Social media or, as the cool kids call it, ‘socials’ has become an integral part of modern day life. It’s where we start and maintain relationships; promote and support businesses; develop hobbies and skills; stalk exes (we’ve all done it don’t worry); make unnecessary purchases and also it’s where we support and damage our mental health. This post also relates to you YouTube rabbit-hole jumpers too, so keep reading.
I’m going to be honest, this post has an ulterior motive. Alongside the usual goal to reach out and help you guys with relevant issues- this post is also an attempt for me to help myself. I’ve been struggling with social media for a few months now and it’s a problem that’s getting gradually worse. I’m spending more and more time mindlessly scrolling, meaning that I’m getting madder and madder at myself. The goal is that by researching and writing about this topic, I get the double benefit of helping you guys and myself to reign in the temptations of social media and restore some real-life balance!
Sidenote: Midway through writing this post, I inspired myself to uninstall Instagram and Facebook for a week! I loved it. It was an immediate relief. I kept the Messenger app to keep in touch with family and friends (remember the goal is to cut the scrollies not communication). I found myself having a lot more time and what time I did spend on the phone was spent doing more productive things like language learning, checking emails, listening to motivational videos. At this point I’m past the one week point and I’m enjoying it so much that, after briefly dipping in, I’m keeping the apps uninstalled for a little longer.
An article from Get the Gloss tells us that the link between the social media scrollies and low mood is very much real and is experienced by a lot of people.
There are a lot of different reasons for why we feel bad when scrolling; it can make us feel more anxious or dependent; it can encourage us to procrastinate for longer; to feel dissociated from real life and to have unreal communicative expectations (like would you usually be chatting to like 5 people while you were in the bath?)
For me, it’s the frustration and guilt attached to wasting time that impacts my mood the most. This is something I struggle with outside of social media too. I get mad at myself for relaxing because I’m convinced it’s ‘wasted time’. I’m slowly but surely coming around to the understanding that rest is essential for effective and efficient productivity. We need rest to achieve our goals and rest can look different for everybody. The issue with the scrollies is that it’s often too much time and it’s not really resting. There are definitely better ways to relax than staring at a reel you’ve already watched six times. Instead of spending hours a day throwing all sorts of needless stimulus at my brain I could be having a nice, tuned-in conversation with my mum or a mindful moment in the garden or even a little creative daydream.
Another reason you might feel bad for scrolling is that you’re introduced to comparisons which make issues like Schadenfreude, jealousy and low self-esteem easier to chink our mental armour. Body image on social media is one of the most-discussed topics, but the comparisons don’t end there. We can feel bad if school friends seem more successful than we are, more attractive, more social, more mindful, more active, more popular or privileged or funny. And until we can get to a place where we find inspiration or indifference from other people’s journeys, we need to distance ourselves from their influence.
You might feel bad about your social media scrollies because, like me, you feel weak. How can I be spending so much time on my phone? How can I be subjecting myself to all of these bad feelings!? Well, we aren’t alone and there’s a biological reason why we do it.
Dr Kojo Sarfo’s blog discusses this:
Susan Weinschenk, a behavioral scientist, blamed the hormone dopamine as the culprit, noting it in her 2012/2 and 2018/3 papers. Dopamine controls an individual’s “pleasure” sensation, which creates a “seeking” behavior in a person. Weinschenk said, “With every photo you scroll through … you are feeding the loop which just makes you want more.”
Even if dopamine wasn’t the main culprit, a study discussed by The Medium, explains that we’d rather feel pain than be alone with our thoughts. (I guess Three Days Grace were right ‘I’d rather feel pain than nothing at a-a-all) . The study cited showed that people would choose an electric shock over time along with their thoughts.
The biological impact that our scrollies have is a reduction in attention span (currently averaging at 8 seconds!), damaged mental health and Caroline Leaf would even go as far to say that it’s causing brain damage!
So, now I’ve absolutely terrified you, and me, let’s look at what we can do to help.
1. Acknowledge the issue
My name is Jess and I’m a scroll-a-holic. Read it with me. My name is … and I’m a scroll-a-holic. Now you’ve read it, say it out loud, then you can shout it and then you can climb up onto the roof and scream it down your street for everyone to hear!
Jokes aside though, it is really important for you to acknowledge that the scrollies are getting a bit out of hand. It’s the same as every other issue; you can’t fix it if you won’t even acknowledge its existence. I know it’s hard. It’s never easy to admit that there’s an ‘unattractice side’ to ourselves, but there is and realising that takes the pressure off perfectionism and helps us to be real with ourselves.
