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Smartphones & Mental Health

The orienting response is a biological advantage that our ancestors depended on for survival. Any type of auditory and visual change in their environment would immediately trigger a series of physiological reactions that helped them perceive danger in order to survive.

In modern society, technology companies hijack our orienting response, which has been preserved over millions of years, by using push notifications that arrive to us in the form of visual and auditory cues. Whether it be email or social media services, this evolutionary trap typically prompts us to interrupt whatever we are doing to address the notification. Once the notification is opened, a set of neural reward pathways are triggered and dopamine is released in the brain as we see the content that demanded our attention.

As a result of this cycle, many of us become conditioned to respond to notifications immediately, and even preemptively check our devices awaiting new content. This type of usage creates multitasking, which research has shown significantly decreases concentration and performance.4 Furthermore, a recent study has provided evidence that our smartphone usage may also impact our mental health.

San Francisco State University Professors Erik Peper and Richard Harvey evaluated phone usage among 135 students at the university. They discovered that students who exhibited the highest levels of smartphone usage reported significantly higher levels of isolation, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. This may be due to the fact that time spent on social media takes time away from potential face-to-face interactions. Another possibility is that constant stimulation from our devices limits our opportunities for the reflection and regeneration that the mind needs to properly cope with stress. Or it could simply be that perpetual multitasking leaves us feeling unproductive.

Whatever the underlying cause of this correlation may be, we should recognize that our compulsive relationship with our devices is purposefully designed by the corporations that benefit from that behavior. In order to maximize performance as well as long-term mental health, it’s important to be proactive about device usage. This could include turning off app notifications, setting aside specific times to check and respond to social media services, or turning off devices completely during social events.

The key is for each of us to be in control and find the right balance for ourselves, because ultimately, it will be our responsibility to teach future generations how to function effectively in our high-tech society while maintaining strong mental health and wellness habits.

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doTERRA Science blog articles are based on a variety of scientific sources. Many of the referenced studies are preliminary and further research is needed to gain greater understanding of the findings. Some articles offer multiple views on general health topics and are not the official position of doTERRA. Consult your healthcare provider before making changes to diet or exercise.

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