We live in increasingly uncertain times with the Covid 19 pandemic and political unheaval. Perhaps this is why many people turn to Facebook, Instagram and other media platforms so frequently, every day, to help make sense of what is going on in the world. It can get to the point where you spend hours constantly scrolling through every news feed becomes a habit. Taking in the torrent of bad news over and over stops being about keeping yourself informed but more about inadvertently inflicting mental anguish. However, that doesn’t need to be the case. In this article, I will give you the information you need to ensure that you understand what doomscrolling is, how it is detrimental to your wellbeing and the tools you need to overcome it.
What Is Doomscrolling?
Doomscrolling (sometimes known as doomsurfing) was very aptly described as ‘“the act of endlessly scrolling down one’s news apps, Twitter, and social media and reading bad news,”’ by Dr Ariane Ling. You develop a fixation on bad news stories that deal with issues such as death, covid 19, racial prejudice, police violence, child abuse, national tragedies. As soon as you’ve finished reading one depressing story, you scroll onto the next one of an equally negative note, as though you’re trying to fill a void with all that bad news.
Ever since the Covid 19 pandemic, many people have taken it upon themselves to take to their newsfeeds to keep themselves informed regarding covid 19 infection rates, death tolls, and public health in general. Indeed, when much of the world went into lockdown during the first quarter of 2020, studies revealed that social media platforms, Twitter and Facebook’s daily activity had increased by 24% and 27% respectively. It’s not uncommon for headlines rife with grand narratives and graphic images to capture the public’s attention, but because Coronavirus pandemic is a developing disaster as opposed to an isolated incident, we strive to be kept in the information loop.
Medical practitioners have noted part of the obsession with doomscrolling and doomsurfing begins with the desire to be informed (especially during the pandemic), as Mesfin Bekalu of the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness noted, many people gravitate towards negative news rather than positive news. A major sign of doom scrolling is when you scroll through news information that actually has minimal impact on your daily lives from any and every media source you can get your hands on.
How Doomscrolling Impacts Your Mental Health
The relationship between social media and mental health has often been one fraught with mixed feelings. One mental health issue that has arisen from the social media age is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), in which people feel a natural pull towards pictures of people’s stories they know enjoying themselves, wishing they could bask in the same sense of fulfilment.
Studies have been carried out to determine how spending time online for hours is impacting one’s moods and feelings. Those who indulge in social platforms frequently are more prone to anxiety, depression, erratic moods, poor sleeping patterns, low self-esteem, and most frighteningly of all, increased suicide risk. Teenagers are the most heavily impacted demographic. Factor in non-stop doomscrolling and one can only imagine the traumatic response one might have to ingesting hourly tragedies, especially during these uncertain times in the pandemic. Pictures and information referring explicitly to victims of home-based horrors or national disaster trigger an emotional reaction in you and a sense of internal pain you carry with you.
Like other common addictions, doom scrolling is difficult to recognize as a negative trait, you are powerless to relinquish it because of the natural pull of the impulse. Doomscrolling also feeds into anxiety and depression in that you leave yourself in a constant state of anxiety as the news outlets paint a graphic picture of a world in decay. And because there is no end in sight, you can’t create positive thoughts as reinforcements, leaving yourself in a permanent state of despair at the endless reminders that life is harsh and cruel. Sometimes, because doom scrolling is a solitary activity, you can feel increasingly isolated from reading about a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain.
Even when we are nowhere near a phone, we find ourselves ruminating over what we’ve read on the subject, it’s upsetting content polluting everything positive in our lives. We are holding out for the next opportunity to check the news feed. We become slaves to doomscrolling.
7 Tips To Help You Stop Doomscrolling
Cutting social media, devices and news sites out of your daily lives is not an option. You still need it in your life, but not to the point where it is making you miserable. Thus, these are a few key tips to bear in mind to get your doomscrolling under control.
Use Reputable Sources
News is supposed to be informative, but there is also a large vacuum for speculation. In some cases, theories can be easily delivered as facts. In other cases, news stories can be written in informal and personal language where opinions can cloud information. In both cases, these elements can trigger an emotional reaction in you. News is factual, first and foremost. Limit yourself to a small number of news outlets or media channels where the information shared is delivered in a professional manner, ideally from a source you are familiar with and contains content that is corroborated. You should not leave your mental health at the mercy of news of questionable or provocative quality.
Take Some Time Away From Your Phone
When you spend so much time reliant on a device for information, communication and entertainment, you feel compelled to take it with you wherever you go. Even when you don’t really need it, checking for anything becomes an itch you HAVE to scratch. So, if you’re going out for a bit of exercise – could be a walk or a light jog, perhaps even a workout routine – leave your phone somewhere far far away. Whatever you decide to do, look for environments and scenarios where your phone is not needed.
Time Your Online Browsing
The longer you are doomsurfing, excuse the pun, the easier it is to get caught up in a tidal wave of negative news, and what should have been a five-minute activity turns into thirty minutes, possibly even an hour, not only eating away at your mood, but also at the time that you could be spending boosting your mental health. Know what you need to do and set an alarm on your phone for when you need to come off. It can be a difficult process to break into, especially if you’re accustomed to unregulated reading and browsing, but it will go far in limiting the damage doomscrolling can do to you.
Define Your Browsing Goals
We never really regulate our internet or media consumption. We log on knowing things we could do, like checking our emails, but it can easily branch off into other activities like checking your social media outlets, or watching a video on YouTube. When you are preparing to use your devices, you need to have a very definitive idea in your head of what you’re going on for. You go on, do the things you need to do and then log off again. No ducking onto other links, no opening apps irrelevant to your goal. A defined, targeted process.
Talk to Other People About Doomscrolling
Doomscrolling is still a relatively new term in today’s world. Mentioning the word in conversation will probably only get you a confused look. But if you share what it is and how it impacts you, perhaps they might be able to help you put in place some strategies for warding it off. Remember, doomscrolling is an underused term, but a universal concept. We all do it. Chances are, your description of your experiences will click with them, finally lending a name to their worrying habit.
Use Social Media Positively
Social media does not have to be the bane of your life. Over the course of 2020, it has allowed people to maintain contact with friends and loved ones that would not have been possible in earlier periods. And it can also be used for positively expressing your feelings. There was a moving study published in 2019 by the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking which reveals that women who had suffered from miscarriages and shared this on media platforms, had found a strong sense of companionship and emotional relief that supported them through that turbulent time. Talk to people, reconnect with individuals. Don’t make your regular social media visit all about the doom and gloom.
We are prone to a number of self-destructive traits; we drink and smoke, we say and do things that are detrimental to our personal relationships and way of life. They’re impulses that we struggle to overcome. But they can be overcome. And doom scrolling is no exception. Hopefully, you now have the tools you need to overcome it.