In the age of smartphones and social media, it’s easy to get lost in the endless scroll of news feeds and timelines.
While keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world can be a positive thing, constant exposure to negative news and distressing content can lead to a phenomenon known as ‘doomscrolling’.
What is doomscrolling?
Doomscrolling can be defined as the habit of scrolling through social media and news feeds looking for depressing and negative information.
Although it often starts with the intention of staying informed, for some of us it can become a compulsive behaviour, trapping us in an unending cycle of bleak headlines, alarming statistics, and distressing images.
Particularly prevalent during the Covid-19 pandemic, the phenomenon has stayed with us and is becoming of increasing concern to mental health professionals.
Academic research has highlighted its impacts on mental health (see, for example, Doomscrolling Scale: its Association with Personality Traits, Psychological Distress, Social Media Use, and Wellbeing and Caught in a Dangerous World: Problematic News Consumption and Its Relationship to Mental and Physical Ill-Being) while mental health professional and charities are also concerned (see British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy What is doomscrolling – and what can help if it’s affecting your mental health?, Psychology Today A Doomscrolling Self-Assessment and Samaritans Practical tips if you find yourself ‘doomscrolling’ online news and social media).
The topic is also being covered more and more in the general media and popular magazines (including Cosmopolitan Doomscrolling: What is doomscrolling? And more importantly, how can you stop?, Glamour Are you guilty of doomscrolling? How the unhealthy social media trend is eroding your mental health, Good Housekeeping How Doomscrolling Can Wreak Havoc on Your Mental Health and Time How to Stop Doomscrolling and Find Meaning on Social Media).
Why do people doomscroll?
Several psychological triggers contribute to the attraction of doomscrolling. The fear of missing out (FOMO) drives some of us to constantly monitor the latest news, so that we’re not left behind in conversations, while the fear of uncertainty can make us seek information compulsively, hoping to find answers or reassurance amid chaotic situations.
Social validation can also play a role: sharing and engaging with trending news can offer some of us a sense of belonging and validation within online communities.
The effects on mental health
Doomscrolling has profound effects on mental health, leading to increased anxiety, stress and a sense of hopelessness. The constant exposure to distressing content disrupts sleep patterns, induces nightmares and affects overall sleep quality.
Our productivity suffers as we find it challenging to focus on tasks while our minds are preoccupied with the latest news.
Over time, doomscrolling can desensitise us emotionally, making it harder for us to empathise with others’ pain and suffering.
How to avoid doomscrolling
Breaking free from the doomscrolling cycle requires conscious effort and mindfulness. Here are some ideas for how to start:
Recognise the signs
The first step toward overcoming doomscrolling is self-awareness. Recognize when you’re falling into the trap of mindless scrolling and set specific time limits for your social media usage. Consider using built-in features on your devices to track and limit screen time.
Curate your online experience
Unfollow accounts or mute keywords that consistently share negative or triggering content. Take control of your social media feeds and curate them to include positive, inspiring and educational content. Limit your exposure to news by designating specific times of the day for catching up on current events.
Replace doomscrolling with healthy habits
Engage in activities that promote mindfulness and relaxation. Practice meditation or yoga to calm your mind. Pursue hobbies that bring you joy, whether it’s reading, painting, gardening or playing a musical instrument. By filling your time with fulfilling activities, you reduce the urge to scroll through your phone.
Create a supportive environment
Share your goals with friends or family members and encourage each other to reduce doomscrolling habits. Consider participating in digital detox challenges, where you and your friends commit to limiting screen time for a set period, because working with someone else who’s affected can make a significant difference in breaking the cycle.
Tools and apps for managing screen time
There are numerous tools and apps designed to help manage screen time and reduce doomscrolling habits. Screen time tracking apps provide insights into our digital habits, helping identify areas for improvement. Content blockers and website filters allow us to block specific websites or applications and limit our access to triggering content.
It might also be worth exploring mindfulness and mental health apps that offer guided meditations, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to help reduce stress and anxiety.
Doomscrolling doesn’t have to be an irreversible trap. By understanding what triggers it, the effect on us, and by employing mindful strategies, we can break free from the cycle of digital despair.
The power to change lies within us and, by making conscious choices, we can reclaim our mental wellbeing in the digital world.
For further information about how I can help you tackle issues around poor mental health, please get in touch.