The Addiction No One Talks About
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Over 420 million people are addicted to scrolling and mindlessly consuming social media and streaming content. Technology is a wonderful tool that connects us to others and provides us with information; however, when the use of technology interferes with our interpersonal relationships and hinders our productivity, it is important that we moderate its usage. Let’s take a look at the addiction no one is talking about, and how we can better moderate it.
Understanding the addiction of technology breaks down into four parts:
It puts us in a state of excessive consumption;
It’s frying our dopamine receptors;
It disrupts our ability to engage in critical activities;
It breaks the idea of moderation.
Let’s dive in!
1.) It puts us in a state of excessive consumption
This mindless activity of scrolling through our technology devices, and social media in particular, is one that gives us temporary “pleasure”.
So, why is it that we notoriously go to a place of excessive consumption?
Well, as far as doom scrolling is concerned, we do this because we tell ourselves that we’re “staying informed”. But, there’s something much deeper here.
If we’re struggling with depression, we often look for information that confirms how we feel. For example, if we’re feeling negative, reading negative news simply reinforces how we feel. And if we end up doing this a few times it becomes a habit.
This pattern starts to happen subconsciously, to where we aren’t even aware we’re doing it. This becomes extremely dangerous; when we have those inevitable down moments in life, we pick up our phone and start scrolling without even being aware.
A similar behavior happens when trying to reduce anxiety, where our brain continues on a loop. We pick up our phone in search of finding a way to reduce our anxiety, and end up caught up in scrolling social media, news articles, videos, etc.
So, you may be wondering, “what’s the damage with all of this?”.
It greatly impacts our mindset, as it reinforces negative thoughts and a negative mindset. This inevitably impacts our mental health.
Research has proven time and time again that consuming negative news is linked to greater fear, stress, anxiety, and sadness.
In other words, if we’re someone that is prone to sadness, anxiety, or depression, doom scrolling is like the gravitational pull of the sun — it pulls us in, and then panic starts to set in. Another layer to this is what’s called “crazy-making”, which is when we see conflicting information and our brains struggle to reconcile the information.
In the same vein, what’s the impact of binging content, such as streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, and others alike?
First off, the US is the world’s leader in binge entertainment consumption. And to clarify, “binge consumption” is defined as watching more than three shows or episodes in a row.
Just to bring some context to this — there are over 817 thousand titles on streaming services. And that number continues to grow everyday. The one thing that isn’t growing, though, is the time we have each day.
Some of the negative impacts of this consumption are:
Physical inactivity potentially leading to things like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Research has shown that nonactive sitting has been linked to as much as a 25 percent higher body mass index (BMI).
Social isolation. This binging can become a substitute for companionship. We are naturally social creatures, and engaging with our communities is crucial to our mental health.
Sleep disturbances and poor sleep quality. Research has shown in many cases that sleep helps the brain function properly and supports emotional well-being. It also heals and repairs blood vessels, promotes healthy growth, and maintains a healthy hormonal balance.
A study published back in 2017 suggests that binge frequency — not duration — negatively affects overall sleep quality because it mainly interferes with the ability to "cool down" or shut off the brain.
Because of this, it takes longer for us to fall asleep, which is extremely costly as it interferes with what's known as ‘stages 3 and 4’ of sleep, when our body does most of its restorative and reparative work.
2.) It’s frying our dopamine receptors
This is why most people are addicted to consumption — when we receive a ‘like’, a ‘retweet’, or other notifications, all of these actions trigger our reward system and flood our brains with dopamine.
And here’s what’s so dangerous about this addiction: because it feels wonderful to receive these “rewards”, they act to reinforce our need to satisfy the feeling next time. This is what is called a “dopamine loop”, where we seek out and crave rewards more and more.
Technology overuse is also frying our dopamine receptors, as this consumption is bombarding our mind and nervous system with too much, creating an overload and pushing us to become dependent on social media.
There’s actually evidence that shows that those that have this dependency have an addiction, similar to any other addiction (alcohol, drugs, etc.).
Most people justify this consumption behavior by starting out small - binge-watching a show here and there, or picking up their phone now and again. Slowly over time, they start to find more reasons to engage in the behavior more often, even crossing both consumption methods.
When an ad comes on, they’re picking up their phone to consume more during down time. Eventually, these behaviors and moments start bleeding into the time we could be spending on other things.
It eventually gets to the point where we feel uncomfortable when there’s nothing immediately stimulating in front of us. And this becomes very dangerous because we’re essentially training our brain to expect the dopamine rush whenever there’s not something that immediately demands our attention.
These all lead to constantly needing to jack up our dopamine levels. As the classic saying goes, “What goes up, must come down”.
Think about it this way: if these outlets were truly healthy for us, would platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, or TikTok need to constantly enhance the addictive features?
They are purposefully designed to keep us engaged, which means we take the precious time we do have — which is depleting daily, mind you — in order to come back for another hit, and another after that.
