Online vigilance, researchers say, means three things: you’re constantly thinking about the online world, from your Twitter feed to WhatsApp; you’re observing it all the time, with open tabs and a constantly-present phone; and you instantly react to notifications.
But being permanently connected, the scientists found, means you’re more likely to multitask to handle all your info at once. That can overwhelm your brain’s attention centers and make stress skyrocket.
The brain only has so much attention to go around. Multitasking, according to a 2014 study, actually shrinks an area called the anterior cingulate cortex. That shrinkage could make it harder to make snap decisions.
When people permanently dedicate a considerable part of their cognitive resources to online communication going on 'in the back of their mind,' they no longer have sufficient cognitive resources to deal with situational demands and, thus, feel stressed more quickly.
Thinking constantly about being online, even if you’re nowhere near your phone, was the biggest problem. A lot of us live half-online, thinking about the next push notification or who the main character on Twitter is, and science says that strains the brain’s coping capacity.
Tunvarat Pruksachat/Moment/Getty Images
There's no data on whether this stress is permanent, or if it might affect your brain in the long term. But it's a good motivation to take some time out from your online life to reset this thought pattern — at least for a few hours.