People feel shame and guilt about their smartphone and digital addictions, but the truth is we are simply at the mercy of how profoundly technology shapes the human brain. It's understandable why digital dementia" - the loss of cognitive function due to excessive digital use, and "digital ADD" are so common today.
As with many great inventions throughout human history, nobody could have predicted such pervasive neurological consequences of the internet, smartphones, video games, and social media. The human brain is so sensitive to manipulation by these tools that one study showed the mere presence of a smartphone impaired cognitive function in subjects, even though it was turned off!
How digital marketers trick the brain into addiction
Although the endless novelty of technology makes it easy for the stimulus-seeking brain to get hooked, digital addiction has also been engineered for commerce and profit. Boredom, loneliness, sadness, frustration, confusion, indecisiveness - these are inherent to the human condition. However, they are also the bait for digital distraction. Technology's "persuasive designers" use human neurology and psychology - strategies taught at Stanford University in Silicon Valley - to exploit the brain's tendency towards reward- and pleasure-seeking behavior.
Many people are familiar with the rat studies that showed a rat will press the lever that delivers cocaine over the one that delivers food and water all the way to its death. That's how powerful those neurochemical pathways are once activated. You're not getting distracted because you're a weak-willed or lazy person, you're distracted because a relative handful of tech elites have mastered the art of manipulating the human brain - by overriding executive function and appealing to primitive impulses - to hook you and profit them.
How digital ADD leads to digital dementia
Plasticity refers to the brain's ability to create pathways of communication. This is what helps us learn new things and turn conscious actions into automatic habits. The constant and addictive neurological rewards technology offers - notifications, likes, autoplay videos, demanded reciprocity on LinkedIn, Facebook marketing that picks up on insecurity and sells you approval - creates negative plasticity. In other words, these distractions wire our brains to function in new, and unfortunately, worse ways.
Distraction and addiction aren't the only fallouts. Our digital companions also let us download our memory- phone numbers, directions, appointments - thus failing to exercise this vital brain function so that it starts to deteriorate.
Heavy digital use over develops the left side of the brain while neglecting the right side, which is more linked to concentration. Overdevelopment of the left brain at the expense of the right brain can worsen memory and promote depression.
Solutions for tech-addicted brains
We now have entire generations growing up never having known a world without instance digital access. The bad news is research shows the constant use of tech by kids is negatively affecting their brain development. The good news is the creators of the most addictive aspects of technology are themselves alarmed at the neurological and global effects. Many are also parents now and see the damage that can done to the inherently vulnerable brain.
As a result, these pioneers are now voicing concerns about the ethics of digitally addictive features. Tobacco, alcohol, and even opium and cocaine are examples of addictive substances that were once considered benign and beneficial and have since been recognized as risky and destructive. When it comes to easy outs from the daily struggle that fills so many moments of being human, the brain goes for the quickest route to relief.
Functional neurology for addiction recovery support
Although the most obvious solution to outwitting tech addition is to not use it, that is increasingly becoming less realistic. In functional neurology we can support addiction recovery by rehabilitating the areas of the brain involved in compulsion, obsession, concentration, and memory. Ask my office how we can help rehabilitate the tech-addicted brain. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the moment a newborn is placed on its mother's stomach, feels the touch of its parents, and roots and suckles to nurse, the stimulation to the brain from this physical contact is laying the foundation for future brain health and function. In other words, the human brain needs regular healthy touch to develop normally.
Studies show children who are deprived of healthy, loving touch in early life go on to be at greater risk for a number of brain-related disorders, including anxiety, depression, low self-worth, a lower IQ, less empathy, addiction, and mental illness. A greater incidence of general health problems is also a common occurrence.
Functional neurology can help rehab the touch-deprived brain.
Just as we can rehabilitate the brain of a person who has had a stroke or brain injury, so can we rehabilitate the brain of a person who grew up depressed and anxious from lack of health touch in early childhood. Lack of touch, physical violence, and sexual abuse in childhood create pathways in the brain that determine the course of its development, and hence a person's sense of self, emotions, behavior, brain function, and immune function. This leads to certain areas of the brain being under active, while others are over active. We can use functional neurology rehabilitation techniques to activate or dampen different areas as needed. For example, functional neurologists may use eye movements to activate or dampen areas of the brain. Scents, such as an essential oil, can be used to trigger a positive cue to rewire the brain in a healthier direction.
Brain exercises that improve function of the inner ear, or vestibular system and the cerebellum, which both regulate balance, can also help relax and emotionally regulate the hyper vigilant brain of the touch-deprived, anxious individual. These exercises are customized to each person based on how their brain functions.
