I’ve always had a slight dependency on social media. My guess is I’m not alone.

Thanks to that fateful day in Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room, I’ve been living with a real case of digital FOMO (fear of missing out).

Over the years, my hands have become very accustomed to the unlock and scroll routine.

As the world intensified in 2020, so did my bad habit.

Pressing news cropped up at every turn, and the status updates followed suit. As COVID-19 made its way across the globe, I found myself almost obsessively scrolling the doom and gloom that flooded my feeds.

I must not be the only one, considering the internet has come up with a name for this behavior: doomscrolling.

On top of already feeling weighed down by the pandemic, the social media consumption I was doing was leaving me in a constant bad headspace.

I was weary and exhausted. I was worried about the impact it was having on my mental state as someone with generalized anxiety — especially because I was already experiencing higher rates of fear and stress due to the pandemic.

Being in quarantine didn’t help either. I had too much time on my hands to sit around and scroll.

Instead of rushing to an office in the morning or checking out the nightlife afterward, I found myself sitting around and wasting time on social media.

Plus, I was isolated. That meant I was unable to digest everything I was taking in through a heart-to-heart with loved ones.

It’s fair to say that scrolling on apps from morning to night was having a tremendously negative effect on my mental health.

So, I decided to do a few things about it.

1. Make social less available 

I deleted Twitter and Facebook from my phone. My pesky little smart device is always nearby, usually less than 3 feet away. Having social media apps on my phone made it too easy to unlock and scroll whenever I wanted.

Every time I picked up my phone, whether it be to check the weather, reply to an email, or change the song I was listening to, I would usually end up giving in to temptation and checking an app or two.

Removing those inviting boxes from my handheld device means it’s harder to access the platforms. In turn, checking social media becomes more of a conscious choice.

2. Schedule your use

After deleting the apps from my phone, I made an unwritten rule to allow myself an hour each day to check them from my computer.

I believe social media sites have their value. They’re the place I go to hear from friends I wouldn’t otherwise keep in touch with. They’re where I learn about new job opportunities and connect with people, both friends and strangers.

Plus, the memes are good for a laugh (sometimes).

I don’t want to banish the platforms from my life altogether. I just want to massively restrict my usage.

Each day, usually around late afternoon, I give myself one hour to catch up on Twitter and Facebook. I sift through what’s going on and what people are talking about. Then I close the browser and leave it at that for the rest of the evening.

In holding myself accountable to this time limit, I’m also getting in some self-discipline practice.

3. Be selective

Since I couldn’t click on the apps as easily, I found myself consuming more nourishing content, like books, podcasts, and well-written articles.

Instead of learning about sensationalist COVID-19 updates from unknown sources on Twitter, I started checking trusted news sites and listening to important press conferences.

Without the apps, I have more time to dedicate to meaningful content. I’m finishing more books than ever before and making my way through my podcast queue.

I’m consuming content with substance, and my mental well-being is thanking me for it.

The science behind the scroll

There are clear links between social media and anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even FOMO. Simply using your phone less leads to decreases in all of the above.

Interestingly, triggers for phone use seem to be pretty universal. This means that no matter your age, you likely use your phone as a coping mechanism for boredom, awkwardness, impatience, and fear.

The thousands of unconscious opinions we form and decisions we make while scrolling can significantly change how realistically we see ourselves and the world. They can even affect the decisions we make about our health.

The pandemic is already hard enough with depression spiking. Let’s give our mental health a break.

Opting for other kinds of screen time, like video games, is one way to avoid the negative effects of social comparisons and feelings of inadequacy.

For me, trading the scroll for meaningful content has been a game-changer.

What I learned

Social media has its merits — but it can be truly addictive. When used to excess, it can have negative effects on your mental well-being.

Without management, social media was chewing into my time and draining my energy. Restricting my time on apps has made me feel lighter, calmer, and gives me more time to spend on activities that nourish and nurture me.

Doomscrolling taught me that just as I monitor and manage my diet to stay healthy, I need to do the same with my content consumption.

Resisting the trap of scrolling endless updates, and instead consuming content that’s educational, engaging, and meaningful, is a way better use of my time.

Originally published on Healthline.

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