Marie Kondo, the guru of organization, encourages you to find joy in your work by purging time- wasting activities and de-cluttering your schedule. When you think of time wasters, you likely instinctively seek to limit social media scrolling. In fact, you may look for ways and apps to limit your social media use as well as limit it’s use for the next generation, your children or grandchildren. But, do you know why? A new book, Brain Wash, by father and son team, Drs. Perlmutter presents research findings that describe the impact of social media scrolling on the brain.
Central to the impact of social media scrolling on the brain is the concept that the brain changes daily with what you do or don’t do. This concept of daily change is called neuroplasticity. There’s a lot of literature on how you can positively change your brain, especially to counteract age or injury. It’s important information to know, for your mental health, that an increase in social media use can increase feelings of loneliness and depression and make you less empathetic towards others. A study by the University of Michigan, begun in 2000, surveys students yearly. Results have shown an increase in narcissism and a decrease in empathy. The authors, medical doctors, linked these findings to brain imaging findings showing a weakened connection between the amygdala and the frontal brain. They can explain what the brain images mean and how it explains the University of Michigan’s findings. If this doesn’t matter to you why then scroll down to their tips on increasing joy in your life and move away from spending a lot of time on social media but knowing why the changes take place may give you the leverage you need to limit social media scrolling.
Let me explain, emotions are associated with the mid brain and, specifically, the amygdala. The amygdala (a -mig-dah-la) is known to govern feelings related to being rewarded and being rewarded immediately. The front of the brain is an area that governs self-discipline, problem solving, planning for long term, and creativity. Remember when you graduated from college? You often had to choose to study instead of going to a party in order to pass a final and pass a class. You kept your eye on the final, long-term result of graduation. In essence, the connection between the amygdala and the frontal brain was strong and your frontal brain motivated you to hold out for the long term goal. Each time you made those decisions, the physical pathway and connection between the amygdala and frontal brain strengthened.
The middle part of the brain is what impulsively gets you to say yes to a spur of the moment activity. Dopamine is both a hormone and neurotransmitter that gives you a sense of reward. You get a hit of dopamine, a sense of satisfaction, immediately when your posts are liked or when you like a post. You are strengthening the pathway and connection in your mid brain and when you ignore the frontal brain that may want you to go to bed and get some sleep, it decreases the pathway between the mid brain and the frontal brain. The long term goals no longer interest you and you choose the immediate gratification. You may react impulsively and choose to forego sleep to keep scrolling.
Drs. Perlmutter point out that our culture is currently oriented toward immediate gratification with the popularity of fast food and food delivery businesses like Door Dash and Grub Hub. The consumption of these processed foods are linked to a plethora of illnesses yet you and I may choose the immediate gratification over the long term goal or disease prevention. Your social media use is detrimental to your health when you feel lonely, disconnected, depressed, bloated, and caught up in your own affairs. The key is being mindful of your own emotional state, creating options for yourself as an alternative to time on social media, and making a plan to add the alternatives back into your life. If you need some help with this; Brain Wash, the book, outlines a 10 day program to improve your life. In a nutshell, here it is:
1- Go through your apps as if Marie Kondo is looking over your shoulder. Delete apps that are time wasters, don’t add to your life, and/or don’t give you joy. Think about what technology is irrelevant and what you can limit. Set a goal for yourself for the end of the day or the week. Consider using a screen time tracker like StayFree or turn your phone off when working on a project to get uninterrupted time. Use Time Camp to track the amount of time you dedicate to a project and the knowledge may motivate you to seek uninterrupted segments of time instead of grabbing your phone to look at social media.
2- Set a schedule to practice empathy and gratitude during the day with those with whom you interact on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Start with those individuals with whom you tend to lose patience and imagine you are them. Look through their interactions with you as if you were them. Identify concrete activities you can engage in to express gratitude for what might have been challenging for them. Write down 3 things for which you are grateful at the end of your day.
3- Connect with nature for 10% of your day. Look for ways to increase the percentage per week. Sit outside when writing down your gratitude list, eat outside, take a walk, park father away from your destination, make a walking date (practiced with social distance), walk someone’s pet, participate in a community garden, plant a garden, feed birds, take up a sport, etc.
4- Think about what one thing you can do to improve your diet. Decreasing processed food and incorporate fresh, local seasonal foods. Look for ways to decrease excess sugar and/or eliminate eating sugars after 5 pm. Consider adding quality vitamins to your diet.
5- Beef up your sleep hygiene by stopping caffeine intake after 2 pm, eating at the same time each day, stop drinking liquids after 6 pm, make your room dark and cool, and make it a point to allow yourself time to get 7- 9 hours of sleep a night. Join toni’s “Pause” facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/pausetorest/?source_id=610401932750635 for tips and freebies for information and tips to boost your sleep. Membership is open for summer and will close June 20th.
6- Engage in physical activity and plan how to make it a habit. Invite a friend to participate with you and to hold each other accountable. Start where you’re at and add to it.
7- Incorporate meditation into your day. Start out with any time limit and allow yourself to let thoughts come and go as you focus on deep breathing. There is no right or wrong way. Don’t worry about thinking too much as you do it. Let the thoughts go by like clouds in the sky.
8-Strengthen your social circle via video messages, phone calls, video calls, and/or socially distanced get togethers outside. Choose to see those people who make you laugh and bring you joy.
9- Review the past 9 days and consider what you enjoyed and what did not work out and how you might tweak what did not work out to improve your daily life.
10- Keep on keeping on. Notice and celebrate what you have accomplished in 10 days and make a point to see how you have felt with the changes. Plan and program what worked and what you’d like to continue to do. Make goals for yourself. Express gratitude for being open to trying the changes and for knowing that you are benefiting from the changes. Cheers to you and your strengthened pathway between your amygdala and frontal lobe!
Brain Wash (2020) by David Perlmutter MD, Austin Perlmutter MD, and Kristin Loberg. https://www.changinghands.com/book/9780316453325
Joy At Work: Organizing your professional life (2020) Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein https://www.changinghands.com/book/9780316423328