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Is Facebook Messing With Your Gut-Brain Balance?

Sep 18, 2018

In a time where we have access to better technology and medicine than any of our ancestors – why is it that we struggling with more anxiety, depression, and loneliness than ever before?

We literally have the world at our fingertips and yet, it appears the very gadget that offers us unlimited access and communication has paradoxically caused widespread alienation. 

It’s no longer a secret that many of us feel lonely – check out a few recent headlines:

  • Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? 1
  • How Smartphones Are Making Kids Unhappy 2
  • Are Smartphones Causing More Teen Suicides? 3

Professor of psychology at San Diego State University, Jean Twenge says, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen [those born between 1995 and 2012] as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”1


Are We Experiencing ‘Future Shock?’


Arguably, we are collectively experiencing a ‘future shock,’ which is characterized by ‘too much change in too short of a time.’4 Future shock was a term defined by futurist authors Alvin and Heidi Toffler to describe the psychological state of a society marked by incredible overwhelm. This sensory overload is causing our evolutionary biology to short circuit. 

You see, the various parts of our nervous systems evolved during a time when we needed to alternate between the states of ‘fight-or-flight’ and ‘rest-and-digest’ for hunting and survival. What's happening now is we are living in world that is constantly bombarding us with an overwhelming amount of information in the form of traffic, work stress, social media, and more. 

Here’s a quick glance at the different nervous systems at play:

Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – Your PNS is responsible for your ‘rest-and-digest’ responses and helps foster feelings of love, connection, and friendship. 

Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – Your SNS is responsible for your fight-or-flight responses. Your SNS responses should be balanced out by your PNS, but in today’s world the SNS can get stuck in overdrive. 

Enteric nervous system (ENS) – Your ENS consists of over 600 million neurons embedded in the walls of your gastrointestinal tract. It receives information from your gut microbiome as well as you PNS and SNS and sends signals along the vagus nerve. The gut microbiome directly influences the development, function, and activity of the ENS.

All too often what happens today is our SNS is overstimulated and stays switched “on.”


Facebook Keeps You in Fight-or-Flight


So where does Facebook come into all of this? 

Facebook can be a wonderful way to keep in touch with your friends and family. You get to share your life with them on a daily basis through lightening fast multimedia. Photos, videos, GIFs, boomerangs, emojis, and stories have emerged in an attempt to satisfy our desire to communicate more deeply and effectively.  

When you begin to dissect the way in which social media tends to make us feel, science finds that it puts our fight-or-flight responses in overdrive.5 Remember, your fight-or-flight response is created by the sympathetic nervous system, which is influenced by your gut microbiome, enteric nervous system – and vice versa. 

Your whole body is one big circuit board of electrical and chemical communication, and when your SNS and PNS responses aren’t balancing each other as they should be – well, your health is going to pay the price. 

Think about it for a second...

To some degree, we have all experienced the sense of longing that Facebook can create: 

  • Maybe you felt terrible when you saw you weren’t invited to a friend’s birthday dinner.
  • Or you felt isolated with your new baby as you watched your friends go about their lives.
  • Perhaps you’re pining for that car, house, job promotion, or lifestyle of that person who you secretly stalk on Facebook.

These feelings aren’t just anecdotal – Facebook actually fosters feeling of ‘every man for himself,’ which causes perceived isolation and raises stress levels.5,6 Research has found that Facebook use predicts negative shifts in how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives.One study even found that those who use Facebook after stressful events experience inhibited recovery.6

Our daily lives are not in tune with how we evolved. Social media causes feelings of perceived isolation and contributes to sympathetic nervous system dominance. 

When our version of connecting with others is only through a highly curated versions of ourselves, it adds to our feelings of disillusionment and ennui. So, let’s put our phones down more often and interact with the world around us. 





Resources: 


  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/ 
  2. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/08/07/542016165/how-smartphones-are-making-kids-unhappy 
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/24/smartphone-teen-suicide-mental-health-depression 
  4. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/vagus-nerve-survival-guide-combat-fight-or-flight-urges 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23967061 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28279545 


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