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Good News! Music Can Help Your Brain Recover From Too Much Screen Time

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How Music Can Help Your Brain Recover From Too Much Screen Time

“Unplugged” — MTV coined the term in 1989, when their hit series, "MTV Unplugged," first began showcasing artists playing their hits in front of a live, using only acoustic instruments.

In the music world, “unplugged” came to refer to "music that would usually be played on electrified instruments (such as an electric guitar or synthesizer) but is rendered instead on instruments that can be played without electricity, for example acoustic guitar or traditional piano, although a microphone is still used."

More recently, people began using the term "unplugged" to announce when they’ve shut down their and/or their family’s electronic devices: including tablets, smart phones, TVs, computers, gaming consoles, etc.

Sadly, only a small percentage of parents say they make their kids unplug regularly to reduce screen time, and many adults don’t have the self-discipline to make it happen for themselves.

We increase our own lack of impulse control by caving, checking our notifications and responding to pings like we’re all Pavlov’s dogs. Our neuronal pathways then stay in urgent mode as we try to do something simple that's now become foreign to us.

Does reading a real paperback book sound relaxing? Nope, not anymore. Now we go nuts with so much calm!

Work culture in the United States supports these unhealthy screen habits.

In fact, the U.S. earned the title of the Most Overworked Developed Nation in The World, and our brains run to keep up with the demanding pace and expectations.

Seemingly generous phrases like, “Take as much time off as you need,” are coupled with qualifiers such as, “Just be sure you get your projects done on time.”

RELATED: Screen Time Is Making Your Kids Moody And Insane

There’s already way too much screen time at work, but when we’re home, the work continues as we remain plugged in.

Scroll, swipe, click, search — these actions produce dopamine “hits” in our over-screened, somewhat compromised brains. We feel "happy" when we’re on our screens, and anxious when we stop for a break. The hyper-stimulation of our brains’ pleasure and reward circuits results in cravings for more as what feels good about the dopamine surge fades rapidly to anxiety — the sign of an overstimulated reward system.

Some in corporate management have taken it on themselves to be the “parents” of their over-screened employee children.

San Francisco start-up, Front App, has an incentive for its employees. They pay employees $200 for reducing their screen time to less than 14 hours a week, or an average of two hours a day.

Employees who reduce their screen time tend to be more present and focused; make more efficient use of their strategic thinking and problem-solving skills; and become more engaged in teamwork.

It’s easy to be in denial about the brain harm of too much screen time, as the mirror only shows changes we can see.

But there are negative effects screen time may have on your brain that you can’t see, including:

1. Loss of volume in gray matter

As we spend more time Googling, YouTubing, shopping and gaming, our important frontal lobe, which, as explained by Victoria L. Dunckley M.D., "governs executive functions such as planning, prioritizing, organizing and impulse control,"

Another finding "of particular concern," she continues, "was damage to an area known is the insula, which is involved in our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion."

Essentially, “I’m really mad about what you did,” gets replaced with, “You're pissing me off!"

2. Loss of integrity in white matter

As reported by CNN, the results of one study "showed that children who used more than the AAP's recommended amount of screen time, of an hour a day without parental interaction, had more disorganized, underdeveloped white matter throughout the brain."

Dunckley further states that “spotty” white matter "translates into loss of communication within the brain, including connections to and from various lobes of the same hemisphere, links between the right and left hemispheres, and paths between higher (cognitive) and lower (emotional and survival) brain centers."

You may think you have a migraine when you don’t. You may perceive high heat from a merely warm surface. The messaging becomes erratic, delayed and/or inaccurate.

3. Frontal lobe damage may occur

This part of the brain undergoes massive changes from puberty until our mid-twenties. It's awesome duty is to determine success in virtually every area of life, including our sense of personal satisfaction in relation to our school, work, and relationship skills.

Even minor damage from too much screen time may add up over time, resulting in bigger problems that land on a slippery slope of decline once we reach the age of about 45 to 50.

RELATED: The Psychological Reason Your Kids Love Fortnite — Plus 7 Tips For Dealing With Video Game 'Addiction'

So how can you take back leadership over your own well-being, specifically over the well-being of your over-screen timed brain? And how can you maintain interest in making such a big lifestyle change when other attempts at creating healthy habits — like giving up sugar, alcohol, or getting back to the gym — have failed?

The answer to reversing the negative effects resulting from screen time is listening to music.

Listen attentively, and listen daily.

Chances are you're already listening to music in some ways. You just have to tweak a few details to generate its helpfulness for your brain.

