We’ve all found ourselves looking at the lives of people we don’t know (and don’t care about) on social media.
Often this is as a result of a deep scrolling session that’s made us tap out of our surroundings and solely fixate on the device in front of us.
Mindless scrolling is particularly bad at the moment, following lockdown, where months at home were spent flicking through phones and endlessly refreshing feeds, simply because there was nothing else to do.
‘Most of the time, we don’t even realise we are mindlessly scrolling as we’re so caught up in our feeds that time passes by very quickly on social media,’ says Ray Sadoun, a mental health and addiction recovery specialist.
‘This is detrimental to our mental health as it can result in hours of wasted time. What’s more, we may be absorbing all sorts of negative information that we didn’t even notice we had read.’
Something that’s recently become known as doomscrolling.
Ray adds that mindless scrolling is different to regular social media use.
‘It’s when you spend an extended length of time on social media with no purpose – rather than actively getting involved with social media (for example, by posting comments or messaging friends) – you are scrolling through your feed without giving it a second thought,’ she continues.
It’s also something that takes place wherever we are – whether it’s on a lunch break at work, commuting, or when relaxing at home.
Dr Rachael Kent, a digital health expert at King’s College London, adds that because we scroll for so many reasons – be it for information, entertainment or to distract and alleviate boredom, stress and anxiety – this can lead to compulsive scrolling.
‘This increased digital consumption throughout every aspect of our life is blurring the mental and physical division between labour and leisure time in the home,’ she explains.
‘In turn, this leads to technology compulsions, digital saturation, and an inability to detach from the “online” world which we habitually scroll through.’
Perhaps the worst part is that we know how detrimental this can be for our mental health, but we continue to do it anyway.
Ultimately, we have to be committed to making the change in order to stop.
For those who want to ditch the toxic digital habit, experts have shared things to keep in mind.
Firstly, admit there’s a problem
As with dealing with any additive behaviour, you firstly need to accept this is a problem. Then start to explore why it’s happening.
Ray comments: ‘You need to become aware that you are mindless scrolling. Each time you pick up your phone, ask yourself why you’re reaching for it and whether you have a positive end goal in mind.
‘Often we pick up our phone as a coping mechanism, so it’s important to check in with yourself and see if there is anything you are trying to solve by scrolling.
‘For example, check that you aren’t hungry, tired, bored, or upset about something. If any of these apply, think of a better way you could address the problem, such as reaching for a healthy snack if you’re hungry or journalling if you’re feeling down.’
This awareness will help you understand the habit more – which is the first step on the road to making a change.
Consider the role of timers – and if they will work for you
We’re all familiar with the screen time function on our phones, but do timers actually help?
‘Any tools, digital or not, which help us critically engage with our digital practices – and highlight where our time is spent on our devices – are useful and draws our attention towards the embedded habitual and compulsive responses to our digital companion,’ says Rachael.
‘However, be conscious that digital screen management tools will still, to an extent, add to your screen time and generate some digital fatigue.’
It’s worth pointing out that timers won’t actually stop the act of mindless scrolling, they’ll simply limit it before it carries on for too long.
If you want to actively stop getting lost in the scroll, there are some other avenues to go down.
Start using your phone for a purpose…
Often we use our phones to kill time – but this simply fuels a mindless scrolling habit.
Instead it’s good to get into a routine of only picking up a phone when you can say exactly why you’re using it.
Rachael adds: ‘Your phone is not your companion, so try and stop picking up your phone as a habit.
‘Decide before you pick up your phone what you’re using it for (e.g. to call a friend, or for dinner inspo).’
… then try to scroll with purpose, too
Yes, it is possible to scroll with purpose, says Ray Sadoun.
‘Sometimes, we want to wind down at the end of a long day and getting updated on the lives of others isn’t always a bad way to do this,’ explains Ray.
‘For example, you may scroll through Facebook and enjoy seeing photos of friends’ holidays or cosy days at home.
‘Another example of scrolling with purpose is when we see an interesting hashtag and we decide to research it, gathering information about the topic.’
The scrolling becomes mindless when we either begin to do it with no clear goal in mind, or when we get wrapped up in it and hours pass without us realising.
Instead if we change our mindset by telling ourselves we are using social media for a particular purpose – such as to see what a friend is up to or to find a product to purchase – then we are engaging with the apps more effectively.
This should change our relationship with them as a result.
Break the habit by creating distance
Interestly, experts say a digital detox sometimes isn’t enough to form healthier long-term habits.
‘You need to physically create boundaries and distance from your devices and use them with specific intention,’ adds Rachael.
This could be by going cold turkey and ditching your device all together for a few days.
‘If your phone or social media is taking over your life you should have a break of at least three days,’ says hypnotherapist and psychologist Aaron Surtees.
‘This is the minimum amount of time that you will feel any form of benefit.’
Alternatively, creating physical distance between you and the phone – such as placing the device in another room when relaxing at home, or leaving it at home or in your bag (with notifications off), when out socialising with family and friends – can also help.
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