The internet and social media are increasingly prevalent and have been for a couple of decades.
Teens and young adults around the Western World have never experienced life before the Information Age. We are now living in the invisible and interconnected social network made up of radio waves and Wi-Fi modems.
Every moment of everyday we are plugged into the cloud of information, our every move mapped out, every click is monitored and we become targets for personalised ads that supposedly help us live an easier life.
Long hours we spend on social media entertaining ourselves, but have we ever considered the cost of being constantly stimulated and distracted by dazzling moving pictures on a liquid crystal screen?
The effects of Social Media on your brain
Researches have linked extensive social media use to increased feelings of loneliness and depression and the reason behind their findings is comparison.
Comparison is the thief of joy causing major FOMO for consumers. The University of Pennsylvania conducted a 3-week study with two groups of students. The first group were only allowed 10 minutes of social media per day, while the second group continued their normal usage which was above 3 hours each day.
After three weeks, the participants who limited social media said that they felt less depressed and lonely than people who had no social media limits.
Social media – What causes the addiction?
When you receive an Instagram like your brain fires off the same kind of chemical reaction that is caused by gambling and recreational drugs.
As you receive social media notifications, your brain sends a chemical messenger of dopamine along the reward pathway, which makes you feel good.
When rewards are given randomly, as with a slot machine or positive interaction on social media and checking for the reward is easy, the dopamine-triggering behaviour becomes an addictive habit.
Social media and online media in general are addictive in a certain sense of the word. The companies that run today’s most successful social networking apps and websites work hard on improving and growing the amount of people they can bring onto their platform, alongside maximizing the amount of time a person spends on their platform.
The more time a person spends, the more ads they can run, and the more they’re likely to make a profit off their product. In the end, it’s a matter of business, and any great online platform is built for brutal efficiency when it comes to getting people to stay.
Stress and self-esteem
Social media can be a great tool for good, allowing people to stay in touch despite thousands of miles of distance, communicating at near-instant speeds. It can also be a great tool to engage with communities, receive customer feedback, organize groups and meetups, and more.
However, due to the way social media incentivises an almost voyeuristic look into everyone’s life while incentivising maximum curation and reputation editing, online media often makes a person’s life look much more exciting and alluring than yours – as well as making it look much more exciting and alluring than it really is.
This can severely take advantage of people’s sense of social competitiveness and belonging, often making them feel outclassed, or less attractive.
The people who struggle to maintain a relationship or communicate in person, online media provides the perfect environment to communicate and self-express. While this is a positive thing, it isn’t generally healthy to avoid addressing major issues of social anxiety, especially due to all the negative emotional and physical effects of excessive screen time and online consumption.
The Side Effects
The little dopamine stimulators that we carry around in our pockets can have serious consequences to our health.
According to TED, five to 10 percent of internet users are psychologically addicted and can’t control how much time they spend online.
Brain scans of social media addicts are similar to those of drug-dependent brains: There is a clear change in the regions of the brain that control emotions, attention and decision making.
Social platforms literally rewire and mould your brain for the purpose of immediate rewards – and when those rewards you seek aren’t immediate you experience agitation, stress and low self-esteem.
The reward centres in our brain are most active when we’re talking about ourselves.
In real life, people talk about themselves 30 to 40 percent of the time and social media is all about showing off your life. People talk about themselves a whopping 80 percent of the time!
When a person posts a picture and gets positive social feedback, it stimulates the brain to release dopamine, which again rewards that behaviour and perpetuates the scrolling habit.
Moderation is key
It’s proven and the science is crystal clear, your use of social media alters brain chemistry.
Social media’s highest intention is to connect friends, family and like-minded beings for the purpose of spreading information and sharing experiences.
Social media is not innately destructive, but it can be used in a way that is harmful and it’s up to the user to be aware of it’s down-sides and use it safely.
Like with all things, moderation is key!
The interplay between media exposure and sensitive developmental periods of brain development (age 11-25) may make some beings more susceptible to the consequences that others.
The first step of safe use is to be aware of the side-effects and now since being educated on that matter one can choose to implement scheduled times for checking the gram.
As you take back control by limiting your consumption to specific time/s of the day, that ripple effect of control spreads across all other areas of life.
Find a real life activity of interest that bring you joy to replace the hours of doom-scrolling
You will feel more in control of your life, environment and emotions, plus your executive functions of the brain will increase and so will your focus!