29 Oct 2023

BY: Online Therapy

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) / Clinical Psychologist / internet-addiction / Online Counsellor / Online Psychotherapist

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The World Today and our Popcorn Brain

An article by Sara Taveira

In this article, we will cover treating internet addiction online. Clients often ask whether they could have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when they have difficulty sustaining attention when doing everyday tasks or trying to achieve personal goals. They might also mention that they have plenty of energy but seem to remain in a constantly unproductive cycle. Commonly, such clients say that they experience a lack of satisfaction in daily activities and feel that they are achieving little in their lives.

In some cases, therapists could suggest seeking an ADHD diagnosis. Often, however, the symptoms do NOT meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis because the hyperactivity has only been evident in adult life. In such circumstances, it is often not possible to substantiate a diagnosis of ADHD, given that ADHD is a neurophysiological development disorder present since early childhood. On the other hand, the symptoms of concern for Popcorn Brain might have emerged later in life and are inconsistent with ADHD.

To clarify, symptoms such as procrastination, emotional dysregulation or unmanaged anxiety can restrict attention and lead to restlessness and difficulties in maintaining focus. Such symptoms could emerge at any age for several other reasons, such as anxiety or internet addiction. Some clients attempt self-diagnosis using self-help sources such as the Internet, which may add complications in making both a diagnosis and prognosis because these symptoms may not be about ADHD at all.

What is the stimulus that kills our attention?

Did you know that, on average (internationally), adults spend about three hours daily on the Internet? That could equate to a part-time job! Spending this much time online can lead to what David Levy calls the “Popcorn Brain.” According to Levy, an “online life” retrains the brain to speed up the pace. Our “offline real life” takes on a much slower pace. We commonly perceive the slower pace as uninteresting or boring, so we enter a new cycle of looking for new and exciting stimuli. It is easy to understand, right? If you could choose between watching funny 30-second videos one after the other OR reading 320 pages of typescript, which would you choose?

With Popcorn Brain, the ability to be oneself, have no immediate answers, think and resolve becomes increasingly tricky in real life. Notably, a study in China found that the brain structure of young people with Internet addiction disorder compared with young people who used the Internet for less than two hours daily is quite different. Youngsters with Internet addiction were found to have a smaller volume of grey matter in the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain is associated with complex thoughts and personality manifestations.

It seems possible that Internet overuse is killing some of our grey matter and shortening our years of life. Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize winner, invented the term “attention economy”, which states that our attention is valuable enough for companies to willingly go to great lengths to ensure that they hold the public’s attention and consequently people’s intention to consume. As he says, “the wealth of information creates the poverty of attention”. Have you noticed that we have a vast amount of information in contemporary society – but so much less attention? What an irony….

Tips for “cooling down” your brain

Here are some tips to turn off your popcorn brain and keep it focused (for more information on dealing with anxiety, follow this link):

  1. 1. First of all, you need to improve awareness…. Monitor yourself! Keep a record of your online life: record how much time you spend online and when.
  2. 2. Set limits: just like a diet to restrict calories, you can also specify time online: set time windows, for example, allow one hour to do everything online and then go offline.
  3. 3. Off period: set aside a few hours of your day without doing anything online; stick to activities that don’t involve being connected to the Internet.
  4. 4. Practice being present. Look through your window at the street for a few minutes and observe the movement, the elements, the people, and the climate. Just observe!
  5. 5. Look for stimuli for your senses: stimulate your eyes, listen for sounds around you, and try to perceive and distinguish the different scents.
  6. 6. Slow down! Slow down your brain (and your life): find a few moments to do nothing, simply stand and stare, think, journal, daydream, take a long bath, do a puzzle or knit. Try an activity that takes time, does not have to end, and has no time frame, rush, or great stimulus.
  7. 7. Call an acquaintance who may even follow your life online but might not have spoken with you in a long time.

If you need help treating internet addiction online and are looking for good strategies to improve your wellbeing, you are welcome to contact Sara by completing the form below.


    Levy, David M., Daryl L. Nardick, Jeanine W. Turner, and Leanne McWatters (2011). “No Cellphone? No Internet? So Much Less Stress,” Chronicle of Higher Education.
    Yuan K, Qin W, Wang G, Zeng F, Zhao L, Yang X, et al. (2011) Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder.

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