Being addicted to your phone can cause anxiety

It might be time to take a break from the screens. A new study has found that being addicted to your phone or the internet can cause an imbalance of chemicals in your brain, which resemble chemical imbalances found in cases of anxiety and depression.

Presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting, the paper explored the physical affects of smartphone and internet addiction on a group of 20 teenagers. When compared with non-addicted teenagers, the brains of those addicted to their technology showed an overabundance of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

GABA is an inhibitive neurotransmitter — meaning it blocks nerve cells from firing. It’s present to a degree in all brains, but too much can have a depressing effect, disturbing the limbic system and causing depression, anxiety and other symptoms associated with addiction.

The participants with the higher GABA levels all reported significantly higher scores in depression, anxiety, insomnia and impulsivity control than the non-addicted group.

But there’s good news: checking your emails and flicking through your Insta feed may not constitute as an addiction. Addiction is defined as excessive use that leads to an impairment of everyday, sleep and relationships.

If tech is causing you to miss out on sleep and social events, there is a solution. The addicted participants in the study underwent cognitive behavioural therapy and anti-addiction therapy, which resulted in decreased and even normalised levels of GABA in their brains.

As a small study, the results certainly give us something to think about when it comes to our reliance on technology. Maybe taking a break from the tech for a while isn’t such a bad idea after all.