5 healthy and productive alternatives to doomscrolling

Make better use of your screen time.
person looking at phone screen
Don't get sucked into a mindless scrolling routine. Becca Tapert/Unsplash

The habit of doomscrolling—idly flicking through social media, consuming content that isn’t necessarily good for our mental health—is all too easy to fall into. At the back of our minds we know there are more productive ways to fill our time, and yet we keep on opening the same apps and refreshing them again and again.

Part of the problem is that our phones are always with us and easy to reach. Another issue is that there are many short intervals in the day, whether it’s waiting on a subway platform or getting ready to go to sleep, where we’ve got nothing better to do but to open up our apps and see what might be new. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are apps that can bring us all kinds of benefits and positive vibes as an alternative to doomscrolling. And what’s more, you can use them in short snippets throughout the day, whenever you have a spare couple of minutes.

1. Learn a language

You don’t necessarily have to sign up for real life lessons to learn a language, because multiple apps will train you in another tongue right from your home screen. Most of them split lessons and exercises up into bite-sized chunks, and you can go at your own pace.

[Related: Social media drama can hit teens hard at different ages]

Invest a few minutes here and there throughout the day and they can quickly build up into hours of practicing your reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in another language. At all times you can keep track of your progress and mix up the kinds of tests and challenges you’re doing.

The gold standard here is Duolingo (iOS, Android), because of its intuitive interface and its quick, simple lessons. You can use it for free or pay $7 a month to remove the ads and get more types of exercises. Babbel (iOS, Android) and Rosetta Stone (iOS, Android) are top quality alternatives.

2. Read a book

Books can give you a new perspective on life, take you away to imaginary lands, give you knowledge on all kinds of topics, make you laugh and cry, and plenty more. And if you don’t want to deal with the real thing, all you need is a phone and a suitable e-reading app.

If you’re on iOS you’ve got Apple Books, and if you’re using an Android phone there’s Google Play Books & Audiobooks. There are also third-party alternatives like the Amazon Kindle app (iOS, Android) to consider. All of these apps are free to download and use, and you’ll find plenty of free e-books, too—especially out-of-copyright classics.

When it comes to replacing doomscrolling, you might be surprised at how much reading you can get through with just a handful of minutes a day. At a glance, you can see how far through each e-book you are and how much reading you’ve got left.

3. Listen to podcasts

You’ve got plenty of reasons to listen to podcasts rather than spend time doomscrolling: You can give your eyes a rest, quiet down your mind before bed, and listen to your favorite genre. There are so many podcasts out there that you’re sure to find some based around the topics that you like.

Importantly for this particular list, most podcast players include a timer function that lets you set how long you want to listen to a particular episode for. So, if you know you’ve got a five-minute break or 10 minutes before bed, you can set the timer accordingly and forget about having to stare at the screen.

If you’re on an iPhone, the obvious podcast player choice is Apple Podcasts. For Android users, it’s probably Google Podcasts (which is also available on iOS, by the way). There’s a whole host of other podcast players available, too—we especially like the free Pocket Casts (iOS, Android).

4. Read articles

You could argue that reading news articles on the web is its own form of doomscrolling, but if you’re careful about what you read and where it’s sourced from, it doesn’t have to be. Just make sure that you include some good news and some light relief alongside the bad news—of which there’s no shortage these days.

You can save articles to Instapaper (iOS, Android) very easily from any web browser. The app cuts out ads, navigation bars, and other distractions, leaving you with a simplified reading interface. Even better, it shows you at a glance how long each article is, so you can pick and choose accordingly. For $3 a month you can get extra features such as full text search and no limits on the notes you add to articles.

Feedly (iOS, Android) is also worth considering. This RSS reader can collate new articles from your favorite sites, giving you a straightforward interface to read them on, and adding features such as tags and highlights. You can follow up to 100 feeds for free, and after that, paid plans start at $6 a month.

5. Meditate

At the opposite end of the scale to doomscrolling is meditation. A few minutes of mindfulness every day could do wonders for your anxiety levels and overall mental health. It’s completely up to you how you structure it, and which apps you use.

[Related: Social media really is making us more morally outraged]

You could just put on a relaxing playlist, for example, and let your thoughts drift—a quick search on YouTube (iOS, Android) or Spotify (iOS, Android) will return plenty of options for you to pick from. YouTube can offer you lots of free guided meditations, too: Include a time limit in your search that matches how long you’ve got.

Then there are dedicated meditation apps you can turn to. One of the most well-known is Headspace (iOS, Android), which has hundreds of guided meditations to pick from—it costs $13 a month, but you can try it free for a week. Calm (iOS, Android) is also worth a look, with its own vast library and a choice of meditation lengths: A limited amount of content is available for free, with a premium subscription costing $15 a month.