It's past midnight. You are in bed. You know you should turn off the phone and try to sleep but you can't find a way out of that negative spiral of (bad) news. Does it sound like a familiar scenario? Probably. But don't worry, it has happened to all of us. Whether it's on the web, on social media, or through news apps, you can't help but read the latest terrible news. Wether it is about the war between Russian and Ukraine or about the coronavirus pandemic. On natural disasters or racial injustice. Or on all this and much more.
While the act of continuously scrolling through your social media feeds or surfing the web and being overwhelmed by a constant torrent of bad news is nothing really new, this practice has received more attention in recent years. To the point that now it even has a name: doomscrolling.
Doomscrolling is the act of compulsively spending excessive amounts of screen time searching for and absorbing negative, depressing or worrying content. In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed people to keep up to date with daily events as much as possible, it became one of the words of the year in the Oxford dictionary. The act of doomscrollin starts with a desire to be informed, to find answers and understand what's going on. But in an effort to be proactive and aware of the risks around us, the strategy backfires, leaving us with a feeling of discomfort and doom. The result? We constantly jump from one bad news to another.
Although this term has only entered the popular vocabulary for a couple of years, it is now more common than ever. From the pandemic, to George Floyd to the recent war and the political scandals, the inflation of negativity is constant and the continuous consumption of news can often have a drastic impact on a person's mental health.
It's not that being informed is bad. It is the constant intake of negative information that is a problem. Especially when presented via social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. As Evita March, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, said: "When news was delivered via traditional one-way outlets such as television and radio, we were passive receivers. But on social media platforms, we’re active consumers. We sculpt and cultivate our news through immediate feedback, such as reacts or shares. There’s evidence this might not be especially good for us."
Essentially, doomscrolling is the focused and conscious activity of looking for negative stories, sad videos, or terrifying images. It feeds on emotional responses that can leave us drained, exhausted and shocked. Repeating this practice 5 times a day is a recipe for disaster. Several studies have linked mental health problems to continued exposure of news during negative and traumatic events, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters. The more news a person consumes during and after these events, the more likely they are to suffer from depression, stress and anxiety.
Doomscrolling is addictive, but escaping it is possibile. There are more than a few methods to help you stop your doomscrolling habit, but a lot of it has to do with recognising your feelings and embracing active coping.
First of all, it’s important to be aware your news consumption via different sources can look very different. Identify stressful or problematic accounts that you follow and delete or mute them so they show up in your feed. Adopting a distancing approach and limiting your news consumption will help you controlling what you'll read (or not read). Then create boundaries: time limits and physical boundaries to news consumption and social media use can effectively balance your digital intake. Creating distance from anxiety-causing stressors is about forming habits. Finally, practice self-care. Instead of doomscrolling, take a breath, take a walk, take a shot, do what you need to in order to take care of you mental health.
Written by Miriam Tagini