The world has been under a storm cloud basically since the beginning of 2021. As a result, your daily newsfeed likely appears as an endless doomscroll of stressful update after stressful update after stressful update. And the answer to the question of what is doomscrolling, exactly, probably sounds close to what you'd guess: the hardly healthy habit of regularly flipping through all your social media platforms and news updates in attempt to cope with a crisis by constantly searching for answers in the form of new information.
Doomscrolling "leads to habitually checking your phone for new insights and information," says Bethany Baker, digital-wellness expert and executive director of tech-free experience company A-GAP. "This usually just sends the 'truth seeker' down a thorny rabbit hole of social media posts, biased opinions, negative content, and disinformation, which isn’t doing them any good and leaves them feeling defeated. The news cycle has become more intense over the past few months and the never-ending consumption can become toxic."
And new research says the habit is also bad for mental health. An August 2020 study from Pennsylvania State University analyzed the social media usage of 320 participants from Wuhan, China. While most participants were able to receive social support from WeChat, China's most popular social media app, more than half reported experiencing some level of depression, with 20 percent of them suffering moderate or severe depression. So, while news continues to be bleak about COVID-19 updates—not to mention a tension-filled presidential election—spending too much time interacting with it likely won't do anyone any favors.
"The body, mind, and spirit thrive when we engage in positive, uplifting thoughts and activities," says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD. "When we engage in doomscrolling, we actively promote negative thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. In the short term, doomscrolling can cause an upwelling of feelings such as irritability, anxiety, and sadness. In the long term, doomscrolling can certainly foster chronic anxiety, depression, stress, and pessimism."
"When we engage in doomscrolling, we actively promote negative thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations." —clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD
But it makes sense why so many of us have been turning to it as a coping mechanism: Amid a global health crisis, a national economic collapse, and a societal reckoning of the systemic racism that's swirled in this country for centuries, it's natural to feel a total loss of control. Doomscrolling, in many ways, feels like a control because we can decide how informed we are. But when the information is triggering and there isn't much by way of answers to offer, the effect isn't necessarily a positive one.
"While we initially turn to this online content for comfort and answers, the reality is that the more we consume, the more drained, helpless, and potentially anxious or lonely we will feel," says Baker. "Those feelings can often trigger us to seek out even more information, on an endless quest for a sense of control that we’re just not likely to achieve." But, it's in every person's power to stop the doomscrolling cycle.
Below, the pros share 4 strategies to curb a doomscrolling habit and find solace elsewhere.
1. Detach yourself from the phone and replace doomscrolling with another activity
This might mean physically detaching yourself from your phone or computer—which can benefit you in a number of ways beyond saving yourself from the effects of doomscrolling.
"The blue light from our phones actually turns off the melatonin in our brains which make it much more difficult to fall asleep," says Baker. "Instead of scrolling, you can read a book, meditate, listen to calming podcasts or music, find some other distraction that doesn’t self-perpetuate the same way checking online feeds does."
2. Set boundaries for consuming news
"Avoid news after dinner, as it increases evening stress and interferes with all-important sleep," Dr. Manly says. You can also strive to stay away from provoking, visual sources that might trigger traumatic responses from you, and, above all, listen to what your body is telling you.
"When you slow down to listen, your body and mind will tell you when you’ve absorbed enough or the wrong type of news," Dr. Manly says. "If you’re feeling agitated, anxious, or stressed, you know your body is signaling you to stop what you’re doing."
3. Mitigate stressful triggers when necessary
And different news items may be particularly triggering to different people. For example, a person who recently lost a loved one to COVID-19 may be more affected than others by data showing an increase in COVID-related deaths. "If a trigger feels especially stressful and challenging, strive not to criticize or judge yourself; simply realize that you need a bit of extra TLC around these issues," Dr. Manly says.
If, when you find yourself doomscrolling on social media, you notice that particular content is harmful to you and your mental health, Baker suggests muting, unfollowing, or blocking accounts as needed. "In addition to silencing negative accounts, it’s important to curate happiness. You can follow those accounts who you find positive and uplifting."
4. Stay connected in other ways
An easy lifestyle change that can help you kick a doomscrolling habit is to contact a friend and have a cleansing conversation. "Give someone a call, or—if you aren't screen-timed out—FaceTime or Zoom with friends or family," Bakers says. "Being face-to-face with someone, even if it’s through screens, can be a great for lowering stress and limiting mindless scrolling."
You can also, of course, check in and connect with yourself. "Use the time you free up from doomscrolling to spend on more productive activities: reading, starting a creative project, spending time with the family you are quarantined with, exercising, or simply taking a walk and enjoying your natural surroundings and sunlight," Baker says.
Originally published on July 2, 2020. Updated on January 8, 2021.
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