Cell Phone Addiction is Changing Our Brains

We may not even notice we’re doing it, but it has become a primary form of entertainment, information, and now addiction: the mobile device. The word “addiction” is derived from the Latin word, “addico,” which means “to devote or surrender to” or “enslaved by.” Today, it’s seen as a chronic disease that can actually change our brains’ functioning and structure. Without much awareness, we depend on our smart devices and act on that dependency compulsively.

For adolescents, it’s even more of an issue, with 94% of teens going online using a mobile device daily, and 24% of them going online “almost constantly.” According to 2015 Pew Research, 46% of smartphone owners said “they couldn’t live without” their devices. With the usage prevalence, some researchers even consider it to be one of the greatest addictions of the current century.

A team of South Korean researchers have found that kids who used the internet or messed with their phones compulsively experienced an increase in the neurotransmitter, dopamine, to the part of the brain involved in addiction. In other words, dopamine is part of the reward system of the brain, and rewarding behavior can lead to addiction. Dopamine also plays a role in learning and memory, so repeated exposure causes nerve cells to communicate in a way that associates liking something with wanting it, driving us to pursue it.

Behaviors of Cell Phone Addiction

Cell phone addiction can manifest itself in many behaviors, but it’s mostly a combination of some of these.

  • Checking phone in the middle of the night
  • Anxiety at not having the device with you–even if it’s not lost. Or, feeling a drug-like withdrawal
  • Checking phone as many as 900 times a day (addicted)–while the average person checks their phone 110 times a day
  • Sleep deprivation can be a symptom that affects school performance and increases irritability (61% of teens say cell phone use has negative impact on schoolwork)
  • Usage creates family arguments
  • Have less face-to-face interactions/conversations
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Cell phone usage becomes a way to escape stress and reality
  • Constant use, even while doing other things, such as driving and walking (11 teens die every day texting while driving)
  • Experience something called “text neck,” which is chronic strain from looking down
  • Eye strain/blurred vision from focusing on blue light and small screen
  • Decreased neural connectivity, affecting emotional control
  • Experience phantom vibrations, which is when we feel a non-existent cell phone alert
  • There are co-occurring disorders, such as deepening depression with lack of human interaction and increase in anxiety when cell phone is not available
  • Sleeping with phone under pillow (90% of 18-29 year olds sleep with their smartphones)

Setting Smartphone Boundaries

In the end, if it interferes with quality of life, relationships, and career, it’s time to set some restrictions for your teens and/or re-evaluate your own dependence. First, create self-awareness about how much data you’re actually using and then restrict yourself or your children’s data usage. For your kids (and you), designate a time without cell phones or devices. We all need to be brought back down to earth; otherwise, we (especially younger ones) are only going to become dependent upon the dopamine released when using an electronic device. Our brains need fresh air and physical/motor activity for good mental health.

Reward this “tech time-out” with positive reinforcement, and ultimately, be a role model. Show your kids–and even your adult family and friends–that life is good when you put down the phone. Connecting with your surroundings and those around you is just as important as (if not more than) connecting with your friends across the country or reading up on the royal wedding.

Is this easy to do? No.

Is it doable? Yes.

Is it necessary? Absolutely.

SOURCES:

Why Can’t I Get Motivated?

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked the question, “What part of the brain can we tap into for more motivation? Is there a spot that we can focus on?”

That is a hard question to answer, because motivation comes from within; within the mind, body, and spirit. Research shows that both motivation and attention are controlled by the prefrontal cortex, which can be thought of as the “executive center” of the brain.

The prefrontal cortex, which continues to mature into early adulthood, controls functions such as planning, decision making and the ability to delay gratification.

There is a whole chapter on ‘Attention and Motivation’ in The Dana Guide to Brain Health, a great resource for anyone looking for more information, that explains the prefrontal lobe are its role in formulating complex goals and intentions. The authors note that “this means that the human brain is capable of creating models of the world not only as it is, but as we want it to be. The human brain is able to create models of the future. This is called intentionality. But merely creating a model of the future is not enough. We must have the ability to strive to change the world as it is into the world we want it to become. This ability is called motivation. Without motivation, no life challenge of any degree of complexity can successfully be met.”

We use the frontal lobes to set our short and long term goals, as well as to prioritize and keep our attention from being distracted from our goals. There is more to motivation that just setting a goal, as everyone is not goal oriented. Different people get motivated in different ways. For some people, motivation must come through positive reinforcement, such as:

  • Killing them with kindness; showering them with support. A positive brain approach.
  • Treating them with trust and respect.
  • Creating challenges.  Getting them excited!
  • Incentives and rewards.
  • Inspiring them – make them believe in themselves.

Inspiration – stimulating our mind and emotions to a high level of feeling and activity. Many of us can be inspired by the words of great leaders. One that rings especially true for me comes from Gandhi, who said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We may get inspiration from a speech we hear, a story we read, or a simple act of kindness that we see during our daily lives. Poetry moves us in different ways. Music is a powerful vehicle for motivation; just ask anyone who feels the beat of their favorite song fueling them to run that extra lap, or work just a little bit harder the next time they exercise.

For me, motivation occurs on all levels, cognitively, emotionally and spiritually. I want to share this video with you that provided the inspiration for this blog. Just watch it. Texas County Reporter: Blind Quilter It will touch you in a way you didn’t expect.

Go explore your local library, the internet, or even ask your friends and family for sources of inspiration. Find something that rings true for you personally, and use that as your own personal call to arms, as your mantra to spur you forward towards healthy behaviors. However, if you still find yourself saying “none of that works for me, no matter how hard I try” and you feel out of control, you should stop blaming yourself and start wondering. Ask yourself, could there be a medical reason? Is your brain out of balance and not working the way it needs to? Are you depressed?  These are questions that require investigation. If you think you were born that way and can’t change it, you are wrong. You can. Seek the help of a neurologist or neuropsychologist who can provide you with the tools and treatment to help you heal yourself.

You can create positive change in your life!