What Is Doomscrolling? (And Am I Doing It?)
It’s important to know about what’s going on in the world. Being an informed citizen means knowing how those large worldwide events are affecting people. It also involves keeping up with the politics in your country, so you know what policies and representatives you want to support during an election.
Wanting to be a responsible person who wants to stay informed, you may have turned to newsfeeds on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sites like these were particularly useful for staying up to date about outbreaks and vaccine information.
But as you use these sites more and more, you may notice yourself checking news feeds multiple times a day. Maybe you even feel compelled to check them. You might feel an anxious fear of missing out on an important news story to the point that you’re pushing aside other responsibilities.
If some of these signs sound familiar, it’s likely you’re doomscrolling.
Am I Doomscrolling?
According to Psychcentral, doomscrolling is the habit of endlessly scrolling through news feeds and stories online despite the negative emotions that it’s causing. Doomscrolling is compulsive and habitual, rather than a once in a while occurrence. Wanting to know more about a particularly distressing news event isn’t a bad thing on its own, but when you regularly seek out disturbing and frightening news stories … that could be a sign that you’re addicted to the news or addicted to scrolling.
We on the OneLaunch team aren’t qualified diagnosticians, so this information is presented strictly for educational purposes, not for medical or mental health advice. If you think you or someone else has a problem with doomscrolling, a good place to start, if you don’t regularly see a medical doctor or therapist, is with SAMSA’s mental health and substance abuse hotline. Their number is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Doomscrolling is particularly dangerous for those with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and OCD. Those with histories of mental health issues may be more susceptible to the endless news scroll.
Here are some additional signs you may be doomscrolling:
- Spending several minutes or hours reading distressing news stories
- Compulsively checking the same news feeds for new information
- Fixating on particularly negative news articles
- Feeling on edge or sad throughout the day after reading the news
- Being unable to sleep due to high anxiety levels
Why is Doomscrolling Bad?
Psychotherapist Tess Brigham suggests in a Very Well Mind interview that doomscrolling is related to our hardwired survival instinct to seek out and identify potential threats in the world. The pandemic, in particular, exacerbated this propensity because of how present and real the danger of getting sick was. Every day there was a new update on the vaccine status and where outbreaks were happening.
However, this 2020 survey found that people who excessively consumed media for multiple hours every day had increased levels of anxiety. This excessive consumption and increased anxiety can disrupt your daily schedule, as it gets in the way of working and sleeping. Doomscrolling on the phone in bed is a particularly dangerous pitfall that many have fallen into.
Psych Central quotes Shannon Garcia, a registered clinical social worker, suggests that reading news articles when distressing things happen is a form of reassurance-seeking to actually reduce anxiety levels. However, the opposite often happens as more scary and disturbing information is found.
How To Stop Doomscrolling
Our brains are wired to seek out, consume and retain negative news. That’s the psychology of doomscrolling. It’s the same part of our brain that will cause a musician to remember that one person in the front row who sat frowning with his arms folded while 19,999 other fans gave the musician a standing ovation. For more on this phenomena, check out “Negative brain: An integrative review on the neural processes activated by unpleasant stimuli” in the International Journal of Psychophysiology.
Here’s what to do, if you find yourself doomscrolling:
Set time limits: Setting boundaries on social media is a good first step to moderate the amount of negative information you’re exposed to. You can set a 10-15 minute timer for how long you scroll through news, or mentally set boundaries for the times of day or number of times to check your feeds in a day.
Be purposeful: Staying aware of why you’re picking up your phone and checking Twitter is also a good idea, as you may habitually and compulsively check your feed rather than actively seeking out useful news.
Redirect temptation: Finding new activities independent of smartphones and other devices is also a good idea to keep your mind engaged. Consider picking up a new book series or calling/chatting with a friend instead.
Remove apps: Remove news and social media apps from your mobile devices. That way, when you’re tempted to pick up your phone and doomscroll, you’ll be limited to channels. You can use OneLaunch on your laptop or computer to customize your news feed.
Unfollow fearmongers: You may want to be aware of the types of news sites that you’re using, as some may be more sensational and fearmongering than others. No, we aren’t naming names! Do a mental check-up: Reflect on the emotions and feelings you get after scrolling through certain sites. Are you really getting what you want out of the site? Is it making you more informed, or just scared or ticked off? Here’s another test: Does this site write sensational headlines that are designed to evoke strong emotions, so you’ll click through and read?
Ultimately, doomscrolling is up to you to fix. You have to take an active step in developing healthy habits to break the unhealthy ones you’ve formed. Remember that you’re not in this alone. Consider reaching out to friends or family if you’re feeling distressed. There’s no shame in reaching out to a psychologist or therapist for more help in identifying and preventing unhealthy habits.