The brain's relationship wiith music takes little effort. Music is a primal form of communication; so we naturally respond and react to it. Through music, emotion is expressed, stories are told; and trust, empathy, and compassion are inspired. As we listen again and again, these features become more deeply retained. Our neuronal pathways etch music’s meaning, physical and emotional feelings, and memory. Listening to music adds more glue with each play.

By contrast, these gains are lost through too much screen time and other non-verbal cues our brain receives in the online world.

Give yourself a daily dose of dedicated music-listening without any simultaneous multi-tasking.

In case you need a parenting incentive to continue, here’s another fact to consider: your kids are concerned about you and how much screen time you're getting!

In 2018, Pew Research Center published the findings of a survey in which 51% of teens between the ages of 13 to 17 said they "often or sometimes find their parent or caregiver to be distracted by their own cellphone when they are trying to have a conversation with them."

The message here is louder than the screaming fans at a Beyonce concert: Be proactive!

Start helping your over-screened brain now. It will help improve every aspect of your life, including your family interaction.

The good news is that you don’t need to spend money on a trainer, and you already have the equipment and ability you need. Music is likely already part of your daily lifestyle. We often hear of people dropping their fitness routines. Ever hear of someone dropping their music habit?

RELATED: 7 Cool Ways Music Improves Your Mood And Makes Your Life Better

Carve out a piece of each day to listen to music without any other distractions in order to help your brain and the rest of the whole you — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Here are 6 ways listening to music benefits the human brain and helps reverse the effects of excessive screen time:

1. It stimulates sustainable dopamine release

Remember the dopamine release caused by fast-paced screen time? The dopamine released when you listen to music is on the healthier side of the scale; as it has sustainability.

It’s a lush, manageable experience, similar to eating good food, having fulfilling sex, and taking a long walk on the beach. It comes minus the high-surge features that demand a "seeking" brain response, giving joy and elation over a prolonged time period instead.

It also adds an enhanced playback feature to our memory of the aforementioned food, sex, and walk on the beach, which brings us happiness again through simple memory recall.

2. It stirs hopeful anticipation for the future

Our human survival is based on how we reflect and recap the past and look forward to or predict our future. Listening to music directly triggers this brain function.

3. It improves immune system function

Research has shown that singing for an hour can reduce levels of adrenaline and cortisol, hormones known to play an important role in our immune system and which help us fight stress.

Further, when scientists at the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London measured levels of cytokines — compounds which "travel all around the body to help immune cells communicate with each other" — in study participants' blood before and after singing for an hour, they found the practice had a positive impact,

"Singing increased the levels of several different cytokines," reports the irish Times, "suggesting that music can indeed boost the immune system."

4. It stimulates the production of oxytocin

The stimulation of this and other endorphins can lift your mood, increase your focus, and enhance your productivity.

This is why music is used in the treatment of premature babies and people with chronic illnesses like depression and Parkinson’s disease. It’s a readily-available "medication."

5. It improves stress management

When you incorporate rituals like relaxation techniques, imagining and deep breathing into your listening routine, you have multiple stress-reduction tools at your immediate grasp.

6. It increases your gray matter

Your brain’s gray matter matters! Singing along, dancing around the room and becoming a percussionist while you are listening to music can create lots of small positive changes over time. Want a more significant increase in gray matter to compensate for too much screen time? Go one step further and learn how to play an instrument so you can make music yourself!

Everything we do follows its own neuronal pathway in our brain, for better or worse.

The way we get positive behaviors to stick is not by fighting the destructive ones already there, but by giving our energy to those which will optimize life happiness.

It’s about rewarding what works; instead of rewarding what’s broken. It’s about hearing our internal song of what’s possible, instead of chanting internal negative self-talk.

So get your music-listening mojo on!

Then replay Bjork’s “The Hunter” or Bowie’s “Oh You Pretty Things” inside your head.

Remember how you danced around the kitchen to Lizzo’s “Juice” with your tweens.

Once you get used to the joys of regularly unplugging, you’ll be able to plug-in to the happiest parts of life that were there all along, just waiting for you to lead.

RELATED: Why Waking Up To Love Songs And Upbeat Music Can Entirely Make (Or Break) Your Day

Paula-Jo Husack, MA, LMFT, CGP, is an EMDR certified counselor, coach, and licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and online. She has 20-plus years experience helping clients globally with the full range of life issues and stressors, including addiction/recovery, anxiety, depression, stress, optimal performance and trauma. Visit her website www.leadlifenow.com or her LeadLifeNow Facebook page for more information.