Everyday ways to rehab the touch-deprived brain.
For instance, consciously practicing generosity can begin to rewire the brain in a healthier way and release dopamine and oxytocin, which can help a person feel better about themselves and those around them. Making time in your schedule to volunteer regularly or to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return is one way to start rewiring your brain. Writing in a gratitude journal for a few minutes once or twice a day is another way to reinforce that.
Retraining how you think is also an important part of this process. Seeing a therapist can help you develop awareness of negative self-talk and strategies to start talking to and thinking about yourself more positively. Positive social support is also vital as the human brain is designed to operate as part of a tribe. Finding a healthy, supportive group of people to get together with regularly will help fill in the gaps created by lack of early healthy touch.
Simply observing others touch and relate to each other in a loving way can activate these under developed and starved areas of the brain. Someone who grew up touch deprived simply may not be able to immediately give and receive non-sexual healthy touch. One way to begin that rehabilitation process is to be in the presence of it so your brain can create a mirroring process for its own neurology.
Get a massage, foot reflexology, and other forms of safe and healthy touch. If you're not in a situation to receive touch from friends or family, investing in a massage can help deliver some of the same benefits.
The suicide of BMX legend Dave Mirra this year has forced an uncomfortable topic to surface - many extreme sport athletes, and the adolescents and weekend warriors they inspire, face a higher risk of long term brain disorders due to repetitive crashes and hits to the head. Suicide rates, for instance, are three times higher in people who have suffered concussions. Other symptoms include mood disorders, bouts of rage, sensitivity to light and sound, fatigue, poor concentration, memory loss, depression, anxiety, impulsiveness, addiction, poor balance, and migraines.
The renegade nature of extreme sports means long term risks of repetitive head injuries are not tracked like they have been in football. From football we have learned that CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head traumas that leads to significant problems later in life. Autopsies of the brains of 94 former professional football players showed 90 of them had CTE.
You don't have to have a concussion to sustain brain injury. And while wearing the best helmet may prevent a skull fracture, it doesn't protect the brain from impact within the skull during a crash after catching big air or face planting on concrete. Twisting, rotation, acceleration, deceleration, and damage to the neck, spine, and inner ear (vestibular system) also impact brain function.
A study analyzing emergency room visits during 10 years saw concussion injuries rising steadily in surfing, mountain biking, motocross, skateboarding, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and skiing. Snowboarding was the most concussive activity.
Not only do these accumulated traumas, both micro and macro, progressively damage the brain, they also foster the development of tau proteins and neurofibrillary tangles, the markers of Alzheimer's disease.
Functional neurology for extreme sports
Functional neurology has treated its fair share of extreme sport athletes. Perhaps one of the bigger tragedies among the sports world is the idea that nothing can be done for head injuries beyond rest. In functional neurology, we know this is far from the case. Not only do we have patient experiences to back this up, but we also have peer reviewed studies on brain inflammation and brain rehabilitation. Brain injuries inflame the brain. However, this inflammation may not turn off, continuing to damage brain tissue like a slow spreading fire.
Some people suffer more than others from brain inflammation due to their diet, food intolerances, hormone imbalances, blood sugar regulation issues, chronic infection, pre-existing brain development disorders (such as ADHD), and so on.
The factors that lead to Alzheimer's disease are the same factors that respond to brain inflammation, which is why it's suggested brain inflammation increases the risk of Alzheimer's.
In functional neurology we assess the chemical environment of the brain - it's nourishment, oxygen, neurotransmitter status, whether dietary or environmental compounds are worsening brain health, and already existing brain development issues.
Also, instead of prescribing blanket treatments for brain injury, we perform thorough examinations to see which areas of the brain are damaged. This includes examining the function of the inner ear, or vestibular system, the fragile system of canals that play a large role in brain function and are easily damaged during impacts. Rehabilitation and nutritional therapy are then customized to target the specific areas of brain compromise.
By quickly addressing brain health after a concussion, a crash, or a series of crashes that seems to have robbed you of "you," you can significantly rehabilitate your brain and dramatically lower your risk of bigger problems in the future, including suicidality and dementia.
As for continuing in extreme sports, that is an individual decision. In the age of GoPro cameras, high-tech gear, viral videos, and fierce competition for few paying gigs, athletes are encouraged to go bigger, faster, and higher with ever increasing risks.
Baseline testing and repeated follow ups will give you a clear indication of whether your lifestyle is damaging your most vital organ. Also, following an anti-inflammatory diet and other brain health lifestyle strategies give the brain its best chances. Ask my office for more advice. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com.