Substitutes for the internet etc. when anxiety strikes
January 26, 2019 11:16 PM   Subscribe

I have been wondering who have developed something like an addictive relationship with the internet and have gotten over it (ok, maybe not an overrepresented demo hereabouts) do when that urge to kill four hours by clicking around strikes?

I don't generally think of myself as having an addictive personality, writ large, but I probably do have some version of that. It doesn't relate to one lone thing--sometimes it's food; sometimes it's porn; most often it's just the plain old internet.

None of it is life-ruining, and in any case I am not really convinced of the value of twelve step stuff. It is, however, life-diminishing, and I'm not getting any younger, and I wonder if I'm going to have regrets about frittering away so much of my life this way.

The most common example here is actually nothing very salacious, just me at work hating my job and the not wanting to face some stupid task turns into a kind of itchy "get me out of here" feeling, and the easiest thing to do is usually to scroll facebook or twitter, at worst looking for stupid needless arguments to revel in. A therapist has told me to notice how I feel when I want to do these things, and that's valuable, but it only gets you so far.

What do you do, if this is a problem you've scaled down? Do you have good substitute behaviors or....something?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
I do this exact same thing.

I get up and take a walk. Even if I just surf idly when I get back from my walk, I at least moved a little bit and saw trees and the sky and stuff.

And sometimes it's enough to put a wrench in the spokes of the anxiety-avoidance machine.
posted by Grandysaur at 11:36 PM on January 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

I make sure to always have a book loaded on my Kindle or library app on my phone. Then when I find myself scrolling mindlessly at night, it’s easy to snap myself out of it and flip to the book. So I guess I just make it very easy to subsistite good behaviors by lowering the barrier between them.
posted by itsamermaid at 12:24 AM on January 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have to physically move my phone so I can hear it buzz but it’s not there for me to grab when I get an annoying slack message or something I’m working on isn’t coming together. Then when I go to reach for it and it’s not there I think “It’s better to just get this over with.”
posted by bleep at 1:13 AM on January 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Knitting, crocheting, tidying a single small space. Favourite audio books that I can listen to repeatedly (currently several poetry anthologies, a history lecture series and Cabin Pressure) help by taking up attention with something new perceived from replaying them but not generating a scroll more fix.

I scrubbed out of news and websites that had a more fix because they made me spiral. Tumblr is on my phone mostly because the mobile app dies after a while. Facebook is deliberately hard to get into so I dislike using it. I switched to daily batch notification for sites or unsubscribed and just check from bookmarks when I remember. Raise barriers for places that spike anxiety hard, lower access to soothing things - itsamermaid is right.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:27 AM on January 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have this!

At work- accountability. I don't check when someone else is there with me. I get up and make a cuppa. Or I task switch to something else that is valuable to my job, just perhaps not that urgent task.

At home- going for a walk outside is the best scroll killer.
posted by freethefeet at 2:43 AM on January 27, 2019

Similar to dorothyunderwood, I found that it's not enough to have a simple substitute to the internet, but you have to also make the addictive things less pleasant to use such that the substitute is more attractive.

This meant for me, after trying a lot of half measures, deleting Facebook and Twitter. Now I now longer find myself unconsciously opening a browser window and typing in the Facebook address in a few seconds (seriously, when you start noticing how unconcious this is, its scary).

Catching on to that impulse was important because it forced me to 1) be more mindful of what I was doing at the moment 2) verbalize what was causing me to turn to Facebook at that moment and 3) forgiving myself and saying okay let's go do the more productive thing for a few minutes.

In effect, this has meant me spending more time paying attention to things that still isn't necessarily the work I need to get done, but things that are more productive for me in my personal life goal wise that is more useful than Twitter or Facebook. Reviewing my monthly budget and my expenditures, going to get water for hydration, getting up from my desk and going for a walk to clear my head, planning what to make for dinner that evening, etc.
posted by Karaage at 2:54 AM on January 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

For me I started by practicing noticing when I'm doing some scrolling to numb out and trying to remember that while scrolling FEELS like just what I need when I'm anxious, what it really is is a sign that if I can handle the discomfort of slowing right down and being present, that will actually do a better job of taking the edge off the anxiety. I try to catch myself when I'm doing it, even if it's just to notice "oh, doing that scrolling thing with anxiety in the background". That sometimes buys me just enough space to make more of a choice of what I want to do.
posted by Chrysalis at 3:58 AM on January 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

Don't forget that there are thousands of highly-paid people whose promotions and careers depend on your continuing this addictive behavior. Very openly, they are measuring how frequently people use their product, and how much time they spend on each visit, and using every trick they can find to maximize those two numbers.

It's pretty hard to break a habit when there are very smart people trying to sabotage you 24 hours a day, so the things I've found mainly revolve around cutting off that possibility.

I mean ideally delete your account entirely, but that may not be feasible. Deleting the phone apps is probably a good idea; if you must access these sites from your phone, use the much crappier web browser interface. Make sure you aren't getting notifications. Install an ad blocker, which will usually block embedded tweets and so on around the web.