There are times I’ve not fully listened to my mum sometimes because I’ve been scrolling; I haven’t fully appreciated the view on my walks because I’ll be looking at it through a camera lens; I’ve knocked my confidence by uploading a picture and then staring at it until I hate it.
If you’re struggling to acknowledge, I’d recommend facing the facts. Most recent-release phones will have a digital wellbeing area in the settings. You can use this to see how many hours you’re spending on your phone (it’s going to surprise you I promise). If you don’t have digital wellbeing, you can always set a stopwatch for every time you open up your phone. Another great idea is to ask the people around you, the ones that aren’t also scroll-a-holics, if they think you’re spending too much time on your phone. Hearing someone else say it, and the impact it has for them, can be really helpful in raising your awareness.
2. Question it
Once you’re clear that there’s a bit of an issue, don’t just leave it there. Realising and then putting yourself down and beating yourself up won’t solve anything. Instead, reflection on why you think it might be an issue is one of the most valuable things you can do. It’s going to crucial to you beating the scrollies, but more importantly, it’ll help you understand yourself better and make other bad habits easier to break.
So what are these apps doing that’s keeping you coming back? Are you trying to promote a business or skill? Do you enjoy editing photos? The apps might help you to feel connected to people in a safer way. The apps can become a buffer for our fear of rejection, fear of loneliness and fear of discomfort.
If you find yourself scrolling endlessly while messages start to pile up, you aren’t being mean or rude- you’re probably just experiencing digital fatigue. It’s easier to passively absorb videos and pictures of cats than it is to open a message and commit to the expected conversation once someone knows that you’re active. Question that. Are you people pleasing? Do you owe this person an immediate response? Would you talk to this person in real life?
3. Make an informed plan
Reading things like this, getting a strong foundation of WHY you’re stopping the scrollies strengthen the chances of you reducing the negative impact that the scrollies can have.
You can make a plan tailored to your strengths and weaknesses. For me, I found it easier to uninstall the scroll-heavy apps, while keeping open the option to message. I didn’t think that digital cold-turkey would be beneficial for me and would up the risk of me caving completely and binge scrolling. It was also better for me to uninstall the apps completely, for a period of time, than trying to limit my time use because it was so easy to go over my time goal.
What’s your plan?
4. Set your boundaries
Boundaries are essential for a wide-range of lifestyle choices and the reason is that they focus your energy, while cutting off unnecessary energy drains. Everyone will have different boundaries and its important to get to know yourself well-enough to know your boundaries.
Maybe you’ll be like me and uninstall the apps completely, or just one app. Maybe you’ll set yourself a time limit, put your phone on airplane mode for 2 hours a day, or unfollow pages that you binge watch/ make you feel bad. Maybe you’ll set an hour a day aside for a new hobby that takes you away from your phone- can’t be scrolling if you’re playing badminton or you’re out for a walk with your phone tucked up on charge at home.
5. State your plan
Get people to hold you accountable. Tell friends, family, followers you’re plan and, if you’re close enough, the reasons. It makes it more likely that you’ll stick to your plan to avoid disappointed loved ones. It’s also a good idea to let people know if you’re going to disappear off the social media grid so you don’t have people calling you up thinking that you’ve been kidnapped or blocked them for no reason.
6. Give it a go
The last thing you need to do is go for it- you might manage 30 minutes without your phone at first and that’s great. It’s 30 minutes more mindful than yesterday. You aren’t in a rush or in competition with this so go at your own pace and reward every second of your life in reality that you gain back. If you set a goal, like me, for a week without social media don’t worry if you manage one day at first. Dust yourself, enjoy the scroll then go back to stage 1- ask yourself, what can I do to make these changes last?
I’m looking forward to engaging with the world more fully again. I really believe that making this one change will help me to improve my overall mood and mental state. It’s going to help me plunge back into life and experience it with all five senses. I’m removing my virtual buffer, even if it’s just for a few more hours a week, it’s progress and that’s what we’re here to make.
National Geographic on Cybersickness
Get the Gloss on Social Media and Mental Health
Medium on Social Media and Brain Damage
For more ideas on beating the scrollies : https://cultivatewhatmatters.com/blogs/cwm/46-productive-things-to-do-instead-of-scrolling-social-media
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