2020 has been a year of many obstacles, hardships, and changes, with most of us counting down the days until 2021. We have turned to our phones now more than ever to escape from the world around us; the boredom we feel, the anxiety and depression we feel and much more. While social media platforms have given us the opportunity to connect with others, find humor, and overall to give us a little boost in our gloomy days, too much can affect our brains in various ways. Our overall screen time has increased immensely, as Facebook reports a 70% rise on both WhatsApp and Instagram since the pandemic began in March. In addition, our own survey on the @sjuhawkchill Instagram showed that 64% of people voted they spent more than four hours a day on social media. While we will not know for years the effect on our brains, some experts have created theories.
Negative Scrolling Cycle
Although many of us looked to social media for positivity and a breath of fresh air, we most likely found ourselves searching for the latest Coronavirus updates or overall just negative news. While it is great to communicate with others, there was a lot of information surrounding the pandemic and the election circulating, causing people to feel even more anxious. This negative scrolling and searching also stimulates your limbic system causing you to possibly feel overwhelmed by the surplus of information thus possibly causing heightened anxiety and depression.
The Effect on Your Brain
While scrolling through social media we are using our visual processing areas which allow us to see, our expressive pathways which encourage us to comment or write captions and our overall attention span. Oftentimes, we scroll and scroll without realizing how much time has passed. Spending time on social media for significant amounts of time can also impact our emotions and how they balance out. Many people are suffering from sadness, anxiety, frustration and boredom during this pandemic, so they turn to social media in order to feel good again or to feel “normal” again. When we are reacting and seeing others posts or communicating with others, we feel joyful. “Joy coincides with the release of dopamine and serotonin in the body,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez Psy.D., a neuropsychologist.
Even though we may feel we get so locked in to our phones, the act of scrolling forces us to pay attention to something for only a few seconds before moving on to the next. This has been proven to actually be damaging to our brains for many years now. In 2015, Microsoft Corp. did a study on human’s attention spans and found it to be a shockingly low eight seconds. Our attention spans have never been this low before however, our social media is changing and we are training ourselves subconsciously when using it.
When you think about the writing or posts we see online, it is clear that people do not dedicate much thought or time into reading and looking at your posts. In order to keep people engaged, posts are encouraged to be interactive, short and usually use bright attention-grabbing colors.
Ways to Break the Scroll
Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist, gives a list of ways we can get our minds back in shape or at least save our brains from continuous damage:
Read a book
By reading a book you are allowing yourself some off-screen time while still being entertained. Leaf argues if you don’t have time for a book, bring one with you at all times. Early for a doctors appointment? Use your book instead of your phone to pass the time. Instead of using your phone and scrolling in hopes to surpass the awkwardness of a room filled with strangers, such as a waiting room, bring a book and stimulate your mind.
Read an article
Think of a topic that interests you and find an article about it, preferably a long one. Some may find reading an article about the newest Kardashian scandal gives them the sense of social media just the lack of interaction with it. It is still filling your brain with the same type of substance you would get from social media however, you are challenging yourself to sit down and read it instead of reading a short caption before continuing scrolling. Challenge yourself while trying to break the scroll, that is the whole purpose.
Go outside (& don’t look at your phone)
Have you ever tried to take your dogs for a walk without bringing your phone? Or maybe just go outside to get some sun without it? It is one of the most freeing things however, many people feel anxious and in a sense, naked without their phones. If that is you, bring your phone with you and put the ringer on high but leave it in your backpack or at least a place out of reach. You can do this at the park, the beach, or even your backyard.
Do your creative thing
We all have even a slight creative side, so it is time to embrace it! Cook, paint, draw, dance, anything to stimulate your mind and imagination without your phones. You never know, it could turn into something more than just an activity and instead, a new opportunity.
Actually do some housework
This doesn’t have to mean clean the whole house top to bottom. This could mean do your laundry without your phone, fix the doorknob, plant some flowers or anything in between. Clean the toilet, your shower, or your mirrors in the house. I guarantee you without your phone in hand, you may be able to knock a lot of chores out in a short amount of time.
Listen to a podcast
While some may find podcasts to be incredibly boring, there are so many I am certain you can find one to spark your interest. Podcasts are a great way to stimulate your brain, focus your attention and even use your imagination.
Turn off your phone while you eat or at least put it away
Instead of checking your social media or text messages during a meal, sit back, relax and enjoy what you are eating, Unless there is an urgent emergency (which usually comes through as a call, not a text) nobody needs a response in the span of a few minutes. Enjoy your food and whoever you are sharing your meal with and relax.
Our brains really control all that we do. They are incredible and we need to protect them as much as possible. Implementing a few of these tricks can help us redirect our minds from the scroll to the physical world we see right through our own eyes.
Take care of your brain and your brain will take care of you.
Joan, R. (2019, June 27). Does Scrolling on Social Media Cause Brain Damage? Retrieved November 08, 2020, from https://medium.com/swlh/does-scrolling-on-social-media-cause-brain-damage-cee0d0dce863
Thorpe, J. (2020, May 14). What Happens To Your Brain When You Scroll Through Social Media For Hours. Retrieved November 08, 2020, from https://www.bustle.com/p/what-happens-to-your-brain-when-you-scroll-through-social-media-for-hours-22883096