Are you doomscrolling? As you browse through your Facebook news feed, you read through tons and tons of online content. The more time you spend online, the more likely you are to stumble upon some terrible news or social media posts that make you feel frightened, depressed, or hopeless.
This is a rather common problem in social media, and it leads to a self-destructive habit known as “doomscrolling.”
What is doomscrolling?
Doomscrolling is a term coined to describe the perpetual navigation through negative posts or content online, particularly in news outlets or social media.
While one may assume that the term first appeared with the pandemic in 2020, it was actually introduced in 2018, on Twitter — a common place for negative posts and outrageous online drama.
Why do we doomscroll?
According to Tess Brigham, MFT, doomscrolling occurs when people unintentionally stumble upon shocking stories, and get sucked into reading more than a healthy dose of negative news.
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“Doomscrolling occurs when you realize you’ve landed on a story and have no idea how you got there. You can’t remember why you even got on your phone in the first place, but now you’re reading hundreds of comments or retweets of someone you don’t even follow,” Brigham said.
In many cases, people doomscroll when they read online news too often or for too long. Sometimes, the topic becomes addictive and everyday concerns become irrelevant or get neglected. Why does this happen?
“People doom scroll for many different reasons,” Brigham says. “The main reason is as a way of feeling in control in a world that feels so out of control all the time.”
Brigham notes that one would choose to doomscroll in preparation for the worst, watching for bad news so that they’re not caught off guard.
“We are hardwired to survive and to see the things that could potentially harm us,” Brigham added. “That’s in our DNA, and our ancestors needed this ability in order to literally survive. While our world is very different, we still have this drive to keep ourselves safe, which we think we’re doing by reading negative new stories.”
Unfortunately, media outlets often take advantage of the addictive nature of bad news, and use the tactic of “scaremongering” to attract more readers with shocking titles.
The idea that we doomscroll negative topics because we live in fear is bad enough, but a recent study showed that doomscrolling may also have serious health consequences.
The pitfalls of doomscrolling
According to a study done by journal Health Communication, out of the 1100 doomscrollers tested, only 28.7 percent scored low on all five problematic categories: transportation (becoming immersed in the topic), preoccupation (dwelling on the topic), misregulation (scrolling negative news to alleviate anxiety), underregulation (inability to stop scrolling), and interference (impacting relationships, performance or causing conflicts).
The majority of participants scored high in some of the categories, with 27.5 percent minimally affected — meaning the habit was somewhat problematic but they had control over it. Another 27.3 percent of the participants reported “moderately problematic” levels, and 16.5 percent of the participants showed dire signs of anxiety and stress.
“For these individuals, a vicious cycle can develop in which, rather than tuning out, they become drawn further in, obsessing over the news and checking for updates around the clock to alleviate their emotional distress,” Bryan McLaughlin, Associate Professor at Texas Tech University and lead author of the study, said.
“But it doesn’t help, and the more they check the news, the more it begins to interfere with other aspects of their lives.”
“It’s bad for your mental health because there is no real benefit to doomscrolling,” Brigham says. “It only makes you more anxious and paranoid about the world around you.”
While you may not be aware that you are absorbing all that negative energy, it works on your subconscious. Anxiety can disrupt your sleep, with doomsday scenarios haunting your dreams.
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How to control doomscrolling
There is hope for habitual doomscrollers, however. As long as you recognize the problem and wish to overcome it, you can take your life back into a positive realm.
Distract yourself from the news. Try focusing your attention on offline things that you enjoy. Tear yourself away from the eye-straining screen and depressing news, and really do something.
Whether it is a purposeful activity or just for fun, any fresh perspective will help clear your mind and brighten your day. Physical labor or exercise has many health benefits, while reading classical literature can cultivate more wholesome and noble thought patterns.
Unfortunately, many of us are tied to the Internet for our livelihood. If you must read the news, exercise some control: limit your viewing time, and pay special attention to avoid the negative content.
Most importantly, connect with real people. Interaction with family, friends and even strangers offers real-life experience — much more valuable than any content online. If you’re troubled by the news, talk about it with someone you trust. A healthy discussion with your loved ones will likely break the cycle of negativity you have been sucked into.
Doomscrolling can become a dreadful downward spiral, but with good intentions and determination, we can clear away the dismal fog and allow more positive thoughts to guide and shape our lives. Be grateful for the things that push you forward, and resist the ones that pull you back. If the world seems bad and irredeemable, search out all the good and positive things in your life and embrace them.