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The Scrolling Effect: How Mindless Scrolling Impacts our Well-being

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The alarm on her phone wakes Naila up. She snoozes it thrice before finally giving in and getting up. Even before she steps out of that or completely opens her eyes, for that matter, she unlocks her phone and does a quick scroll through her Instagram. She sees her friends going for vacations, getting promoted, and achieving multiple personal and professional milestones. There’s a niggling in the back of her head. An all too familiar feeling sinks in. She is still at home, with a mid-level job that has lost its luster over the months of doing it.

“Maybe, I should have done that Master’s degree,” she thinks, “Or given GATE…” A sigh escapes her lips. A few posts down the line, she is irritated. So, she shifts to the Reels section, conveniently placed at the center of the tab. The quick scroll has extended to almost an hour.

Naila is now both late and miserable as she goes through the motions of the day. Another long day of staring at the screen, trying to converse with her colleagues, and navigating office politics has her on the verge of a breakdown. By lunch, she is done with the company, her colleagues, her day, and her life, in general.

She eats, scrolling through her phone. An interesting article about someone leaving their corporate job and going to live in the mountains pops up.

“Maybe, I should just leave everything here,” she wonders, as she mechanically puts food in her mouth without actually tasting it, “Eh,” she dismisses the idea after a few minutes of consideration. “You need to be swimming in money for such intuitive decisions.”

Her manager is constantly complaining about her lack of engagement at work. She seems to be getting more and more passive by the day. She rarely participates; her work, which used to be amazing when she started, is now bland. At a bare minimum, she wants to argue. Complain about the company culture. How does she not feel valued? How everything is dull, and she feels like she is doing nothing but corporate paper-pushing… however, she says nothing except, “I’ll improve. Try harder. Be better.”

Because, let’s be honest, even the most boring job is better than being unemployed.

She feels guilty throughout the day. She wants to work harder. But looking back to what she used to be and the hollow shell of her old version she is now – well, what happened? She wants to scream at the top of her lungs.

“When did I become my worst nightmare?”
Most of us resonate with Naila to some level. Perhaps, is the constant comparison we make with our peers. How do we feel like we don’t have enough? Or perhaps, we are missing out on something fundamental. Maybe a constant feeling that something is lacking in our lives, without knowing what exactly.

There might not be one thing that’s leading to this complete despondence in our lives. But one of the common factors that research highlighted is social media.

Social media, by its nature, is very addictive. Our brain likes the bright colours, the moving shapes, and pictures; it’s attention-grabbing and often paired with catchy music that is constantly stuck in our heads, even when we are not on our phones. The concept of short-form media has further shortened our attention spans. When was the last time you paid attention to an offline conversation without getting the urge to check your phone? Or attended an online meeting or class without scrolling on your phone in the background?

Reels have gotten our attention down to a 30-60 second time frame. While it might seem like a big task to watch a ten-minute video, YouTube Shorts seems short enough, and we barely realize that an hour has passed.

But what’s happening in our brain is that we are facing an information saturation. There’s just too much input: too many messages, pictures, images, songs, and images. The impact is two-fold.
One, because there’s too much data for us to focus on, we start forgetting the essential things, leading to forgetfulness. You cannot recall things like what you discussed in the quarterly meeting two days ago or what was the conversation with your friend all about?

Two highly attention-grabbing nature of these posts makes the real world seem bland. Basic and boring. It’s almost like comparing chaat with dal-rice. You wouldn’t be enticed with dal-rice when you have chaat on your table. So, why would you want to listen to the manager when you can scroll through your phone.

Let’s put ethical implications aside for a second. It’s wrong. We cannot argue on that. But, for a moment, let’s focus on mental health. Ask yourself what do we see during these potentially hour-long sessions? What is being registered in our minds? Do you even remember what you just saw? Or when you look up from your phone, it’s like coming out of a mind-numbing haze?

We jump from chapter 20 to chapter 40 of someone’s life and it seems like a series of successes because no one is going to put up those 20 chapters of pain and sweat for the world to see, right? If we are honest, no one will put their real struggles and vulnerabilities on social media. It’s mostly what’s right with our lives, if not what we want our lives to be.

This makes us feel like we lack something. Putting our mindset into complaining about the world around us, focus on what we lack rather than realizing all we have. This can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, low life satisfaction, and frustration.

We argue more. We work less. We pine over what could have been without actually taking steps to achieve these things because that’s what social media shows us… successes.

But is it possible to leave social media in this day and age? Leave all of the platforms cold turkey? The fear of missing out is something authentic in most of us. So, what do we do?

Practice social media hygiene. Keep a close check on what you see and for how long. In a hadith in Sahih Al Bukhari, Prophet Muhammad SAW said,
“There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) health and free time for doing good.”

We are giving our time to our phones. So, it is essential to check how we are using it. It is okay to unfollow people that make you feel bad about yourself. Hide the posts that you don’t like. Uninstall the apps that feel more like a burden. It’s just like decluttering your household from unwanted things and clearing out the trash.

Lastly, practice gratitude. Seeing the victories of people can make us easily forget what we have with us. Take time out every day to be thankful to Allah for all the blessings He has given you. That mindset shift can lighten the darkest of days.

As a parting note, here are some healthy phone habits you must adopt:
• Screen time outside of work should be less than two hours
• Be intentional about why and when you use social media
• Avoid “filling time” with your phone, aka mindless scrolling, just because there’s nothing to do
• Do not start or end the day with your phone
• Make it a rule not to use social media whenever you’re out and about
• Have a phone detox day (or an hour each day)

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