Using Social Media Mindfully and Avoiding the Zombie Scroll

Using Social Media Mindfully

This is embarrassing, but, while in the middle of a conversation with my husband the other night, I opened my phone to check the weather (which was relevant to the discussion), and, about four minutes later, I was still scrolling through my Facebook feed, asking him if he’d seen what so-and-so posted… I hadn’t heard the last few things he said (or paid attention to them, anyway) and I still hadn’t checked the weather.

Hi. My name is Anne, and I am addicted to my phone.  Well, not really, at least not any more than the next person.  According to Moment, a phone usage app, the average person spends 4 hours a day using their phone and picks it up 80 times a day.  On average, we check our phones every 12 minutes.  Add in the fact that merely knowing a notification is there distracts us, even if we don’t pick up our phones, and our phones can do a lot of damage to our ability to be mindful and engaged with the people around us.

My smartphone isn’t evil.  I love that I can meditate, arrange a date with friends, and post videos that will embarrass my son when he is older through a little rectangle that I carry around in my pocket.  (But I do sometimes fantasize about the good ol’ days when I had a “razr” flip phone.  I only stared at it for hours when I was waiting for a boy to call.)

Social media isn’t evil either.  In fact, social media can be freakin’ amazing!

The problem arises when we use social media mindlessly, like I did the other night—like a zombie—then we can become a victim of all of the negativity.  It can pull us out of the present moment and drag us into a comparison spiral.  It has the potential to be far more draining than empowering.

How do we become mindful with our social media use when everything about it is designed to make it automatic and rote?  How do we balance the desire to stay in touch online with being intentional and present in our lives?  Here are a few ideas that I am trying and I wanted to share with you:

1. How does it make you feel?

Different social media platforms may have a different effect on your mood and outlook.  Sit down, take a deep breath, pick an account, and start scrolling through your social media feed.  Take about 5 minutes with each account.  How does Facebook make you feel?  Does it energize you?  Does it feel draining?  Do you feel anxious? Do you feel jealousy?  Do you feel inspired?  Take a deep breath, and then go to the next one.  For me, Instagram generally makes me feel happy and upbeat.  Facebook and Twitter tend to make me irritated, mostly because they are often political, and, well, that can make me grumpy.

Once you know how each one makes you feel, you can evaluate how you want to use those accounts.  Is that how you want to feel right before bed, or first thing in the morning?  I don’t check my Twitter account at night because I don’t want to feel agitated then.  But I will check it right before a workout because that’s a great time to be a little fired up.

2. Are you inviting positive people into your virtual living room?

We can try to be intentional with who we let into our space.  Let’s be honest, we’re letting these people and their messages into our mental living room. Some are kind and bring a hostess gift. Others come in and wreck the place.

Are there some people who, for whatever reason, make you feel bad about yourself?  Maybe they only post on their “best” days, or they post negative complaints, and not much else.  Is there an ex lurking in your feed somewhere?  Is there someone who consistently makes you feel envious, or that you don’t measure up in some way?

We have every right to protect our mental space and set our boundaries.  I struggle with this because I am a people pleaser, but, at the end of the day, if someone’s posts drag me down, I need to hide or unfollow them.  If we stop liking posts that make us grouchy and stop engaging with people who post negative items, then the Facebook algorithm will stop putting them at the top of our feed.  We have nothing to feel guilty about.  This is our time and our energy.  We have a duty to ourselves to guard our energy fiercely.  No one knows if we hide them from our feeds.  On the few occasions where I’ve hidden someone that I see on a regular basis, I just make a note to go check their page every so often and make sure I haven’t missed any important life posts, like a new job.

