Curating Reddit so that it doesn't instantly make you want to die.
Find the 1.333% that isn't trash and discard the rest.
Reddit has a lot of useful information, especially in niche topics, but it also has a lot of clickbait, low-effort content, sensationalized or misleading headlines, poorly-moderated communities full of bickering, bad-faith political propagandists, and just general distractions.
Deleting Reddit and other addictive apps altogether is obviously an option, but if you can’t bring yourself to do it yet, curating your Reddit “front page” to only feature subreddits that are more wholesome and educational in nature is a step in the right direction. Thoughtful curation will not only make the app less likely to ruin an otherwise good day, but will also make the site less addictive in general.
Follow subreddits that are:
A little more “boring”
You know when you’re bored and you somehow wander to the refrigerator and stare inside before “coming to” and wondering how you got there? If you previously filled that refrigerator with vegetables, you’re not only less likely to binge on snack foods, you’re less likely to mindlessly eat in general. When selecting subreddits to follow, avoid the easy-to-consume “snack foods” like meme and image subreddits, and focus on the ones that are a little less “easy” or enticing. You can always manually type in the URL if you really want to “snack”. But make it an intentional act, not something auto-delivered.
Actively moderated with clear community goals
It’s the natural state of internet communities to trend towards a high percentage of low-effort clickbait. Left purely to their own devices and the upvote/downvote buttons, all subreddits will eventually turn into low-effort image feeds. The reasoning is multi-pronged, but the gist is that in the time it takes someone to read and upvote a single “effort post” that same person can upvote a dozen low-effort memes. The result is that even for communities with the best of intentions, the intelligence level will always trend downward.
Subreddits with active moderators that have clear goals for what they want their communities to be are less likely to devolve into mindlessness.
Not likely to elicit a strong emotional reaction
By their very nature, all social media ruins most of the hope of having a productive conversation, but Reddit by far is the biggest source of communities designed to elicit negative emotions. Places like r/IdiotsInCars, r/HermanCainAward r/Cringetopia, r/Trashy (etc. etc. etc.) exist largely to complain or to put others down.
There is something that feels good about criticizing other people (or just laughing at them) and the feelings of superiority that come with it (hey, we all need to vent sometimes), but indulgence in these emotions is not conducive to living a less anxious life online. If you feel like venting or getting some rage on, go type in the subreddit’s URL manually. But do yourself a favor and don’t subscribe to getting your rage auto-delivered.
Even subreddits that aren’t specifically designed to indulge in negative feelings can still regularly elicit them. Again, a subreddit’s culture and its moderators intentions are key to making the difference, and that aspect is not always obvious at first glance. Generally speaking however- Reddit is not a constructive place to discuss anything political, religious, or otherwise divisive.1
Topics you wish you knew more about
This is the area where Reddit as a platform really stands out, and the one thing it’s truly great at. No matter how niche a community, fandom, or hobby is, a subreddit exists for it. Once your front page is purged of the “junk food”, you can fill it up with some “whole grains”. r/WoodWorking, r/PersonalFinance, r/ArtHistory, r/FoodForThought, r/Linux4noobs, the list goes on!
You don’t need to be actively studying these topics; the idea is that if you’re going to be mindlessly scrolling anyway it might as well be something a little healthier and less addictive.
Not about national (USA) or world news
Social media is not a healthy place in general to be getting your news, but Reddit is particularly bad when it comes to users upvoting the most manipulative and deceptive headlines. Check out this essay for further advice on healthy online news consumption.
Local and hyper-local subreddits
It’s almost guaranteed that at least one subreddit exists for your city, your state/province, your country (if not American), your neighborhood, university, etc. They can be a great way to learn things about your community you might not have known.
As with everything on Reddit, follow with caution and a skeptical eye though- many (the majority of) local and regional subreddits are targets for both active disinformation campaigns and bad-faith culture-war trolling. Political propagandists also target regional subreddits with emotionally-charged wedge issue content in order to sow division and prevent constructive discussion from taking place.
If the moderators of a regional community are mainly hands-off when it comes to encouraging constructive conversation, it is likely that even innocuous topics will turn into the classic endless Reddit comment wars the site is famous for.
There is utility in following local subreddits, but not at the cost of your sanity or emotional stability. There are other, better ways to get local news online like curating your Instagram or setting up an RSS reader. So if your local subreddit is trash and no alternatives exist, don’t sweat it, you can find that content elsewhere.
Bonus Tip: Use reddit “old mode” to disable infinite scrolling
Remember Reddit and other social media sites are created in a way to prioritize users spending maximum time on them over all else. Your mental health, anxiety levels, education, and even your grasp of reality are tangential goals at best. Until that fact changes, the only person looking out for your mental well-being online is going to be you.
Even if you can’t bring yourself to wholly separate yourself from a platform, you can limit access of the algorithms’ tendrils to the more vulnerable parts of your brain by not playing their game the way they expect you to play it.
Stay Grounded is a 100% reader-supported publication helping people get offline. To support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
It is a scientific fact that out of millions of daily examples, no “debate” on Reddit has ever resulted in a single perspective change. So do yourself a favor and don’t waste your mental energy. Walking away is hard in the moment, but you’ll be grateful to yourself in the long run.