3.) It disrupts our ability to engage in critical activities
The amount of time that goes into social media and binge consumption is mind-blowing.
The average person spends 2 hours and 27 minutes on social media daily, and 3 hours per day watching television. Collectively, that’s 5 hours and 27 minutes every day.
The average person is only up for approximately 16-18 hours per day, which means that roughly 30% of the average person's time awake is spent on mindless consumption and entertainment.
All of this disrupts so many facets of our lives…
Our quality and quantity of sleep is negatively impacted.
We struggle to find motivation and drive.
We struggle to be present.
We struggle to engage in deep work.
We struggle to spend time indulging in meaningful self-care.
We struggle to think creatively.
So, what are some tips that we can leverage to avoid doom scrolling and mindlessly consuming?
Localize the behavior. This means we limit the behavior to a specific time and place. For example, with doom scrolling, let's say you find yourself endlessly scrolling in the morning. Try plugging your phone in on the other side of the room, or leave it in another room completely. This allows you to get your day moving along before you get pulled into that gravitational force.
Use mindfulness. This can be used either during doom scrolling or when consuming content in general. Be mindful of how a particular post or article makes you feel. Be mindful of how you feel after binging content. Observe the sensations in your body, or your mind’s response to an overload of information.
Now, you may be wondering, “how is this helpful?”. When we consciously pay attention to the bad feelings such as anxiety, agitation, or stress, it’s more likely to motivate us to put on the brakes.
Practice what’s called “thought stopping”. This is actually a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique, and it’s normally used for ending obsessive or anxious thoughts. So, when we have difficulty turning off the valve to the flow of our thoughts, imagine a physical stop sign to stop that specific thought. Imagination has a funny way of cutting off that flow of thinking.
How does this translate to binging content? Most of the time when we pick up our phones or turn on the TV, we are doing so out of compulsion, which is something we do automatically with little thought behind the behavior. We can shift these actions consciously through pausing for a moment and being mindful of what we are doing.
Try slowing down the scroll. We humans have a very short attention span. When we scroll quickly, we continue to shorten that length of time. We need a solid attention span to help us concentrate and focus. We need to consciously tell ourselves to pace, not race.
We can also simply check in with ourselves by asking, “what is going to help me feel better in this moment?”. This is an opportunity to seek honesty and break the patterns that normally put us in toxic cycles that inevitably make us feel worse.
4.) It breaks the idea of moderation
Humans aren't meant to be exposed to the amount of stimulation in the modern world that we currently are experiencing.
This is why it’s key that we exercise the virtue of moderation.
See, the underlying reason for stress is going above moderation and urging for more. Moderation is the way of attaining happiness and a healthy life. It helps us to develop important self-regulation.
Moderation means not overdoing things, nor ‘under-doing’ them, either. We need to remind ourselves that we can stay happy as long as there are no corresponding pains.
You may enjoy consuming alcohol. Consuming to enjoy the pleasure of alcohol may be appropriate, depending on who you are. But the moment the alcohol causes pain — in this case a hangover or dangerously losing self-control — is where moderation is broken and disrupted.
We are exposed to this idea by society that, “having more equates to more”, whether it be more physical possessions, more money, more friends, more clothes, more cars, more homes — the list goes on and on.
This perpetuates the dangerous idea of “quantity over quality”.
The whole idea of moderation is to live a life of balance, and avoid any extremities. This means that we start appreciating the things we already possess.
What should matter most to all of us is our inner sense of happiness. Sure, while things like money are important for a sense of security and comfort, it does not directly relate to joy and happiness.
Similar to the effects of filling a void by over-consuming social or streaming services, many people feel as if they aren't the ones in charge of their lives, thinking that they are not able to break away from certain habits.
When we’re buried in our phones and computers, we also increase disconnection and loneliness. It tends to suck us of energy and leave us feeling drained.
Research has shown that limiting our social media consumption to 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being. And there are a number of ways we can ensure that we stop at this 30-minute threshold…
Use an app to track how much time you spend on social or news media apps.
Set timers that limit the time you can spend on each app.
Leave your phone in another room when you go to bed.
Remove apps from your phone.
Turn your phone off altogether.
Now, I want to be clear here: consuming content in itself is not a bad thing. We can learn new things, make friends, and have valuable experiences online.
But the point in all of this is to do it in moderation. We need to be thoughtful around how we’re spending our time online, and for what reasons. We need to make sure we aren’t using social media as a crutch to escape life.
We only have so much time on this planet, so we should be using those moments wisely. We need to learn to strike a balance with the time we’ve been gifted.
There you have it — understanding the addiction no one talks about. I hope the examples and definitions in this guide encourage you take steps toward finding better moderation in your life when it comes to technology consumption.
I’d love to hear from you:
Do you feel that you are currently an “over-consumer” of social media, streaming services, etc.?
How do you feel that finding more moderation in your technology consumption would impact your life?
Have a wonderful week, all.
Much love to you and yours, Scott (@motivatedscott). ❤️
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