STOP SCROLLING! Are you wasting your life on social media?
We’re all guilty of it. We may be sat at work, or on the bus or lying in bed, and then it happens: we pick up our phone, and without thinking, tap the icon for our favoured social media platform and start scrolling.
It’s an unconscious pattern we have all been wired by modern society to engage in, constantly. The degrees of addiction are varied, and usually depend on our levels of general wellbeing and contentment with our lives. Social media may offer a temporary escape, a respite from boredom, or a dopamine hit from receiving a new notification. Dopamine release is the same reward we get when we eat nice food, have sex, win a round of poker, or take drugs. Prolonged addiction to this notification-hit can have serious effects on our brain chemistry, as proven in numerous studies:
‘Brain scans of social media addicts are similar to those of drug-dependent brains: There is a clear change in the regions of the brain that control emotions, attention and decision making.’TED
Excessive social media use can also cause us FOMO (‘Fear of Missing Out’), which can lower our sense of wellbeing and lead to further mental health issues, especially if we are already susceptible to anxiety disorders and depression.
So how do we tackle this, as individuals, and as a society? As with managing all addictions, we have to take the journey one step at a time, and remember to be kind to ourselves…
Having awareness of the processes going on inside our heads as we engage with social media is the first step. Asking ‘Am I posting this to get a dopamine hit?’ before we post anything can be useful, or ‘Is this making me feel bad about my own life?’ when we watch our friend’s Instagram story. Thinking about why we are clicking the ‘Twitter’ icon before we click on it – is it because we are bored or anxious or avoiding doing something else? Keeping these questions constantly in mind helps us to avoid pointless doom-scrolling or unconscious social media use, where we may not even realise we have clicked on the app.
Having something to replace social media on your phone, like PDFs of books or instructional videos on YouTube or websites you enjoy reading, is another trick to avoid unconscious scrolling. That way, whenever you are about to succumb to the temptation of a scroll, you can stop yourself and choose to click on something more wholesome instead.
We are spending up to three hours per day looking at our phone screens. Most of this time we may not even notice what we are doing – we’ve all had the experience of sitting in the pub with a friend only to have the conversation abruptly cut short as they reach for their phone and start mindlessly scrolling or messaging instead of being present where they are. It’s not just an unhealthy habit for ourselves; it can affect the people around us. Helpfully, there are now a multitude of apps you can download that will monitor exactly how much time you are using social media and send you alerts once you have reached your daily limit. This will remind you to stay present, and put the time you are spending on these apps to good use.
Clarify your intentions
Not all social media use is bad. Write down the positive reasons you choose to engage with your chosen platforms and how they benefit your life. ‘Seeing what my friends are up to’ is not a valid reason, because it has vaguely negative undertones, and often results in you comparing your sad night in on the sofa with their thrilling evening of dancing and fire-eating and meeting Drake at a party or whatever (if you haven’t seen the Atlanta episode ‘Champagne Papi’, stop reading and go and watch it right now).
Valid reasons for using social media may include; ‘Promoting my work’, ‘Networking with other creative people in my field’, ‘Keeping up to date with events happening in my city’ or ‘Staying in touch with friends/family members that I probably wouldn’t speak to if it weren’t for Facebook’. Notice how each of these reasons has the potential for a positive outcome in the ‘real world’ and is unlikely to feel like a waste of time in the long run? Once you have written these down – four or five main reasons is fine – just keep them in mind, or on a note in your phone, or scribbled on a piece of paper on your desk. Your social media boundaries will be easier to enforce if you have made clear your reasons for being there.
Don’t engage with negativity
Anyone who has used Twitter will be aware of its dark, toxic underbelly, the racist replies and sexist abuse and targeted harassment. It’s natural to feel angry when you are exposed to the evils of humanity with such immediacy, whether the abuse is aimed directly at you or at someone else. It’s also natural to want to take direct action against what you have seen, to tell the poster that they are wrong, to stand up for your people.
But here’s the thing: by engaging with these toxic accounts, you are giving them exactly what they want. They are looking to provoke a reaction. They are looking to spread hatred, and by replying or (even worse) retweeting their bigoted opinions with your own comment, you’re essentially promoting them by boosting their ranking in the algorithm.
Instead of engaging with this behaviour, just report it and block the user. Twitter and Facebook have made it very simple to report damaging or abusive tweets. Doing this benefits you, because you get the satisfaction of taking action against the poster without getting personally involved in the exchange (or wasting an evening arguing with an American flag avatar), and it benefits social media, because you are contributing to making it a safer, kinder and more inclusive place.
Remember to live!
Your social media presence should be a sidebar to your life, not the other way around. Don’t live to post; go out and have real experiences, talk to people and practice having gratitude for your mind and body and life. You have the choice to focus on something other than your timeline, to concentrate on the things that make you feel good in the present. All it takes is the will to do it.