As we move toward a holiday that should make us grateful (perhaps, giving thanks?) let’s consider one of the biggest reasons why so many people are having problems with anxiety and depression.
We have a brain with chemical messengers that allow each nerve cell to talk to other nerve cells, and those messengers fall into two categories: excitatory and inhibitory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters, like GABA, allow us to choose to feel calm, even in the face of circumstances that could promote anxiety. But it’s important to realize the system has its limits, and the limits are inherited from our ancestors. Our brains are basically pre-wired to assign more importance to events that are potentially dangerous. That means that any news event, any event at all, really anything that we perceive that might be dangerous, is given priority in the brain. The brain will then remember that item, and present it to the consciousness for consideration: should you act? Should you fight or flee? This conversation is also constantly happening in the background known as the subconscious. Things that are happy, things we encounter that are feel-good positives, are not likely to harm us and are relegated to second-tier importance. For eons, this system has kept us alive! But today, it presents a major issue, and that’s what we are going to share about.
The most significant buzzword now is “algorithm”. An algorithm is defined as a set of instructions used to solve a class of specific problems or perform a computation. In this case, the algorithms in question are those that determine what you see when you look at social media or news outlets. Algorithms are one of the building blocks of AI, or artificial intelligence. If an AI were running a social media platform (and it does, to an extent) and it were tasked with increasing user engagement, what would it do? It would test different types of posts or shares, and see which ones get traction and trigger more response from viewers. This is called A/B testing, and is part of machine learning-how an AI learns. It tries option A, then B, then compares, and does more of what works better. It repeats this over and over to refine the answer. What you see when you open your Facebook, Twitter or other social media accounts, is determined by this algorithm. And, it has determined quite accurately that we respond more to content that is negative, divisive, and promotes anger and arguments. This was identified by Facebook staffers, but apparently executives chose to continue with it because it drove more engagement on the platform and therefore more money.
We human beings are uniquely wired to give “priority one” ranking to negative, divisive content. The algorithms that determine what social media shows us have learned this, and are exploiting our neurologic predilections to make us more addicted to content that makes us anxious, angry, and depressed. News outlets have long attempted to exploit this as well, with old adages like “if it bleeds it leads” meaning really gruesome news is front page news.
What should we do about this? The first step is to simply understand it and recognize it for what it is. While it may be important to state your opinions, “take a stand”, and that type of thing, do you want to allow an AI on a social media platform to control your moods, what you focus on, what you devote your energy to? Are you OK with spending endless time reposting negative divisive content instead of engaging in activities that help someone feel better or foster a more constructive society? Or would it be better to focus on your own gifts and talents, and help paint a picture of a better future for all of us…
Yes, it’s important to work on balancing brain chemistry, and we have much information to share about how to improve your GABA levels so you can choose your focus. In fact, you may need to do some things to re-balance your brain, to boost your GABA, in order to even break the addictive stress cycle of social media and news. This is where gut bacteria testing, neurotransmitter testing, and the nutritional/supplement strategies to improve those things comes into play. Contact us if you need help with these!
Remember the brain always gets better at what you use it for the most. If you’re allowing news and media to redirect you toward anger, outrage, negativity-these are the things that your brain will get better at. Training your brain to be excellent at the things that make you miserable and ineffective just might not be the best choice if you’d like to have a happy and constructive life! So pull away from the algorithm, take a walk, think of things to be thankful for, hug a loved one, or pet your dog-your brain will thank you for it!