This blog post first appeared at Coastal Counseling Group.
Fewer people are smoking these days, but there’s an equally addictive habit that just about everyone is doing: scrolling through the social media feed. We scroll when we’re anxious…when we’re sad…bored…lonely. We might scroll to numb some feeling we don’t want to feel, or to lose ourselves in other peoples’ lives to avoid thinking about things we’d rather not think about. Sometimes we scroll so automatically and so habitually that we don’t even know why we do it. Scrolling has become a way of filling the space between tasks that require our attention because to simply be present and alone with our own thoughts has somehow become intolerable.
Just look around you in any public place- how many people have their phones out, scrolling? Even in our own homes, families are spending increasingly more time scrolling and less time talking to each other. I regularly hear clients recount instances where they felt rejected and hurt by their partners scrolling through social media during opportunities for connection, like a date night or a lazy Sunday morning in bed. After all, social media is always there, always accessible, and there’s always something new coming down the feed. It can be incredibly addictive to numb out in front of a screen, which requires zero vulnerability or effort on our part. This numbing allows to avoid taking time out to examine what needs attention in our own lives, to ask for our needs to be met, or to be vulnerable enough to experience real connection with the person right in front of us.
There is increasing evidence that social media use is harming us mentally (depression, anxiety, sense of isolation, poor body image) as well as physically (“text neck”, impaired vision, sleep disturbance). Secondhand scrolling might be harmful as well, affecting those who aren’t even using social media. For example, it can negatively impact our own ability to focus and be present when those around us are glued to their phones. Have you ever noticed at a dinner table, one person pulls out their phone and before you know it everyone at the table has their phones out as well? Additionally, most of us have also felt the effects of secondhand scrolling when trying to connect with someone who can’t seem to break away from their phone, leading to frustration and even resentment.
So is it a problem or isn’t it? After all, scrolling through social media is also a way of keeping in touch, getting information and news, and connecting with people you might not otherwise connect with. In order to answer that question for yourself, you have to ask the following questions: Why do you do it? When do you do it? How much of your time does it take up? How do you feel afterwards? How difficult would it be to stop? Is it negatively impacting your relationships or other parts of your life?
One thing I recommend to my clients is a “social media Sabbath”; which means taking a break from social media entirely for 24 hours. This could be any day of the week though people typically choose a Saturday or Sunday. If you can get your partner or your entire family to participate it can strengthen relationships through shared quality time in which everyone is fully present.
Scrolling may or may not be a problem for you, but it’s worth taking the time to examine its role in your life and the possible secondhand effects on those around you.
Boyd, D. (2014). It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. Yale University Press.
Gupta, V. K., Arora, S., & Gupta, M. (2013). Computer-related illnesses and Facebook syndrome: what are they and how do we tackle them. Medicine Update, 23, 676-9.
Jelenchick, L.A., Eickhoff, J.C., & Moreno, M.A. (2013). “Facebook depression?” Social networking site use and depression in older adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 52(1), 128-130.
Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). Online social networking and addiction—a review of the psychological literature. International journal of environmental research and public health, 8(9), 3528-3552.
O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804.
Young, K., Pistner, M., O’MARA, J. A. M. E. S., & Buchanan, J. (1999). Cyber disorders: the mental health concern for the new millennium. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 2(5), 475-479.