The suggestion to get ebooks on your phone is also something that has helped me. As has just learning to sit and stare at that anxious feeling for 10 seconds or so: sometimes that really is all you need to do.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:12 AM on January 27, 2019 [15 favorites]

At work, I brought in a puzzle - a real, honest-to-god, physical puzzle with 1,000 pieces - that I put on the side table to my desk. When I get the itchies, I slide over and work on it for a bit. Sometimes I stand, sometimes I sit. It's on one of those puzzle mats, so I can roll it up and move it if necessary (haven't had to yet).

After two weeks, I can report that I have about 1/8th of the puzzle completed. But I also have noticed I'm spending less time browsing the socials.

I have also been known to work on small Lego kits at my desk.

So my suggestion is something you can physically do with your hands, like a puzzle, a coloring book, crossword puzzle, Lego, etc.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:23 AM on January 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

This worked for me at one job but not at another, but setting my computer to airplane mode when I'm trying to focus. Didn't work at the job where internet was part of what I was supposed to be doing, but for the job where I was working on a spreadsheet on my own machine, or on the phone, or whatever, having to switch the internet back on to get at it gave me the check I needed to say "oh hey, you're doing that thing you don't want to do."
posted by gideonfrog at 5:23 AM on January 27, 2019

I took Facebook off my phone. Now I only check it at home, as I do not check it at work. At home I have plenty of other things to get done besides park myself in front of the computer. I found this one change much improved my mental state as I am no longer constantly wasting my time (at least it feels like a waste to me) on other people's thises or thats that are not present in my own life. Now on breaks I read a book instead of my phone. Highly recommend.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 7:16 AM on January 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Could you maybe use your clicking to start looking for a better job, one that you don't hate, one that challenges you enough that you don't feel drawn to wasting time wandering around the internet? Or use the time to acquire new skills that might help you get a better job?
posted by mareli at 7:24 AM on January 27, 2019

There is a simple program you can download called SelfControl which allows you to block certain websites for a period of time. When I am feeling particularly compulsive and mindless I use it to calm myself and focus on work. It might also be useful to quit the habit entirely.
posted by poilkj at 7:56 AM on January 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

A month ago, I removed games from my devices and put a label on the cover of my iPad. I wrote “what is a better thing to do?” on the label. I did this because I fInally realized that lying in bed mindlessly playing solitaire left me depressed every night. Instead I read, preferably a hard copy book. It took about a week to quit reaching for the iPad. The nightly depression is gone. I now, also, try to restrict my surfing to set times during the day. This has been less successful. But when I realize I am mindlessly surfing, I try to get up and walk away.
posted by Sunday Morning at 8:15 AM on January 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

I get up from my desk at work and walk two laps around the inside of the building every hour or so. This works off some of the nervous energy, stretches out some of the stiffness from sitting and gives my brain a nice break from whatever I've been doing. I find I'm much less interested in Facebook at work since I've started doing this.

Another thing that helps me with feeling antsy or anxious is cleaning, organizing or planning (budget, to-do lists, etc.) Particularly if the anxiety is based on feeling overwhelmed. At work this takes the form of cleaning the surface of my desk, cleaning out a drawer, deleting old emails, organizing computer files, making and prioritizing a to-do list of all my projects, etc. At home, I alternate between general cleaning and catching up on laundry, cleaning out a drawer or closet, making goal lists or to-do lists.

I also find "audiobook and" to be great for letting my mind fuck off while I do something else useful. I like to listen and crochet, do art, pedal on the exercise bike, walk outside, etc. This actually gives double benefit for me. I can't sit still and listen without falling asleep, so the activity keeps me awake to listen to the book, while the book makes the activity more pleasant and relaxing.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

I got a journal this year. I keep it right in front me at my desk with my planner. Whenever I have a break, I grab it and just start filling in a new page about my day. Not about whatever is making me anxious or irritated if true, but just about things I’ve been thinking about, my plans that day, anything interesting that’s happened so far, etc. I think this works because it FEELS weirdly productive.

I liked the puzzle suggestion above, and knitting/crocheting. It helps to have something that can be completed, a goal you can chip away it in bits and pieces, that’ll keep your attention and also has the reward of an eventual payoff waiting at the end!
posted by caitcadieux at 11:07 AM on January 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

I downloaded Anki, then downloaded a geography deck and a French vocabulary deck. I've told myself that I'm not allowed to use Twitter or Facebook until I've reviewed all my flashcards for the day.

I've found that clicking through a series of flashcards gives me a similar quick dopamine hit to Twitter or Facebook. And when I'm done, instead of being left with a sense of annoyance at myself, I'm left with a little more knowledge of world capitals or French vocab.

(Anki is very powerful but can be a little fiddly. If you'd like something simpler and more user friendly, try either Tinycards or Cleverdeck.)
posted by yankeefog at 1:18 PM on January 27, 2019 [9 favorites]

I was diagnosed with ADD this past week and I do the exact same thing. It might be worth talking to your therapist/doctor about it.

The most common example here is actually nothing very salacious, just me at work hating my job and the not wanting to face some stupid task turns into a kind of itchy "get me out of here" feeling, and the easiest thing to do is usually to scroll facebook or twitter, at worst looking for stupid needless arguments to revel in. A therapist has told me to notice how I feel when I want to do these things, and that's valuable, but it only gets you so far.

This is exactly what I was doing. Once I acknowledged that maybe it was brain chemistry, I got a prescription and actually things are much better.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:31 AM on January 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

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