Even after years of healing from compulsive social media use, I have found myself checking my notifications nonstop the past few days. When I come up for air after a work meeting or errand, I reflexively reach for anything that will help me feel some element of control with the state of the world and current events. Doomscrolling gives me the illusion that if I only know enough about the world I might have some power.
From past experiences with these behaviors, I knew they were an indicator of an underlying stressor or feeling. Instead of judging myself for regressing or losing progress, I took it as additional information and became curious about what might be happening for me internally and how I could help myself cope.
In part one of this blog series, we tackled misnomers about “addictive” behavior, explored its connection to the LGBTQIA+ community, and explored questions to help us better understand the function and limitations of our behavioral habits.
In part two, we will explore some tangible strategies that may help to curb behaviors that feel out of control. Please note that these strategies are not intended as medical guidance or therapeutic advice; if you have any issues requiring additional support, please reach out to appropriate resources.
Harm reduction strategies are intended to limit the harms associated with specific behaviors. It is important when starting with harm reduction strategies to have knowledge of the potential harms and benefits associated with our behaviors, as covered in part one. Once you have some awareness of the harms and benefits, then it is possible to explore alternatives.
1. Boundaries and limits
There are many types of boundaries and limits that we can set that may proactively help us to curtail problematic behaviors. I like to set limits on the time spent with any specific behavior with a timer and immediately switch to something that requires my full attention when the timer goes off. Additionally, I may decide which settings may actually limit my ability to engage in the behavior. For example, with my example of compulsive internet use, I try to turn off my wifi by unplugging the router or go to a coffee shop that intentionally doesn’t offer that service.
2. Substitution Behaviors
When it comes to substitution behaviors, I like to consider what would be an effective distraction that helps to satisfy the same urge. It may take some creativity, but focusing on what needs are being met by the behavior can help inform which substitution behavior would work best for you specifically. If engaging in the behavior gives you a feeling of freedom, consider what might stimulate that same feeling with less harm. I had a friend once who described feeling free when riding her bike and chose to substitute that for online shopping whenever possible.
3. Mindfulness Skills
There are so many incredible resources available for mindfulness, including a strategy called ‘urge surfing’, which allows us to intentionally ride the “wave” of an urge to complete a behavior. I love using insighttimer.com, which is a free inventory of thousands of guided meditations and other related content. To learn more about urge surfing, consider reading the following steps:
– Recognize what urge(s) might be present.
– Become aware of what is happening in your body. Ask yourself what sensations are happening internally.
– Develop a mantra. For example, one helpful reminder is to think that you are allowed to have urges and that they are not dangerous. Another set of mantras might be “I can have this thought without acting on it” or “This will pass.”
– Distract yourself until the urge passes.
4. Planning for Challenges
Lastly, I have come to understand that nothing helps me with harm reduction more than advanced planning. If I can anticipate scenarios where I might be tempted to engage in doomscrolling, I can ask for support from others or plan to use the strategies above well in advance. I like to create a weekly calendar that highlights times of the day I might be most inclined to doomscroll with an alternative planned activity like reading a magazine or book. I also recommend working with a therapist to identify triggers and create comprehensive plans that involve customized coping strategies for each challenge.
There are so many ways that we can explore and manage process addictions. For further reading, consider reading the works of Dr. Gabor Mate, a world-renowned specialist in addictive behavior and processes. If you are searching for a space to process your specific needs or troubleshoot any concerns, the iAmClinic provides therapeutic services with a nonjudgmental, queer-affirming lens.