We all know that social media can be draining, but who among us hasn’t reached for our cell phone during a work break? After all, a mindless scroll seems like the natural thing to do when you have some downtime — almost like a quick mind reset. Well, according to a new study, screen time of any kind actually exhausts you even further, which totally negates the whole point of taking a break in the first place.
Published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, the study shows that passive screen time comes at a high mental cost. Researchers examined the behavior of college students, who were asked to solve a set of word puzzles. They were allowed to take a break, and those who used that time to look at their phones saw a drastic drop in mental efficiency compared to those who didn’t.
In fact, students who looked at their phones took 19 percent longer to complete puzzles and solved 22 percent fewer problems; those who looked at papers or computers instead during their breaks didn’t see this drop. So, according to this research, it wasn’t the break itself that disrupted their problem-solving abilities, it was specifically the use of cell phones.
So, what is it about our cell phones that disrupt our brains? Social media and other forms of communication obviously play a huge role. “Looking at one’s cell phone will create… a psychological need to check in with other interactions,” the author of the study said. In other words, it’s hard to be mindful when your when your attention is split between apps. What’s more, the current news cycle can be exhausting at times, the comparison trap triggered by social media has proven to be taxing, and let’s not forget that FOMO is real.
And it doesn’t help that as a society, we’ve literally become addicted to our devices. A 2015 study showed that young people who went without their phones exhibited physiological “withdrawal” symptoms, like increased heart rate and blood pressure.
At the end of the day, our cell phones are either in our hands or at the back of our minds at all times (Did that email come through yet? How many likes did that post get? Should I check in with them?). But, as researchers suggest, utilizing our break times with other forms of relaxation, like listening to music, meditating, calling a loved one or taking a walk, can help cut down on our reliance on technology — and boost our mental energy.