Social Media: An Addiction That Impacts Your Mental Health

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Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. These are just a few of the most popular social media platforms used in Canada. According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), 74 percent of Canadians spend a minimum of 3-4 hours online per day. While this may not seem so bad, the effects of social media on your mental health suggest otherwise.

Activated Reward Center

The reward center in the brain is a group of neurological structures responsible for positive emotions, motivation, and pleasure. Part of the reward center is the nucleus accumbens; a brain structure that receives correspondence from the ventral tegmental area. The ventral tegmental area is one of the areas of the brain that produces dopamine, a chemical that plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour.

As you scroll through your instagram feed, your brain’s reward center is being activated and dopamine is being released from your brain. In addition, you will feel a higher sense of pleasure when you receive likes and comments on your posts. The more likes and comments you get, the higher your reward. Just like drugs, social scrolling can become addictive which is damaging to your mental well being.

Loss of Sleep

Sleep is important for your physical health as it helps heal heart and blood vessels but it is equally as important for your mental health. Sleep helps with several brain functions, including the way neurons communicate with each other. It is also a way to remove toxins in the brain that build up from when you are awake.

Reading a book before bed used to be a very common practice but books are now replaced with smartphones. You might be thinking that scrolling through your twitter timeline before going to sleep is harmless, but did you know that your smartphone can actually make it harder for you to fall asleep? Studies have found that the blue light emitted from your smartphone reduces melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland and it plays a major role in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin directly affects your sleep cycle which means that a lack of melatonin = lack of sleep.

Phantom Vibration Syndrome

Have you ever felt your phone vibrate even though it wasn’t? If so, you may be suffering from phantom vibration syndrome. Phantom vibration syndrome is a condition where an individual has a false perception that their cell phone is ringing and/or vibrating at a time that it is not. Essentially, when an individual is constantly using their phone or has their phone in their pocket, their nervous system becomes hypersensitive which is why they feel these non-existent vibrations.

Research shows that 9 out of 10 people suffer from Phantom Vibration Syndrome. While this is an alarming number, little research has been done on treating this condition.

Overall, social media is a powerful tool that helps connect people to one another but like most things in life, social media should be used in moderation. Scrolling through Instagram, Facebook and twitter on a daily basis may not seem like a big deal but the number of hours you spend on these apps can have severe effects on your mental health. Be smart by knowing when to put your smartphone down.


Dr. M. Arnold Muller

Dr. M. Arnold Muller

Dr. M. Arnold Muller is a licensed School and Clinical Psychologist currently based in Toronto, Ontario, with 31 years of practice experience in two countries. Prior to his time in Canada, he spent the first half of his career in South Africa. Dr. Muller has a Ph.D. with specialization in Psychotherapy from the University of Pretoria, and a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology. He also has a second Masters Degree in Practical Theology from the University of Stellenbosch.

Dr. Muller has worked in many settings including school boards, addiction centres, correctional institutions, the military, churches, and private practices. Spending time in these organizations has allowed him to gain an astounding amount of experience in psychological assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan preparation and application.

Dr. Muller also has training and exposure to Neurofeedback Training, Somatic Experiencing, crisis intervention, conflict resolution and managing cultural differences. In his spare time, you can find him hiking, travelling, working on his photography, poetry, and spending time with his family and friends.

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