Here's Why You Can't Stop Scrolling on Your Phone
June 20, 2019
Some people are really good at moderation.
They can eat one square of chocolate or post a single tweet and then log off.
I admire those people! But they are unicorns.
This is especially true when it comes to moderating social media use on our phones—you know, those big hunks of graphite and aluminum we hold in our hands for hours every day?
Without moderation, it's so easy to get sucked into the loop.
Check, scroll, read. Read, scroll, click. Click, scroll, fall asleep with your phone in your hand…
Turns out, there's a good reason for the endless rabbit hole: it's called the dopamine loop.
Dopamine is a chemical in our brains that's released after pleasure and reward-seeking behaviors—and it causes us to want them all over again. (Ever felt that post-exercise high? You have dopamine to thank.)
The same thing happens when you get a positive social stimulation—aka when you get a little reward from scrolling your phone, such as seeing your likes or notifications pile up.
"When you bring up the feed on one of your favorite apps the dopamine loop has become engaged," writes behavioral scientist Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., on Psychology Today. "With every photo you scroll through, headline you read, or link you go to, you are feeding the loop which just makes you want more. It takes a lot to reach satiation, and in fact you might never be satisfied."
And stopping isn't easy—our brains don't have a build in "stop" button. "Chances are what makes you stop is that someone interrupts you," she writes. "It turns out the dopamine system doesn't have satiety built in."
That's why you can scroll long past the point of feeling amused or entertained by what you're seeing. You might finally close the app and think, "What did I even just read?"
But look, it's not all bad! As a hardcore introvert, sometimes scrolling Insta at the end of the day is the only way for my brain to wind down and feel like it's doing something completely passive and outside of myself.
I'm not saying you have to put your phone in the freezer or go on a complete detox. If it gives you joy, scroll away!
But if you find that excessive scrolling is taking up too much of your time (and away from other things you'd love to be doing instead), or if you feel pangs of envy looking at everyone's seemingly "perfect" lives—then maybe take a second to stop the scroll.
Here's how to notice when you're caught in the loop—and what you can do about it.
Set up the timer on your phone.
You probably ignored this—I certainly did—but Instagram actually rolled out a new feature that allows you to track your activity and set a reminder that goes off when you hit the amount of time you want to spend in the app. The time ranges from 5 to 55 minutes. (You can also choose which notifications you get.)
I tried out the reminder and let me just say…15 minutes on your phone goes a lot faster than you'd think. (Compare that to 15 minutes of reading a really good novel when you get sucked into another world for 15 whole pages and the rest of your life falls away.)
Even if you don't immediately shut down when the timer goes off, it'll give you a little cue that time is indeed passing.
Unfollow a bunch of people.
Your friends are safe! But think about it—how many people do you follow that you don't actually know?
If you follow fewer people, you'll have fewer updates in your feed, and less content to consume overall.
Besides: You're probably following accounts that at one time you enjoyed but might have moved away from at this point in your life.
A year or so ago, I went through my feeds and unfollowed accounts that weren't bringing me joy. I realized I was following the intricate and intimate details of people's lives who I barely knew in real life.
You're choosing to spend time with these people and invite them into your world every day via social media. Ask yourself: Are these relationships I value?
Just like that scary dog-dragon in The Neverending Story, the scroll, too, can feel never-ending. That's why you gotta find a way to just say no—and the best way is to change what you're physically doing.
"One way you can get some control is to create a counter-movement—a physical movement you do that becomes its own conditioned response," writes Weinschenk, who clicks her home screen and places her phone face down when she realizes she's in a loop.
If you sense yourself in a loop, try something new: Stand up and move to a different room, or close the app and open a new one instead—maybe read a page in your Kindle (or listen to a track in the Shine app!). The trick is to regain control by replacing the activity you're doing with a new one that makes you feel in control.
Delete the apps.
Yeah, yeah, everyone says this, right? Easier said than done. But hear me out: Deleting the apps will change your relationship with them (at least for a little while).
One friend of mine deletes social media apps during weekdays so she can concentrate on working (not documenting her work lunches), but then re-downloads them over the weekend to share all the fun activities she's up to.
What if you tried deleting them for one 24-hour period? You could do that, right? Sure, you might miss your evening scroll—but why not replace it with an evening stroll instead?
Today’s recommended meditation: