Dr. Kristin Schaefer-Schiumo| Manhasset NY

I Love My Phone More Than My Husband

I love my phone! I'll admit it, it's hugely helpful both in my work and personal life. And frankly, at times, it's fun! In fact, sometimes I find it to be more soothing than my husband! But, how can that be, as I truly love my husband? Let's look at what's really going on a little more closely......
How many times have you been at an event with your partner and found that you needed to (again) just quickly check your email, scroll through Facebook, or be sure that you missed nothing urgent on the never ending newsfeeds? You think to yourself, "I'll just check once... or twice... or 15 times... what's really the harm?" So you sit down on a chair, or "discreetly" turn away from the group to check your phone for just a second. "This is fine," you think," there's no harm." Think again.
As you sit quietly scrolling or typing away, your brain and emotions become more over-stimulated and excited. Your nervous system shifts into high gear and stays there; if you "slip" into playing games, you find that you now work to survive, collect coins, gather weapons, and protect supplies or land. At the same time, your heart rate increases from an average of 80 to 100 beats per minute and blood pressure raises from a normal 100/70 to 140/90. You are charged, ready to compete, ready to "fight." Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is now flooding your system. Levels of the so-called feel good hormone, dopamine, also are flooding your system and elevating your mood. At this point you feel great; like me, you're probably loving your phone!
But here's part of the problem, the only part of you likely moving is your eyes and thumbs. You are locked into a screen that is sending signals to your brain saying,"this feels great, this is exciting, do this MORE!" If something is exciting and makes us feel good, wouldn't we want to spend more and more time with it? Of course! Unfortunately, this proves true whether it is a husband or a phone!
Now, add to this feel good cocktail the very intense visual stimulation the games, Facebook, or email provide the brain and, before long, the brain adjusts to the heightened stimulation by shutting down parts deemed non-essential. At this point you may be asking, "wait a minute, are you saying that parts of my brain go "offline?" The answer is yes, that is precisely what is happening. Think about it, in the honeymoon phase of relationships we only have eyes for our potential spouse. In this scenario we only have eyes for that which makes us feel good... those darn phones again! Is that so bad, you might ask? Well, if we are disconnected from everything else around us, the answer is absolutely yes. Our brain is being flooded with dopamine, that feel good hormone that is rewarding us for paying attention to the phone but is also rewarding us for ignoring our loved ones!
I suspect some of this is sounding familiar at this point. So, what's happening? Well, as I said before, we are flooded with that feel good hormone dopamine. But, guess what? We are also being flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, those hormones that make us ready to fight or escape. Remove the source, the phone, and you have one aggravated, impulsive wife! But, long after we put the phone away it's effects on us remain. Perhaps, like a husband, we long for that phone... we want to check something on it "just this once." As that feel good dopamine starts to drop, the levels of stress hormones, or cortisol, remain high. This might leave you feeling forgetful, spacing, or even depressed or anxious.
Of course we need the stress response triggered by cortisol for emergencies and for motivation to get things done. But, repeatedly enduring the fight or flight response when no threat is present, such as when we are loving all over our phones, does more harm then good. When the fight or flight response is triggered too often, or too intensely, the brain and the body have difficulty regulating themselves. This leads to a state of chronic stress. Chronic stress also is triggered when there is a mismatch between the fight or flight response and energy expenditure (as is the case when we are playing video games or are otherwise engaged in screen time). The fight or flight response is meant to trigger the expenditure of energy. But this does not occur when we engage with screens. Research currently demonstrates that an increase in the stress response is associated with screen time even among those who exercise on a regular basis. Research also shows that the stress response is induced irrespective of the content of interactive screen time. But, once chronic stress sets in, blood flow is directed away from the higher thinking part of our brain (the frontal cortex) and toward the more primitive areas necessary for survival. This quickly can result in impairment of functioning including difficulty paying attention, managing emotions, maintaining sleep, following directions, tolerating frustration, suppressing impulses, accessing compassion, and completing tasks. In fact, the disruption to sleep alone can explain the challenges to mood, cognition and behaviors associated with screens. When you look at it this way, is it really worth it? How can we truly "love" something that is so dangerous to our physical and emotional health? If my husband hurt me in so many ways, most would say that he was not good for me. And, they would be right. In truth, we need to seek outt and love those who nourish and strengthen us. As for me, I choose my husband!
Any questions, please feel free to reach out to me.