find the answer to your question instead of looking it up right away. Same thing with notifications. If you are not waiting for an important update, what would it be like to feel the notification and wait to look at it?

  • If something is really important for you to accomplish, give yourself a set amount of time that is distraction free to focus on that thing. See if you notice a difference in how much you get done during that time versus how much you would normally get done multitasking in the same amount of time.

  • Make sure you are avoiding screens before bedtime. Some phones also have a blue light filter that can help with your brain's interpretation of sleep versus awake time.

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