In Eleanor Asma’s “For the Health of It” column, she will take a detailed look at different topic each week affecting either the mental or physical health of teens at Lake Forest High School.
Please take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:
Do you think you spend 2 or more hours on your phone every day?
Can you go a long time without feeling anxious and needing to check your phone?
If you left your phone at home, would you panic?
If you have answered yes to any of the previous questions, then pay close attention.
Over and over again we hear older generations scorning us about how we are ‘addicted’ to our phones. However, the reality of the situation is that we truly are addicted, despite the eye rolls, and it’s not just because we like to scroll through our Instagram feed whenever we’re bored. Chemical reactions are constantly occurring in your brain when you receive likes on your posts or beat the next level in your ongoing game of Candy Crush. This causes you to seek the rush games and apps are designed to give and leaves you on the hook for more screen time.
Things like texts, emails, games, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter are all are designed to create these things called compulsion loops. A compulsion loop can be described as, “a habitual, designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward: a feeling of pleasure and/or a relief from pain.” This concept of a compulsion loop, originated in 2001 by John Hopson of the gaming world, has since become a popular strategy of game creators today. This loop abides by the sciences of basic neurochemistry and psychobiology–the biological foundations of behavior, and emotions–to create a response in your brain that releases dopamine. Those small releases of dopamine, a feel-good chemical in your brain, cause you to repeat the actions you took in order to re-experience the satisfaction.
This same loop can be seen in those who become addicted to nicotine. Our brains are hardwired to seek these rushes of dopamine and happiness, ultimately causing us to form a dependence and fear of separation from these ‘substances.’
A variety of terms have been established to further enforce the side effects of these phone addictions, such as Nomophobia (the fear of being without a mobile phone), Phantom Phone Vibrations (the sensation where you think your phone is vibrating but it’s not), Technostress (the inability to manage technology in a healthy manner), and of course, FOMO (the fear of missing out).
There are a variety of brainwaves which constantly occur, and Alpha rays in particular are a contributor to the connections we have formed with our phones. Alpha rhythms are a pattern of slow brainwaves that are commonly associated with a restful, yet alert mind. For example, when you are listening to a lecture in class and your mind begins to wander, you’re still (at times) awake and responsive. This is a prime example of when alpha rhythm frequencies are increased in your brain. Studies have shown that when signals from your phone are transmitted, like on a phone call, for example, the alpha rhythms are significantly increased, causing your brain to relax.
Hacking your way out of this tempting and mindless habit can be started with a few simple steps for those who are willing. For starters, turn off push notifications for apps like Snapchat and Instagram so that your phone does not steal your attention every two minutes. Deleting an app for a day can sometimes be difficult. However, many find a great sense of relief from the stress-inducing social media apps that we feel obligated to keep up with for no particular reason. If you are with your friends, family, or any group of people that silently sit next to one another with their phones in their faces, try piling up the technology and making a phone jail. Yes, it may seem cheesy, but it works. You’ll get more satisfaction engaging with the people you’re with than you ever will from refreshing your feed over and over again. Lastly, download the app Moment, and get a reality check about your screen time.
As the saying goes, “the first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.” So, be honest with yourself and truly consider the impact that your screens are having on you, your relationships, emotions, focus, and ability to appreciate the things and people that are one glance away from your screen.