It’s common during this time of year in natural medicine to introduce a detoxification process to patients’ regiments. The idea of a detox is to remove substances that are offending your system in a way that deregulates the body’s natural homeostatic nature. Normally I think of inflammatory foods and alcohol to cut out, however the digital detox has been high on my mind lately. Over the last few months, I’ve been researching the impact of screens and social media on our brains and hormonal health. I’m sure it’s no shocker that none of it is positive or helping our brains develop in a forward evolutionary way. Putting “screen time and brain development”, “screen time and cognitive decline” (<—yes, it’s a real thing), “social media and mental health disorders”, and “screen time and sleep patterns” in my research data bank showed a high amount of alarming results.
A lot of this research came about from noticing what happened during my own social media detoxes that I started taking throughout 2020. It also came about from becoming aware of the fact that deleting social media from my phone didn’t stop me from picking it up an insane amount of times per day to look at….nothing. Well, not nothing but basically checking my email incessantly and realizing that West Elm is literally always having a 20% off sale.
So, here’s what I’ve learned:
Over use of our little devices can rewire our brains to look like that of human addicted to drugs. The dopamine hits we receive from “likes”, texts, email “dings”, and general app activity greatly changes the neural circuitry in our brains. And even though devices have made us better at multi tasking, we have actually become worse at follow through and the quality and attention we’re putting into tasks. One study actually found a direct correlation to how badly participants did on a task to how much they used social media platforms. This is because our brains are now addicted to distraction and more specifically, the distraction of checking to see if someone is reaching out to us in some way (aka, external validation), even if we don’t know said person. We have also become addicted to the stimulation of information, immediacy, and sometimes inherent drama of all of it. These fixes are essentially taking us away from the life in front of us, similar to a drug addiction. Social media, in specific, prunes our amygdala (Google this part of the brain if you’re unfamiliar; super fascinating and responsible for fear and anxiety based emotional responses based on conditioning). This pruning of the amygdala makes us more prone to strong impulsive behavior and the gives us the inability to use our prefrontal cortex—our present time reasoning—in situations. Overall, most research suggests that general increased screen time is associated with lowered self-esteem, increased incidence and severity of mental health issues and addictions, slowed learning and acquisition, and an increased risk of premature cognitive decline. It also suggests the correlation between screen time and melatonin imbalances, a hormone that plays pivotal roles in both sleep and healthy menstrual cycles.
So okay okay, you get the picture. I’m not trying to be all doomsday about social media and screen time but I am trying to motivate you to get healthy and in sync with your 3D life. I am thinking about how those of us who are into “wellness” are so quick to eliminate foods to help cleanse our system. If we’re willing to axe dairy and gluten for periods of time because of their potential negative side effects on our health, I’m wondering why the negative outcomes listed above are not talked about as much in our alternative health care paradigm since they seem just as concerning. I don’t know what the equivalent of 4 hours of screen time/day is in dairy consumption, but I’m thinking it’s probably a lot. Maybe we can start to broaden our outlook of what “substances” are and recognize there’s much more than food and alcohol that are deregulating us overall.
Easy detox practices:
Set boundaries on when phones/tablets/computers are out. Make space for a bit upon waking and before going to sleep with no technology, like an uncomfortable amount of space that you can also live with and get used to.
Put a time limit on social media apps and then DO NOT let yourself press “ignore” because you’re an adult and accountability is an important skill.
Acupuncture. No seriously, I’m not just doing a plug here. I’ve been talking with my husband about how much I’m noticing people down regulate with very few needles incorporated into their treatment. Yes, I do think that the right needles are that powerful. But, I also recognize that getting acupuncture is one of the few times people have away from screens and the firehose of information. It gets you quiet, alone, and in sync with your energetic rhythm. It makes you feel sensations in your body that maybe are dulled outside of the treatment room. I’m witnessing that the quiet and the space are part of the medicine we need right now.
Start, restart, delve deeper into a meditation practice. Even 10 minutes a day is helpful to help your brain rest into present time and be intimate with what’s happening in your natural inner and outer landscapes. The more that space becomes comfortable and familiar, the quicker you’ll be able to discern unnecessary noise and recognize deregulation when it occurs.
Enjoy the breeze and the blooming trees. Big hugs.
Bechara A., He Q., Turel O. Brain anatomy alterations associated with Social Networking Site (SNS) addiction. Sci Rep (2017 Mar 23). doi: 10.1038/srep45064
Eikelboom R., Manwell L., Neophytu E. Effects of Excessive Screen Time on Neurodevelopment, Learning, Memory, Mental Health, and Neurodegeneration: a Scoping Review. Int J Ment Health Addiction (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-019-00182-2
Bender A., Elizarosha A., Meshi D. Excessive social media users demonstrate impaired decision making in the Iowa Gambling Task. Journal of Behavioral Addictions (2019 Mar). https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.138.