When's the last time you fell into an Internet black hole? Like, the kind where you wake up two hours later and you somehow found your way 182 weeks deep in your ex-BFF's cousin's new boyfriend's Instagram feed. Yesterday? Same.
While some Internet wormholes are bad-news bears (ahem, your high school ex or that Sports Illustrated swimsuit model), it turns out others can actually be good for you. Case in point: those "Oddly Satisfying" videos that pop up on your Instagram's Explore tab under "Picked for You." What does "oddly satisfying" mean, you ask? TBH, anything. These videos feature anonymous hands mixing homemade purple slime with gold fairy dust and purple glitter flecks; they slice play-dough into impossibly thin, perfectly identical slices; they smooth paint (dolloped onto a canvas to look like a sunny-side-up egg) into a mish-mash of white and gold paint. If it's random AF, and makes your brain feel like Jell-O, it's "oddly satisfying."
Yeah, I know what you're thinking: a whole lot of "????" But scroll through a few posts and you're bound to be mesmerized. There's something truly satisfying (and odd) about watching these nonsensical videos. They might make you feel like you have some sort of pervy foam fetish, but they actually have some real mental health perks.
They can really help you de-stress.
Watching oddly satisfying videos on your smartphone is like having one of these anxiety-reducing calming jars, minus the work of making one. "It's because they are so boring that they are so satisfying," says Samantha Boardman, M.D., positive psychiatrist and founder of Positive Prescription. "They demand nothing of us. All we have to do is watch."
It's like each Instagram post is a portal to a magical, glittery unicorn world, and you can check out of reality and into ~mystical~ slime land with just the tap of a finger: "For half a moment, your attention is completely focused on one thing and your thoughts stop jumping around," says Boardman. "There is no narrative, no drama, no shifting camera angles—just a total immersion into an endless loop of a mesmerizing visual footage that calms your monkey mind."
They can teach you to be more mindful.
Think of it like a modern-day, social-media-assisted version of mindfulness meditation. "They really take you out of your head and cause you to zero in on your senses," says Jamie Price, wellness expert and co-founder of Stop, Breathe & Think, a mindfulness meditation app. "From a mindfulness perspective, sensory awareness activates a part of your brain that's involved with feeling and experience, which can really help anchor your awareness in the present moment." They may even temporarily decrease activity in parts of the brain that house our higher cognitive functions, according to Boardman, which lets you enter a sort of ~flow~ state, where your sense of self disappears and you feel like you're "in the zone." (Looking for that feeling? The rainbow Oreo video below will do just the trick.)
The videos can help you tune into every "micromoment," and notice the teeny, tiny subtle changes that happen from second to second, says Price. Think: When you're watching each piece of glitter get slowly incorporated into the DIY slime, you're probably more focused than you've been on one little speck in, well, ever. "When you're able to connect with these tiny little micromoments that change from one second to the next, it really inspires a sense of novelty, a sense of originality and uniqueness, which leads to the sense of delight," says Price. And who doesn't want to feel delighted?
You can use micromoments outside of Instagram to help your mindfulness practice too; during any everyday activity (ex: drinking a cup of coffee), really slow down and focus your attention on every single micro-thing that's happening (the smell of the coffee, the temperature of the cup on your hands, the feeling as it flows down your throat, etc.). "When you zero in on these little microcomponents, it gives you a really nice mindfulness break," says Price.
They come without the negative risks of social media.
It's no secret that social media has some not-so-great effects on your mental health. Social media could be making you socially awkward, having too many apps may increase your risk for depression and anxiety, and food pictures can even make your food less enjoyable (!!).
"Many of the images we scroll through on Instagram are emotionally draining," says Boardman. Uh, you can say that again.
Just think of that flawless celeb #nomakeup selfie or the onslaught of vacation photos over a long weekend. Both FOMO (fear of missing out) and comparison (looking at someone's feed and comparing their life with your own, feeling like you're not quite measuring up) are behind the negative effects of scrolling, says Price. The result: a sort of loneliness and depression that you strive to fill with more sensory input, more scrolling. (Here's more on the science behind social media addiction.) The oddly satisfying videos, however, provide the exact opposite experience, says Boardman, and allow for a "micromoment of mindfulness." So you can scroll guilt-free, and get a mood boost instead of an ego blow.
You can use oddly satisfying videos as meditation.
Obv, ungluing from your phone for a sec offers additional perks (plus helps you avoid tech neck). But if you don't have time to close your eyes and "om," these vids can totally sub in to offer a meditative moment wherever, whenever: "It's a way to press a pause button for an overstimulated mind in the middle of a busy day," says Boardman. "Of course, meditating or walking in the park would be more effective, but I support any effort to slow down, even if for a brief moment."
You can approach this like any mindfulness activity, says Price. "For someone who has a hard time sitting and just focusing on their breath, engaging in sensory awareness is a fantastic alternative, and the last thing you want to do is make meditation yet another thing to stress about." Here, steps to turn lazy scrolling on the couch into a mind-body experience with real benefits:
1. Get grounded and feel the weight of your body in your seat.
2. Take a few deep breaths, and take a moment to lightly scan your body from head to toe. Notice any tension or strain, and try to release it.
3. Watch without judging or evaluating what you are seeing—don't have an opinion about it, just experience it. When you notice yourself "thinking" about the video, bring your attention back to the visuals of the video itself, and notice the sensory experience it inspires.