5 Things to Do Instead of Doom Scrolling

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

When it comes to social media and mental health, it’s complicated.

At times, the constant stream of videos, posts, stories and reels can be fun (shout out to all the pets on TikTok), and research shows that social media can sometimes help people feel connected and even reduce stress.

But it’s not always likes and hearts and affirmations. Studies show that social media can also cause stress, feelings of sadness and isolation, sleep disruptions and lower self-esteem. A recent survey found that over 1 in 3 participants said social media has a negative effect on their mental health.

Take Our Quiz: True or False? Mental Health >>

This can be especially true for women, considering that women make up more than half of the people using social media. Research has shown that social media can lead to self-objectification, which is linked to many mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. One recent study found that young women who took a social media break for just one week had a huge boost in body image and self-esteem.

Social media use triggers the release of dopamine, a feel-good chemical in the brain. So, when it’s paired with features like endless scrolling, notifications and bright colors, social media platforms can become addictive and negatively affect your concentration and focus.

The amount of time spent on social media may surprise you. The average person in the U.S. spends about 2.5 hours a day on social media. That adds up to 17.5 hours a week, 75 hours a month and an astounding 912.5 hours a year.

That’s 38 real human days spent on social media a year.

If you’re considering a break, you’re not alone. A recent survey found more than 1 in 3 participants said they’d taken an extended break from social media because it was bad for their mental health. Science backs up the notion that a break can be good for your brain. Participants in one study showed a significant improvement in mental well-being after a seven-day break.

Even the social media giant TikTok encourages people to take advantage of a tool they provide that can help you limit how much time you spend on the app.

Read: 5 Health Trends on TikTok: Heart or Hype?

Wondering what you’ll do with all your free time if you curb your social media habit? Here are five things to try in lieu of doom scrolling that can also boost your mental health, according to science.

1. Go outside. Your parents were on to something all those times they told you to get out of the house and play. Studies show being in nature can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress and improve mood. Physical activity, even a walk around your neighborhood, helps too. There’s a whole beautiful world to see when you’re not staring at your phone. And you won’t walk into other people on the sidewalk. Win, win.

Read: 4 Fun Fitness Trends for 2024 >>

2. Get face-to-face with a friend. You’re used to tapping hearts on Instagram, but when was the last time you saw your BFF, IRL? Research shows meeting in person can immediately boost your mood. Even a short amount of time spent with a friend helps strengthen relationships and increases well-being overall.

3. Find a hobby. The secret ingredient to better health and happiness may be as simple as finding an activity you enjoy. Having a hobby is linked to lower levels of depression and can help prevent depression in some people. Hobbies can include:

  • Arts and crafts
  • Gardening
  • Games
  • Volunteering

Any activity that includes creativity, self-expression and cognitive stimulation can help with positive mental health and well-being.

Read: 10 Fun Activities to Keep Your Brain Sharp >>

4. Learn a new language. Sayonara, social media. Learning a new language can improve your memory. In one study, adults who studied a new language showed improved cognition after just four months. Another big brain bonus: being bilingual can slow down dementia as you get older.

5. Read a (real) book. You can travel anywhere and be anyone you want when you’re reading a good book. Studies show reading can reduce stress, make you more empathetic and even slow dementia. What’s more, a recent study comparing online and paper reading found paper was better for learning. So, combine with #1 if you’re feeling extra ambitious.

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