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  • Michaela Patel


Updated: Jun 2

a woman sitting alone on a couch with her phone
addiction online

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Do you feel somewhat drained from interacting online? Are you feeling weirdly unsatisfied the longer you stay scrolling? What happens to our brains, and why do we feel a strange combination of unsatisfying emotions the longer we stay hooked?

Little self-awareness can never hurt. Our insight into why we do certain things can in fact greatly help with the control of our impulses.

So why are we so hang up on hanging online?

Wanting to reach for our phones is really the result of our mind's low tolerance for boredom (the faster our brain functions the lower its tolerance and the more it acts on an impulse) seeking some excitement, or desiring a shot of the feel good hormones (serotonine and dopamine) to lift us up from feeling down. Becoming present to our urge to ENGAGE (to receive attention and validation online) is a great start if we are ever to get a grip on what is rightly ours - our life and the time we have left.

What's the deal with the dopamine addiction and what is behind our need to repeatedly reach for our devices besides our boredom?

Similar to animals, we are social creatures whose brains are wired to connect with others. Such connection, if authentic and meaningful (!), has a restoring effect on our psyche. Which, in a nutshell, is why we are drawn to perpetually seeking it. However (and it’s a significant however), we must distinguish between the types of connections that are soothing our brains, calming our bodies, and those having the opposite effect longer term. Unease, irritability, fear, and low mood are some of the side effects of sliding down the rabbit hole of frequently visited platforms where authentic and meaningful connection are hard to encounter. If we don’t become present to the realisation that we may be seeking connection and validation in the wrong places, and don't tackle our inner discomfort by other means, we can very easily become hooked on a vicious cycle of unconsciously distractive and destructive behaviour. Destructive to ourselves and our relationships with anyone we hold dear by diverting our attention away from that which actually deserves it. Getting on the deceitfully more appealing road is easy. Getting off is hard in the same way it’s hard to get off Xanax when hooked on its initial, deceitfully (!) calming effect - the soothing of our inner itch finally being scratched. With our attention away from our body we don’t notice that we are being rubbed raw the longer we stay on…

Are we getting what we have bargained for?

Every single information, coming through a picture, someone’s video idea, or a written opinion leads to the interference with one’s belief system. A clash of a sort, requiring energy for sorting through all the incoming data traffic colliding with our psyche. To which our mind responds by producing new thoughts, and emotions attached to these thoughts. Without a mindfulness practice one isn’t prepared for, nor present to, the inner storm caused.

The information overload, something the human mind isn’t supposed to be dealing with (besides on rare occasions), sends our neural network into frenzy. Our brain responds by pumping out stress hormones - the result of an emotional overwhelm as being exposed to unprecedented amounts of new information 24/7 drowns our bodies and minds in damaging chemicals. Designed only for emergency purposes it sensitises our inner alarm and shapes our future functioning.

Neuroplasticity is surely starting to go wrong for us here...

Our alarm centre is designed to keep us alert in an emergency. But when set off kilter our brains are constantly signalling to our bodies that we are in danger which macro doses our immune system with immunity suppressing chemicals. Also, it sets off our whole nervous systems causing us to experience repetitive trauma from situations that aren’t traumatic under psycho-physiologically balanced circumstances. The sympathetic part becomes disproportionately more active to the parasympathetic one, causing multitude of issues with food digestion, relaxation, and sleep by increasing our baseline arousal (heart and breathing rate, muscle tension). Our inability to truly rest in turn affects our ability to focus, leading to poor concentration and tasks taking much longer, depleting us of energy even further. Our heads full of stuff to digest but we are lacking nutricionally which impacts on our energy levels, immune abd enzymatic systems of our body. Everyday life becomes overwhelming like going to school, to work or a supermarket. No surprise we start to experience panic attacks doing things that didn’t used to cause us problems when our nervous system works overtime! Without restoring our vagus nerve activity to its normal level, we cease to cope with the demands of life, feeling even more alone, disconnected from the reality and our community.

Wasn't connectiong what we were seeking? Do we pay a hefty price for the initial feel good hit?

Like with any drug dependency, one must become present to their mind-body disconnect and the damage presenting itself as an ailment. Anxiousness, panic, extreme and uncotrollable mood swings, sleep loss are the symptoms of the mind's discord alone. The body has its own timeline for symptom management and presentation, showcasing its damage with the delay proportional to our level of dissociation. The mid is well versed in the art of comparmenalisation and conceptualisation to think up an idea of the mind-body separation for the purpose of grasping something larger than itself...

Time online, although information rich, means spending zero time in our physical world - the reality we came of which awaits to welcome us once we resist the temptation to escape. The reality of meaningful, authentic connections, direct eye contact, nurturing touch together with the colours of the outdoors and the smell of nature, the movement of our bodies in sync with our physical environment has been proven to have a long term rebalancing, restorative effect on the wholeness of our Being. It re-connects us to everything around and inside of ourselves - to the deserted worlds longing for us notice them.

You aren't a robot after all! You are an emotional being with your head mostly screwed on, only betrayed by its unconscious behaviour. Knowing yourself implies observing your thoughts and impulses, questioning them with a healthy dose of curiosity.

Define and notice your inner itch. How does it feel? When and where (in the body) are you are feeling it’s unease or tension? Try to take a deep breath when you notice it niggling at you. Deep breathing will activate your vagus nerve which will in turn decrease your level of arousal, hence impulsivity. Notice when you do act on the impulse: How do you feel (and after how long) coming off the screen? Which platforms or apps soothe your itch fast and why that could be? Notice how you feel after a direct interaction vs. an online one. Choose who you socialise with (online or offline). Who and what drains you and recharges you? Could it be that your withdrawal to an online source of attention is a symptom of your self-validation bias resulting in perpetual devaluation/low self-worth? If that’s the case, know that the only way through the pain is leaning into and understanding it. Put your curiosity to productive action! Educate yourself on how low self-worth may be affecting you!

Beware of what you are consuming. By turning the power button off on your device you are literally rebooting your life! Scrolling and searching the web will feed your mind leaving you hungry for more, thinking it’s because you haven’t had enough - the basis for a mindless repetition!

Without becoming aware of a problem and understanding it we have no chance to end a mindless activity. Mindful activity, on the other hand, has its PURPOSE. Next time ask yourself: What is the purpose of me doing this? What am I looking for? Will I actually find it here? Catching yourself caught in an online stream is how you get your power back!

Your mind is like a car. The faster it goes, the more present you need to be to avoid crashing it. And either you drive a Volvo or a Ferrari, you must be aware of its functions. The accelerator and the break, how much are you using them? Can you stop safely whenever you want to? Can you slow down, not just to recharge and refuel, but to notice when your ride is no longer enjoyable?

Thank you for reading. If my article contributed to understanding yourself, please be generous and share it with others.

Copyright © 2023 Michaela Patel


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