3.  Share the love.

Are there people or accounts that you enjoy and make you feel better?  Do they post beautiful or thoughtful or funny things?  The more we “like” or engage with certain posts or accounts, the more the algorithms will show us those accounts or posts similar to that one.  (Don’t think about this one too much, or the things that Facebook and Instagram know about you will start to freak you out a bit.)  So share what is positive.  Comment on a friend’s post.  “Like” a happy message or a pretty picture on Instagram.  We feel a little boost for putting some feel-good vibes out in the world, and we get the added bonus of curating our social media feed.

4. Where do you want your attention to go?

We can practice choosing when to engage in social media.  Some situations beg for it, but other times you may be missing out on the experience around you.  Ask yourself where you want your attention to go at any given moment.  If you’re at dinner with friends, do you want your attention with them, or on your phone?  If you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, do you want your attention to be on social media or worrying about whether the person next to you is contagious?

5. Post updates with intention.

Choose to engage in your experience before sharing it with others.  Enjoy the experience in front of you, take the picture or think of the perfect quote, but wait, perhaps, and post the picture on social media after the event is over.  If we let social media overlap with the experience itself, then our attention moves away from the joyful moment we are having.  Also, before posting, ask yourself: is it true?  Is it necessary? Is it kind?  If you’re experiencing a situation that’s irksome, try pausing before you hit the “share” button.  I love a good, funny rant as much as anybody, but sometimes I’m too quick to share a post.  Evaluate whether you’ve finished processing what is going on and then explore whether you still want to share a story or comment.  Consider if your post is a knee-jerk reaction to a situation or a thoughtful response.

6.  Reset your brain.

If, like me, you find that you check your email and social media out of boredom, or just rote muscle memory, then consider resetting your habits.  In our defense, social media platforms spend a lot of time and money figuring out how to get us to open those apps on our phone and keep us there once we’ve opened them, but we can help fight the urge to zombie scroll.

A.  Hide and Seek.  Move your social media apps to a different location on your phone, or hide them on a second page, so you have to change your normal movement to find the apps that you were checking automatically.

B.  Make a Social Media Appointment.  Set an alarm on your phone to check social media once a day, or at certain times during the day.  Perhaps once in the morning, once in the middle of the afternoon, and once in the evening.  Try to consciously limit your social media use to those times and hold off in between.

C.  Saved by the Bell.  Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes so you have a way to monitor how long you’ve been on social media.  Maybe you reset the timer if you’re in the middle of an amazing, funny, fabulous blog post (ahem, like this one), but at least it will help you stay mindful of the time you’re allocating to it.

D.  Do Not Disturb.  Turn off your notifications for social media apps.  Even those little red, round bubbles on your app can be distracting.  Maybe you just click on the app to get rid of the notification, but, then… sometimes you stick around.  Just turn them off altogether and see if that helps you ignore the pull of social media a little longer.

7. Pull out the big guns.

A.  Let’s get Physical.  Put a rubber band around your phone.  It physically keeps you from scrolling mindlessly through your phone.

B.  Use Technology to Fight Technology.

  • Moment or Quality Time – These apps keep track of how much time we spend on our phones and which apps we are using.  I use Moment, which allows you to set a limit, notifies you once you go over it, and, if you choose, kicks you off of your phone once you reach it.  If you asked me if I spent 40 minutes on Facebook yesterday, I would say no.  But, apparently, I did…
  • Freedom – This tough love app will lock down social media accounts and/or the internet browser on your phone or computer to help keep distractions at bay for a preset time frame.
  • Pocket – This app will save an article or blog from your browser or social media so you can come back to it later when you have more time to read it.

Social media can be a drain on our time and energy, but it doesn’t have to be. If we are clear with our boundaries for the time we spend on social media, who we interact with, and how we feel while we are using it, social media can be a positive influence on our lives.

Wishing you a few moments of clarity amidst the chaos,

Anne English signature Anne


Do you have any tips for using your social media with intention?  I’d love to hear them!  Have you tried any of these techniques? Have they worked?  Please comment or email me!  Also, don’t forget to sign up for notifications of new blog posts by signing up for the weekly email newsletter here!