Doomscrolling: How to break up with your phone, according to the IMAGE crew (who are still working on it)
30th Oct 2020
The IMAGE crew are still getting a handle on their doomscrolling and general phone addiction. Here’s what’s worked (and not worked) for them.
This is a word I heard a lot while chatting to my colleagues about their current relationship status with their phones. Doomscrolling, according to Urban Dictionary, is “when you keep scrolling through all of your social media feeds, looking for the most recent upsetting news about the latest catastrophe. The amount of time spent doing this is directly proportional to how much worse you’re going to feel after you’re done.”
The knowledge that something is bad for you and the actions you take to deal with it, are two very different things. And even when you do take action, it doesn’t always work and if it does it’s only short-term.
I think many of us can admit we have grown uncomfortably attached to our phones this year. We cling to them like a lost baby deer bleating at a jogger and trying to suckle pointlessly on their shoes ( you can tell the kind of content that fills my social media feed based on this analogy).
I’ve always known that I’m on my phone too much, my battery dies “inexplicably” early and sometimes, when I’m feeling miserable and want to be made even more miserable, I check my “digital wellbeing” app find out just much time I’ve spent on my phone, usually recoiling in horror.
But battle on we must. As we all find our feet in this new world, here’s how the IMAGE crew are feeling about their phones right now and what they’re doing to break the habit.
Dominique McMullan, editorial director, IMAGE Media
Current Status: My phone torments me. I know the amount of time I spend on it is beyond acceptable. I know, as I scroll mindlessly in the dark before bed, that the information overload combined with the eye-watering blue light will harm my sleep. I know that each time I pick my phone up in front of my 18-month-old son, I am setting a bad example. I know that I always feel better, physically and psychologically, when I spend time away from it… I am always trying to get away from it.
Break Up Attempts: Months ago, I set up a timelimit app notification to remind me when I reach four hours of screen time a day. This essentially blocks my screen and is designed to encourage me to put the phone down. But now, without so much as blinking, my finger dismisses the notification and brings the phone back to life. This all happens so quickly I don’t even know I am doing it.
Learnings: There is no happy ending or life lesson here. Send help.
Holly O’Neill, junior beauty editor, IMAGE Magazine
Current Status: Since “All This” began in March, I have become about apathetic about posting on Instagram, a silent lurker on Twitter and TikTok and addicted to YouTube (last night I inexplicably watched about an hour of live performances of people singing Fever, including Madonna, Michael Buble and Elvis – I now understand why he was considered a massive ride).
Break Up Attempts: What troubles me most though is that I become a serial deleter of Instagram Stories. Here’s the process: post an Instagram Story, leave Instagram, visit all other social media websites for a scroll, finish the cycle of apps and return to Instagram. Look at Story views. This is when the existential crisis kicks in. Why are they watching my Story? What do they want from me? Is this photograph I posted of Timothee Chalamet wearing a Juicy Couture hoodie who I am? Is this what I represent? Panic delete.
What I’m trying to say is, a fleeting thought ends up becoming a spiral into my very existence, because I don’t know who I am right now. All the trappings of who I was have disappeared and it’s just me and the laptop and the cat most of the time.
Learnings: Can you hear how exhausting and pathetic it is to live inside my brain? Anyway, how I’ve handled this for right now is disabling my Instagram, because this is way too many thoughts to have about something so dumb. My thumb is still travelling to where the app used to live, but now I speak my fleeting thoughts aloud to the cat, like a crazy person.
If any of this speaks to you, I hope this David Foster Wallace quote gives you the comfort it gives me when you’re grappling about the embarrassment of existing and want to feel insignificant: “You’ll worry a lot less about what other people think of you when you realise how seldom they do.”
Lauren Heskin, deputy editor, Image Interiors & Living magazine
Current Status: I’m wearing a wrist support right now, which should tell you all you need to know about my phone addiction (let’s just call a spade a spade here). Holding my phone that that awkward angle so I can have my thumb perenially perched on the screen to scroll or type has given me a repetitive strain injury.
Break Up Attempts: Last year I deleted the Facebook app from my phone with great plans of dedicating the time to read and generally be more present. But through this pandemic, my concentration hasn’t been where it was and I struggle to read a long social post never mind a book. Eventually, Instagram basically hoovered up all the time I previously spent scrolling on Facebook. So I’ve removed that app too, although I am still dipping in and out… breakups are hard!
Learnings: One thing I’ve started to do is make my phone a nuisance. I have stopped charging it at night, which means it’s always dying but it forces me to leave it in another room during the day or leave it at home when I go for a walk.
Lucy White, editor, CARA Magazine
Current Status: I’m definitely a doomscroller at the moment. Last year I unfollowed news platforms on social media and removed the apps… the latter of which have all been reinstated and I’m subsequently fixated on the US election.
Break Up Attempts: I’ve unconsciously counteracted that with falling down historic American property Instagram accounts and wildlife community rabbit holes (ha!), but, understandably even birding or rewilding accounts/groups can be a downer, due to impending environmental catastrophe.
Learnings: Think I need to retreat back to reading novels, which were just the tonic during the spring/summer lockdown… you can’t beat a good yarn, or historic memoir, for total escapism.
Erin Lindsay, deputy editor, IMAGE.ie
Current Status: Despite high hopes of completely overhauling my fitness/eating/mental health habits during the first lockdown, I spent most of that time doom-scrolling and feeding into the resulting cycle of anxiety. Screen time, and social media especially, makes me feel crap. I know this, and yet I still feel compelled to spend large chunks of my day glued to it.
Break Up Attempts: For the next six weeks, I’m really hoping to break down that barrier and try and reach that sense of detachment that I’ve been chasing. By that I mean, when I was a kid, and phones were a distant figment on the horizon of my teenage years, I could spend hours outside, or on a hobby like writing or drawing, with nothing else bothering my peace or impinging on my flow. I love the freedom that my phone gives me in so many ways, but I’m definitely craving a different type of freedom right now.
Learnings: For me, the only thing that works is completely abandoning any screens – going for a walk and leaving my phone at home, that sort of thing. If the weather holds up, I’m hoping to commit to doing this once a day, and marking how my mood improves – I’m fairly certain it can’t have a negative effect.
Shayna Sappington, staff writer, CARA Magazine
Current Status: Unfortunately, my screen time has increased dramatically since I started working from home. With so much more free time, I usually spend my evenings scrolling through social media or TikTok. Even on my lunch, I find myself Googling new recipes or shopping online for things I don’t need. I think the unsettling news of a longer lockdown has made me anxious to stock up on things just in case and I’m worried that if I don’t start ordering Christmas presents soon, they won’t arrive in time for the holidays. This anxiety often takes over and I don’t realise how long I’ve been staring at my screen until an hour or so passes by.
Break Up Attempts: I tried deleting social media as well but found myself occupying my time with other apps, like word searches or news sites.
Learnings: What has helped me the most is getting outside, forcing myself to go for a walk in the park after work or even down to the shop for a cup of coffee. That, and keeping a book within eyesight, helps me to refocus and get away from my phone when I can, but it’s still a process I am working to get through.
Read more: Feeling the winter blues? 5 tips on how to cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Read more: Lockdown The Sequel: the dos and don’ts for long winter nights
Read more: High-functioning anxiety: the signs, symptoms and when to seek help
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