The brain is a curious and caring thing
Did you know that when you feel loneliness, your brain tries to balance this out. Seems quite caring actually. How does it do this? The areas in the brain such as the striatum and orbitofrontal cortex are part of the brain’s reward system. These areas encourage you to be on the lookout for a reward, which will help get rid of this feeling of loneliness.
This means you become hypersensitive to cues which will help you get a reward. What kind of a reward? Interestingly it’s the same system that triggers hunger. It was this system that helped keep us alive in prehistoric times by going out to seek food.
In a modern context, feeling lonely can (still) make you hungry. This could be for food. Many people eat as a way of comforting themselves, even though they are not hungry. But it’s not only for food. It's a hunger that demands immediate satisfaction. It could be hunger for social contact. A fitting reward, given the feeling of loneliness. For many people, This is the stage where they reach for their phones. And so get relief from this uncomfortable feeling. For a short time at least.
Is that a problem? In itself not. Phones can be wonderful at connecting us to others.
The problem is if it’s our main source of connection. If we don’t have close connections with others – whom we can turn to when we are not feeling well – then our phone becomes a substitute. This becomes problematic as a dependency on the phone grows as a coping mechanism.
So what can you do? Observing yourself is always a good starting point. Observe yourself when you are feeling lonely. How do you cope with that? What do you typically reach for?
The lockdown periods and overall effects of being more isolated during Covid have made loneliness an issue for many people. And with this I imagine a greater dependency on our phones. Myself included. The trick is reconditioning our brains to connect more closely with people in real life and less so in the virtual online world.
The brain is a curious and caring thing. We just need to watch out to condition it with more good habits than unhealthy ones.
Find out if your phone use is a problem or not with this free tool.