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Written by: Rachel Johansson, Medical Psychology Center Intern, Curry College
Neural pathways in the brain are activated when we respond to stimulus on our digital devices. When we click and scroll through videos, text messages and pictures we experience reward sensations. These intermittent rewards activate reward circuits in the brain, which leads to behaviors that would be categorized as Internet addiction. The behavioral addiction starts to form neurological connections; similar to how opioid addiction is experienced. Internet and smartphone addiction can lead to decreases in social connections and cause issues with emotional regulation. Internet addiction has also shown to increase attention-deficit disorders and distractibility as well as decreasing self-initiative.
Social isolation and perceived loneliness, due to smartphone addiction, impact physical health due to the neuroendocrine affects that are associated with social isolation and loneliness. Being connected to the Internet or a smartphone constantly limits reflection time as well as regeneration. Disconnected time allows for new ideas to develop and provides time for understanding your actions along with the actions of others. A key component of disconnected time is neural regeneration. Being constantly exposed to stress or stimulation with no time for regeneration can lead to illness and neural death. Being exposed to excessive stimulation during development may be harmful to the brain; increased television viewing hours is associated with attentional difficulties.
There are steps that can be taken to address digital addiction. Limiting interruptions throughout your entire day. This includes during work, relaxation, and fun. Turn off notifications and schedule times for checking notifications. Schedule uninterrupted time as well, especially during hours where you are most alert. Turn off all devices when attending social events to help you remain active, present and engaged during the event. Turning limited digital use into a game during social events can be beneficial as well. When out to dinner, stack all digital devices in the middle of the table and the first person to look at their device has to pay for dinner. It is important to give yourself unstructured and disconnected time to allow regeneration and self-reflection to occur (Peper & Harvey, 2018).
Peper, E., & Harvey, R. (2018). Digital addiction: Increased loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
NeuroRegulation, 5(1), 3-8. http://dx.doi.org/10.15540/nr.5.1.3