It stands to reason that this will have some effects on our mental health. So let’s examine the possible impacts, and ways we can try to reduce the negative effects.
Effects of Multitasking on the Brain
Our brains are not wired to multitask well. When they think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task another very quickly – and this actually comes at a cost because it makes us less efficient.
For one thing, multitasking increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as adrenaline. This can cause brain fog and scrambled thoughts due to overstimulation. The brain gets into a loop of rewarding itself for losing focus and constantly seeking more and more stimulation.
Additionally, we are easily distracted by new things – answering the phone, googling something, checking emails or social media, replying to a message – each of these things feels good to us because they appeal to the novelty and reward seeking part of our brains.
One study showed that if we are trying to focus on a task and a new email comes through, the distraction can reduce our effective IQ by 10 points. The study also showed that the cognitive loss from multitasking is more than the cognitive loss from smoking marijuana.
Other research has shown that learning new information when multitasking causes the new information to go to the wrong part of the brain, making that information harder to remember at a later time.
Also, constantly shifting focus from one thing to another uses oxygenated glucose, which means we burn through that fuel rapidly and are left feeling tired quicker.
Multitasking also requires quick decision-making which can lead to a loss of impulse control. After making a long string of insignificant decisions quickly, we could then end up making a very bad decision about something important.
Stress and Addiction
Before the internet, if you were busy and your phone rang you simply ignored it and the person would have to contact you another time. If they wanted to write to you they had to put in significant effort, and would expect that you wouldn’t receive it for days.
Nowadays, communication is much more demanding. For starters, family, friends, workmates and colleagues have round-the-clock access to us. Also, the ease of communication has caused a decrease in politeness when it comes to what we expect and ask of others. Email seems to make it acceptable to ask things of people that you would never ask in person or by phone.
With mail, you would receive it once a day, and open it when you had the time. Email is continuous, and many of them require immediate action. This interrupts our efficiency and concentration. Also, with mail it could be sorted into personal letters and bills – whereas email is used for everything – creating uncertainty about what the next message will be. Because of this we constantly check our inbox, which can lead to stress and anxiety.
Texting is even worse. You don’t even have to check your inbox – it simply appears on your screen and requires immediate action. Each interaction gives you a little boost of dopamine, leaving you wanting more and more.
Looking at a screen for hours every day can negatively impact the mood. Research showed that adults who looked at a screen for over 6 hours per day were more likely to suffer from depression.
Being constantly connected may actually make us feel disconnected. A lack of real, close relationships leads to loneliness, so as people spend less time investing in real-life relationships and more time in front of a screen, they’re depriving themselves of authentic friendships and connections.
Screen time is also a sedentary activity, and high sedentary levels are linked to higher risk of depression.
The blue light from the screen can trick your brain into thinking it’s still day time, so it doesn’t know when to start winding down.
So what can you do to help control your screen time and avoid the above mentioned risks? In my next blog I’ll give some simple tips you can apply to your daily routine.