We’ve all been there. It’s late at night, you’re awake in bed, and you can’t pull yourself away from your phone long enough to fall asleep.
What starts as a casual scroll through social media or a news outlet website can end up leading us down a rabbit hole of reading about recent upsetting events, tragedies, and other alarming news.
This obsessive media consumption, coupled with the negative mental health effects it often brings, has a name: “doomscrolling.”
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, doomscrolling emerged as a way of coping with anxiety by searching out information. Now, digital wellness expert Nina Hersher says, it’s time to get intentional about the time we spend on our devices.
Hersher, who founded the Digital Wellness Institute, offered the following tips to stop doomscrolling and improve your digital wellness.
Identify what success looks like for you.
Before you set out to change your media consumption habits, figure out what you’re trying to fix. Do you want less screen time overall, or just more mindful interactions with social media?
“If we’re looking at what success looks like in digital wellness, we would want to see intentional use of digital devices and social media that’s devoid of escapism and negative online social comparison,” Hersher said. “Doomscrolling can fall into that escapism category for a lot of people. We want to be informed, but once we get into that habit it can be very hard to break that rhythm.”
Prevent and distract.
Before you feel the need to reach for your phone, remove the temptations that usually trigger doomscrolling.
Start by turning off notifications for apps or news you don’t need to be checking constantly. Then, unfollow profiles or accounts that don’t bring you joy.
“On the digital wellness front, it’s really on the prevention side. We do this by practicing conscious content consumption and positive online social comparison and interaction whenever possible,” Hersher said.
Once you’ve identified the habit you want to break and put safeguards in place, find something else to occupy that time.
Instead of reaching for your phone, try reading a book, playing with a fidget toy, drinking some tea, or chewing gum.
Your phone doesn’t need to be always off-limits, however. Instead of scrolling social media, use your time online to learn about something new or write a message to a friend.
“This is all about how we can bring intention to our attention so we’re practicing purposeful versus passive technology use, which would be doomscrolling,” she said.
Set your intentions with friends and family.
Letting your friends and family know about your plans to cut back on screen time can help keep you accountable to your goals and could even give your loved ones a chance to take stock of their own digital wellness.
Telling others you’re stepping back from social media can also let them know to not expect you to answer right away, taking the pressure off checking your phone.
They might even join your efforts, Hersher said.
“Even kids can be responsible with technology when given the chance to reflect,” she said. “People are quick to blame kids for being on their phones, but we have to look at the example we are setting for them as well.”
If you’re looking for ways to get your children on board, ask them to reflect on the following questions:
- How much screen time do you think is reasonable and healthy for you?
- How much TV time do you think is healthy to have in a day?
- How much video game time is too much?
Hersher also recommends making time for the whole family to unplug together. One way to encourage this is to have a box where everyone’s phones stay during the evening to charge. This box can be a fun arts and crafts project for kids and parents to work on together.
“We can create our physical environment to support the behavior changes we want to see,” she said. “This way, we’re not blaming any one person and we’re not doing it alone. There’s always strength in numbers.”
Re-evaluate as you go.
You won’t always be where you want to be with digital wellness, and that’s OK. The important part is finding ways to guide your attention back to things that bring you joy, instead of draining your energy on mindless media consumption.
“We should use technology to fuel us and energize us, not fatigue us,” Hersher said. “You can use that as kind of your inner compass to see if the activities you engage in your off time are good habits moving forward.”