There’s absolutely no denying that social media is fun and stimulating, but could social media be rotting our brains?
Heavy social media users tend to score lower on attention and multitasking tests than others, meaning that this is affecting their ability to remain focused on tasks. This leaves them in a constant state of multitasking, which makes concentration extremely difficult.
Keep reading to find out more about the alarming effects of social media on our brains and why you should seriously consider decreasing your screen time.
How Does Science Explain The Link Between Our Brains & Social media?
When most of us see a crack or heroine addict, we tend to pass judgement and tell ourselves that we could never end up like them. But, what if I told you that most of us are?
The only difference is that we’re addicted to our own form of heroine—social media.
By now you’re probably wondering exactly what is so bad about scrolling through Instagram and Facebook for a couple of hours per day?
Well, statistics show that the majority of people spend between 2-3 hours on their phone each day, and this can have a serious affect on how our brains function over time.
The truth is, social media is highly addictive and it’s designed to be this way.
Constant notifications and the promise of a fresh page of juicy posts drives the rewards system in our brains insane, and we cannot help but wildly switch between apps, craving that next dopamine hit (I’ll get into more detail on dopamine and social media later in this article).
According to Neurogro Brain Fitness Centre, social media’s ability to relentlessly capture our attention is negatively affecting our attention spans and ability to focus.
When heavy social media users were compared to light to moderate users, the heavy users had a noticeable inability to focus attention on tasks and had to exert far more energy than their counterparts in order to do so.
So, this begs the question—are more children, adolescents, and adults’ being diagnosed with ADHD, or is this a growing social media problem?
The Connection Between The Brain, Dopamine, & Social Media
As living beings, one of the most prominent chemicals in our brain is known as dopamine. Otherwise known as the happy chemical, it controls nearly everything we do, specifically our urges for pleasure and instant gratification.
Whenever we see a notification or scroll through a new social media post, our dopamine levels soar, but only temporarily.
Similar to a drug addict seeking their next high, the digital age has us hooked on our next digital fix too, but nobody seems to be talking about it.
In fact, studies of scans comparing social media users and drug addicts showed almost identical brain activity when this dopamine release occurs.
One specific area of the brain that is affected is known as the Ventral Tegmental Area, and this releases a flood of dopamine when it perceives that we have achieved social success.
On the contrary, when it perceives the opposite there is a neurochemical imbalance. So, what does our VPA associate with social success?
Well, a simple like, friend request, or follower on Facebook and Instagram can stimulate this dopamine hit, making us feel incredible.
However, what our brains don’t know is that we’re actually sitting on the couch alone, with nothing but our phone for company. When this happens repeatedly, our brains are being hardwired to rely on false signals as a means of fulfillment.
That said, when we get ignored on social media or only get 6 likes on a new selfie, we feel a genuine hit of sadness and rejection.
Your VPA now perceives this as an actual threat, and this results in you feeling a surge of anxiety, sadness, and loneliness.
According to Psychology Today, the mental cues that the VTA uses to differentiate social status from negative social media experiences are identical to those taking place in our ancestor’s brains when they were kicked out from their tribes and left for dead.
That’s pretty intense stuff! So, you really do have to ask yourself—is my social media addiction really worth all of this mental turmoil?
What Can I Do To Reduce My Social Usage?
If the above information has you feeling more than a little uneasy, then you’re probably wondering what you can do to minimize your social media screen time.
Before I dive into the nitty-gritty, know that this won’t be easy and will take a whole lot of self-control and perseverance. But, I can guarantee that this will be well-worth your time!
Here’s some things that you can do to reduce your screen time and improve your mental health, focus, and relationships:
1. Remove Temptation
You cannot expect to kick your addiction to the curb if you are constantly surrounded by temptation!
One of the best things that you can do is delete the apps off your phone so that they aren’t as easily accessible.
Alternatively, you can turn your notifications off so that you aren’t inundated with tempting pop-ups.
If you aren’t ready to delete the apps, then simply turn your phone off or slip it in your drawer while you complete an important task or meet with a friend.
You should also set yourself limits each day, so only allow yourself a 20-30 minute time frame where you can go on social media and this should be limited to your lunch break or after work only.
Ultimately, when you set boundaries for yourself, you can take control over your social media usage and monitor your hours more accurately. Who knew you used to spend so much time mindlessly scrolling?
2. Replace The Bad With The Good
If you’ve been a social media junkie for years, you can’t expect to simply cut it from your life without replacing it with something else.
That said, the “something else” that you fill your void with needs to be something that adds value to your life and also brings you fulfillment.
For example, instead of heading home and scrolling through social media you could start a new class or join the gym!
You would be amazed at how incredible you feel when you replace toxic habits with positive, engaging ones.
That said, surrounding yourself with real people and learning new things will not only help you grow, but it will also improve your self-esteem and confidence.
3. Treat Social Media As A Luxury Reward
Most of us see social media as an activity that is deeply ingrained to our daily lives. In fact, if we go a few hours without checking our feed we tend to become anxious and reach for our phones!
For example, most of us don’t buy new shoes, clothes, or get our nails done every day. Instead, we do it occasionally as a treat or a reward, ideally when we’ve achieved something or been especially productive.
So, you can think of social media in the exact same way! It should only be used once you have completed a task or had a productive day and as sparingly as possible.
If you haven’t fished that assignment or you’ve been lying in bed all morning scrolling, then shut down those apps and get moving!
Making the choice to reduce your social media usage can be incredibly daunting, especially when it has played such a huge role in your daily life.
While social media is a very popular form of escapism, it’s not good for your mental health, self-esteem, or your ability to focus.
While you don’t necessarily have to delete your social media altogether, it’s certainly a good idea to take a break and prioritize more important things in your life.