There once was a time when I could say that scrolling my phone was an official hobby of mine. When the television was on, when I had a few spare minutes to myself, or when I was just half-engaged with any activity, it was all scroll-time for me. At first, I had convinced myself that this was my unwinding time. This was my time. I deserved to scroll, so scroll I will! (That was how my inner dialogue went.) But simultaneously, I felt like I never had time to get things on my to-do list done, I wasn’t sleeping well, and I plain and simple didn’t feel fulfilled.
One night as the television was on and I was half-watching, half-glancing at Instagram, I realized that I was getting no happiness from the stuff I was zombie-scrolling through. I had already looked at the accounts that I liked and were positive and uplifting. Now I was into the nitty-gritty of celebrity- and aesthetics-laden material. I was digesting information that was doing nothing to enhance my life. It was all just…stuff. But I kept scrolling, even as my brain was completely disengaged from what my eyes were seeing.
And it dawned on me: is this really how I want to be spending my time?
The answer was no, of course. I realized that whatever I was doing at any given moment was being diluted by scrolling through random stuff on my phone. This realization crept up on me so slowly. It felt as if my brain had been screaming at me this whole time to stop but the screaming was so distant, muddled by pictures of beauty tutorials and celeb photographs. I knew I needed to readjust my priorities and quit this habit that I didn’t really ever realize I had.
My first step was to set a reminder on Instagram (the social app I spent the most time scrolling) as to when I hit the 20-minute mark of being on the app each day. In the beginning of my detox of scrolling, I, um, hit that mark quite early in the day. But(!) it was wildly eye-opening to see how quickly those minutes of staring at my phone racked up. I also took Instagram’s notice of “You’re all caught up!” as a more serious sign of: okay, get off your phone, Laurie. So, I did, more and more often.
Rather quickly, I realized how much time I was spending on my phone rather than engaging in the real world around me. And, importantly, I realized that what I was choosing to consume wasn’t doing anything to feed my soul. In fact, I think excessive scrolling took from it instead.
It was almost like I had to relearn what to do with the time I would have spent mindlessly scrolling my phone. And as a mom, it’s not like I had all the time in the world. My day was still jam-packed with things to do, but my phone had become an attachment to my hand. My son was noticing too, which all the more encouraged me to do something about it.
It was undeniable that I had definitely developed a habit – or maybe an addiction – that was hard to break, mostly because I forgot what I used to do before content was made so readily available for constant consumption. I reminded myself that I had to quit this habit because it wasn’t feeding my soul – and quite frankly, the people around me were sometimes getting a very distracted version of me, and that wasn’t fair either. So to figure out what to do with my hands and mind when I felt the “itch” to scroll, I had to ask myself: what does feed my soul?
I answered that question, and while the answers might be different for everyone, here’s a look at what I do instead of scrolling that has made me happier and more fulfilled.
Five Things To Do Instead of Scrolling
I never knew how tight my muscles were – and how that contributed to some discomfort in my neck and back – until I started stretching regularly. I try to stretch for roughly five minutes twice a day. Remember when I said I often would scroll while watching television? I replaced the scrolling with stretching while watching a show and it was totally one of the best swaps I’ve ever made. I actually focused on what I was watching while making my body feel better too.
2. Get an annoying task done.
I know this sounds very un-fun, but let me explain. I despise certain chores around the house, but when I think about it, some of my least favorite ones (i.e. unloading the dishwasher) take less than five minutes – about the same amount of time I would have sat staring at my phone. So, I set a timer for five minutes, do the undesirable chore, and in just a few minutes, it’s over and I feel accomplished. That annoying task is no longer hovering over me and that feels so, so good. It might be only five minutes, but I did something with those five minutes that improved my day.
3. Send a check-in text to a friend.
We all know how hard it is sometimes to maintain adult friendships. There are so many times I thought to send a friend a quick text to check in with them, but then got distracted by other things. In fact (I hate to admit it), there were times that I thought about sending a text to a friend I hadn’t talked to in a while, while scrolling, and chose to scroll instead of sending a quick text. Choosing real relationships over staring at a screen will not only aid in maintaining friendships, but it will absolutely make you feel good, too.
A magazine. An article (like this one!). A book. Something. Reading something of substance, whatever it may be, will feed your soul more than scrolling. And, I know, reading a book might seem daunting and something you totally do not have the time to do as a mom (I get it!), try just reading for five minutes, once in the morning and once in the evening. I found that replacing my “evening scroll” (what I affectionately called my phone time as I laid in bed at night) significantly improved my quality of sleep.
5. Practice being present.
As mothers, we know that there’s always something going on, something to do, something to solve. But sometimes, I like to ask myself what is going on around me right at that moment when I thought to pick up my phone and then put all my focus into that one thing. So if it’s making dinner, I let my mind focus solely on that. When my four-year-old is talking to me, I focus solely on that. I know it isn’t realistic to always do that. (Part of the job description of being a mom is multitasking, of course.) But I do this occasionally as a sort of exercise in lieu of picking up my phone. Being present is something my scrolling stole from me for a time, and it’s a gift to practice getting it back.
Bottom line: Do I still scroll? Yes, I absolutely do. But it’s definitely much less than what it was at the beginning of my journey to break this habit. I am more mindful of how my minutes are being spent each day and I’ve also learned to recognize when I’m starting to spend too much time scrolling, as well.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you should never scroll on social media. Sometimes I do need a brain break and there are a lot of accounts on social media that lift me up, send some powerful messages, and generally make me feel happier and more positive. (There’s a lot of good that comes with social media!) But once your eyes have consumed all of those feel-good accounts and you’re knee deep into scrolling Instagram (or whatever social media channel you happen to use) and it dawns on you that what you’re consuming isn’t doing anything to make you happier, maybe it’s a good time to take a step back and re-evaluate how scrolling is making you feel. If you’re feeling disengaged and a bit like a zombie as you stare at your screen, take a moment to ask yourself what makes you feel good, positive, and whole, and start there.
I’ve found myself slipping down the Scroll Slide many times since making changes. Sometimes it really is exactly what I need – a few moments of mindless staring at pretty pictures and funny videos. Sometimes, yes, I just don’t want to think; I do want to be bombarded with memes and be entertained for a moment. Importantly, though, I try to remember that the beauty of my world is right in front of my eyes – not on a screen. And, ultimately, it’s about balance.
So go stretch. Get an annoying task done. Send a friend a quick text. Read. Be present. And, if it feeds your soul in the moment, scroll until your heart’s content.