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My Name Is Dana, and I'm Addicted to Mindless Scrolling

How to survive social media.

Charles Deluvio/Unsplash
Source: Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

As a person in recovery, I know the importance of "The bubble."

"The Bubble" was a concept I first heard from a sober friend and writer, whose podcast, The Bubble Hour helped me stay sane in those early recovery days, and still does. In sobriety, we "bubble up" — we surround ourselves, especially on those triggery days, with a soft place to land. We keep ourselves safe in this bubble by surrounding ourselves with sober tools, friends in recovery, and yes, all those cherished calming things: good books, frothy bubble baths, early nights in bed cocooned away. And maybe, a good movie (or two) on Netflix.

I love this. I love, still, the permission to get in my PJs and go to bed early, with the comforting glow of a House Hunters and probably some chocolate. I get it. We need to dive into our safe place where we can breathe, deeply, and just not be needed or need anything for a few hours.

But somewhere along the way, my bubble sort of ... bulged. Like a pixelated amoeba, the bubble embraced social media, and every night I found myself scrolling through endless videos of people who were on the hunt for just the right sequined shoe for their Zara dress, or of dogs finding the right owner to free them from death row, or someone making a chocolate tort so lovingly that it was basically erotica. I loved it. All those tiny videos, just quick little nips of sparkle or pathos or food porn; it latched onto me and I just kept scrolling. And scrolling.

And scrolling.

The draw of social media

So, when does scrolling become a problem? With me, it seemed to become a sort of secondary addiction. Before I knew what to do about it, I had to understand the draw of social media. To do that, it's important to understand what social media does right.

There are researched mental health boosts from social media. We discount the catharsis of entertainment, but a good laugh or cry (thank you, This is Us) can be healing, especially when shared with another. Social media can inform, enlighten, instruct. We know this. It can allow the body to sit still, to breathe and rest, to find like minds and find some peace in that. And social media during a worldwide pandemic? It's completely necessary. It's a lifeline.

But this is where things get tricky. Most of the good qualities of social media can be flipped. What was once good is now god.

So, what do we do about mindless scrolling?

The first step is not to address what you are accessing on social media, but why. Social media's content (the "what") can be blatantly problematic. It can be incendiary, incorrect, toxic even. Social media is the fast food of screens for the eyes. But, no matter how much we are aware of this, we can get sucked into the scrolling. Why?

For one, social media changes the brain. It can trigger a dopamine hit, which ultimately is unable to be filled. It can engender chronic distraction, wreaking havoc on our peace, our self-control, our priorities. It can take that initial positive attribute of connection and communication, and break it down into isolation and perfectionism in relationships. And, it really feeds my inner addict.

I no longer regarded social media as a tool to help me achieve something: better communication, information, learning, a better headspace. Instead, the device in itself was the end game. It was a numbing blind alley. It didn't expedite. It ended.

Also, I realized that social media was feeding a deeper addiction: my need for certainty. We all want clear answers to how our lives play out, but in my case, my constant scrolling was like trying to find spiritual direction from a Zoltar the Mind Reader carnival game. My anxiety would only increase, as the constant pendulum of ideas and opinions made me dizzy and sad. And empty.

The good news is, emptiness allows for filling.

Finding a middle ground with social media

So, do we need to quit social media altogether, or is there a middle ground? Is it silly to like being "liked?" How many cat videos viewed is one too many?

When I allowed myself to really contemplate social media's weight on my life, I decided to make a plan. My first strategy was simple: I would get accountable. I told one person (my husband) about my social media fix. I didn't tell him to whack my device out of my hand if he spied me with it. I didn't tell him to lecture. I just told him. The simple act of putting it out there, into the universe (or husband) helped.

Secondly, I put a few boundaries in place. I decided access at night would only be a show or a movie. No more frenetic scrolling. I also scheduled a social media break before dinner prep. As I am the main chef in our household, if I didn't stop scrolling, my family wouldn't eat.

Thirdly, I simply was aware. I allowed myself to see why I leaned on social media, and I forgave that. I really noticed how often I would habitually reach for my phone when my brain registered boredom or discontent. Just that moment of realization helped me pause and work through it.

Finally, I went to the library and checked out a stack of chilling noir mysteries and I reprogrammed my brain to go back to that first love: books with pages and really tense plot lines. It seems simple to say, "Just find another hobby to fill the time" but something in me longed for the books with the pages, for story and substance and satiation. Remarkably, after a good chapter or two of twisted thriller, I felt more peaceful than I had in a long time. Cat videos can't beat that.

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