The Invisible Effects of Social Media: When It’s Time to Stop Scrolling

What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.” ~Unknown

Is there a more precious commodity than time? It’s the currency of life; the most basic finite resource, and we have a responsibility to spend it wisely. It’s up to us each individually to figure out what that means to us. For me, that means being mindful of the people, activities, and thoughts to which I give my time and energy.

I am an obsessive reader, and at any one time I have at least fifteen books checked out of the library. I tell myself that I won’t check out any more books until I’ve finished reading the ones I’ve already borrowed, but I never listen and I’m glad for it, because reading is one of the wisest and most enjoyable ways I can spend my time.

I try to be cognizant of what grows my spirit and what shrinks it, and I aim to use my time accordingly.

But this is hardly an easy task, especially with the constant lure of technology and smartphones. Unlike with books, the escape these devices offer can quickly lead me down a rabbit hole of anxiety where I feel my inspiration leaking away and self-doubt taking its place.

Whether this is because I’m feeling guilty for wasting so much time, tired from staring at an electronic screen so long, or because I’m negatively comparing myself to other people, I know that my time can be put to better use.

I often end these technology binges with a nagging sense of emptiness and, despite the vast array of connection offered by technology, a vague feeling of disconnection as well. I don’t want to scroll my day away, yet sometimes feel compelled to do it.

We all have a basic need to belong, and social media’s popularity can be boiled down to its ability to tap into that need. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the complexities and imperfections of real life are often glossed over or edited out entirely. To compare your real life to someone else’s crafted digital persona is unfair and unrealistic, and it sets you up for disappointment.

Social media can also taunt us by bombarding us with the adventures of people better left in our past.

I didn’t fully appreciate this hurtful effect until my social media usage worsened a recent experience of heartbreak. Like a bullet in the back, my screen suddenly and completely filled with him. And not just him, but his new girlfriend too.

It wasn’t long before the photo left the confines of the screen and filled my room and my mind; my entire world became consumed with memories of when he held me that way and the accompanying feelings of sorrow, loss, anger, and jealousy.

I thought strength meant I shouldn’t be affected by something as silly and trivial as Facebook or Instagram, but no matter how much I don’t want to be affected, the truth is that I am. And the effect social media can have on our feelings of self-worth is not trivial.

Only when I accepted this did I begin to move toward easing the pain of heartbreak. The first step was using my time not for social media obsession, but for reflective writing and poetry, which are activities that provide me with real, sustainable healing.

When I do use social media, I make sure my feed is filled with posts that I enjoy seeing and that help me grow rather than make me feel smaller. And I share posts that are an expression of my inner feelings or at least can make someone laugh.

I have also made a commitment to be present with myself and my emotions, without judgment, instead of using social media to distract myself from my feelings. This mindful practice, though difficult, is worth the effort because it allows me to strengthen my ability to treat emotions as valid but fleeting, rather than being in resistance or letting them consume me.

Heartbreak and pain are part of the human experience. It helps to remind myself that I am not alone and to reach out to loved ones—offline—and let myself be vulnerable enough to express what I’m going through. For me, too much social media actually dampens my sense of connection to others because I tend to retreat when I start believing my life is not as exciting or meaningful as other people’s.

I’ve learned to limit the time I spend fueling insecurity with social media and to fill that time either with mindful scrolling or something else entirely. I keep in mind that this technology is the new terrain on the landscape of communications, and it can be a fantastic and fun tool if I navigate and utilize it responsibly.

This article is most likely reaching you via a social media channel, and I’m thankful for the opportunity this provides for sharing work that elevates our awareness and consciousness. Because of social media, I’ve increased my exposure to websites and channels that facilitate personal growth, such as Tiny Buddha, but I’ve had to learn to become more mindful of when it’s okay to unwind online and when it’s harmful.

Sometimes I need a break, and watching a video of cats that are afraid of cucumbers or hopping from one newsfeed to the next can be a good stress reliever. I also find that pausing occasionally during creative activities gives ideas the necessary time to simmer below the surface until they are ready to come to light, and social media can be a good way to give my mind a break.

I know I need to stop scrolling when I feel a shift in my emotions; when the lighthearted fun of connecting virtually and the joy of sharing my creative work with people all over the world becomes a self-imposed prison of mindlessness. I don’t want to allow my precious time to tick away in a stream of posts and updates. When I feel this shift, I know it is best to turn off my device, take a few deep breaths, and turn my attention and time to something more enriching.

I also realize now that it’s more beneficial to be present with my surroundings rather than tuning out into a digital world during every available moment. On walks, commutes, and at the dinner table I enjoy being fully present with the people and things around me, as well as my own sensations and feelings.

These small moments of togetherness and solitude are fertile with opportunity for self-reflection, presence, and connection, but only if I resist the temptation to compulsively check my smartphone.

The key here is to become aware of how often we reach for our phones so we can examine how we spend our time and whether we can put some of that time to better use.

I’ve caught myself multiple times at the beginning of an unproductive scrolling session and made the intention to put my phone down after ten minutes so I don’t get too lost in a cycle of posts and updates. And on other days I could use a good cat vs. cucumber video, and that’s okay too; it’s all about balance and awareness.

Social media can be a good thing when we use it responsibly. Whether we are scrolling, sipping a cup of tea, or having a conversation, cultivating mindful presence can only enrich our experiences. This, I believe, is how we can wisely utilize the small amount of time we are afforded.

When I dip into moments of deep, full presence, the only response that springs forth is gratitude, and I can think of no better way to spend my time than in a state of appreciation.

About Jacqueline Ann

Jacqueline is a native New Yorker, graduate of Hunter College, and a passionate writer who enjoys using the creative process as a means of self-expression, self-reflection, and occasionally self-mockery (a good laugh can do wonders for the soul). She hopes to help others in their own journeys of enlightenment and personal growth. Visit her at Whispers That Echo and on Medium and Instagram.

See a typo or inaccuracy? Please contact us so we can fix it!