What constant distraction does to your brain
How often do you check your phone?
Recent surveys suggest that not only is this the first thing most of us do upon waking, but that we go on to check our phones every eight to 12 minutes throughout the day.
Assuming each distraction takes about five minutes, followed by another five minutes to get back on task, in the space of an eight-hour work day, we interrupt our brains from what we are doing for two hours of those eight. That’s a lot of distraction.
Researchers and mental health professionals are warning us that these persistent distractions have a downside; they have seriously eroded our ability to concentrate, and that’s a big problem.
A 2005 study by London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect on individual productivity. And things have not improved in the 13 years since that study.
- Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.
- Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ.
- For every distraction (phone checking), it can take the brain three to five minutes to get back on track. That’s a lot of time lost from work.
- Frequent distractions create a physiological hyper-alert state that activates adrenaline and cortisol production, which is a stress indicator.
According to psychiatrist Edward Bullmore, author of The Inflamed Mind, asking our brains to switch frequently and rapidly between different activities is harmful to our overall health.
“In the short term,” Bullmore says, “we adapt well to these demands. But in the long term, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol create a physiological hyper-alert state that is always scanning for stimuli, provoking a sense of addiction that is temporarily assuaged by checking in.”
Our brains use adrenaline and cortisol constructively to support us through bursts of intense activity, but according to Bullmore, this backfires when it is over-used. Cortisol can knock out the calming, feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, adversely affecting our sleep and heart rates and making us feel stressed and jittery.
What to do?
According to Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, you can and should break this cycle of constant interruption. “Begin with awareness about what specifically you may be doing to sabotage personal concentration, and then implement steps towards changing your behavior. This means deliberately reducing distractions and being more self-disciplined about your use of social media.”
O’Neil encourages extending brain focus and concentration by finding things to do that engage you for a specified period of time with no distractions. “With practice,” she says, “this becomes easier to accomplish. You can also extend your focus when you want to check in with your phone by adding five more minutes to anything you are engaged in. Anyone can do something for five additional minutes, plus you are re-training your brain to stay on task.”
Brain re-training is what we do at INDY Neurofeedback. The goal of neurofeedback is to transform unhealthy dysregulated brainwave imbalances into normal, healthy, organized patterns. If you are interested in finding out more about how to improve impulsivity, hyper-activity, or poor concentration skills, give us a call.