What is doomscrolling? And six ways to avoid it.Apr 30, 2022
From “pivot” to “incubation period”, the global pandemic gave new life to some fairly old words. And one of them was “doomscrolling”.
While the concept isn’t really a recent one, with people glued to their screens, it reached concerning levels during lockdown. And unfortunately, against the global challenges of covid, war, climate control, rising inflation, and even the upcoming Australian Federal election, it shows no signs of slowing down.
With that in mind, here’s why doomscrolling is a concern, and what you can do to ensure you’re in the loop with the latest news, without damaging your mental health.
What is doomscrolling and why do we do it anyway?
Ever been absolutely terrified by a horror movie, yet unable to look away? According to the Merriam-webster dictionary, doomscrolling refers to the similar tendency “to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening or depressing."
Doomscrolling might seem to be a relatively modern phenomenon, but its origins can actually be traced back to the brain activity and behaviours of our ancestors.
That’s because as humans we’re inherently wired to be attuned to any threats in our environment. Much like the cavepeople who came before us, and took a “flight or fight” response when deciding how to handle being confronted with a sabre-toothed tiger, today, we doomscroll to figure out how much of a threat something actually is and decide whether we should do something about it.
However, unlike our cave-dwelling ancestors (or probably even our own parents), digital generations are surrounded by news all the time! And our brains just have not evolved to access information to this extent.
No longer restricted to a daily newspaper or 6pm television broadcast, current social media platforms make it practically impossible to avoid news … the good, the bad, and the doomsworthy.
The downfalls of doomscrolling and addictive behaviours
Our quest for information generally starts out of curiosity - the need to know and discover things. However, as our brains become more overloaded with information, they also become quickly exhausted by the cognitive effort required to process all this.
The challenge then becomes balancing the need for knowledge with overconsumption of it - which can negatively affect our mental health by aggravating anxiety and exacerbating stress.
While I don’t believe complete social media detoxes are necessary, continuously scrolling through Instagram and taking in a constant torrent of bad news is obviously not a habit that is productive to our wellness. But is nonetheless is it an easy pattern to fall into given how simple it has now become to access information.
However, as a psychologist who understands that cravings, triggers, and urges are usually really a response to managing emotions, my concern is that these “big feelings” (things like distress, anxiety, and difficulty focusing), can lead us to make choices that offer immediate relief, such as using drugs or alcohol. Even if we know these are not necessarily helpful in the long term.
So what can you do about doomscroling?
When it comes to doomscrolling, it’s not all, well, “doom” and gloom. In fact, there are some relatively simple habits we can adopt to stay in the know… and also in control of the way in which we consume our news.
Set a limit
Whether it’s through usage-blocking apps, or setting a literal alarm, try to practice time-based news consumption. This will look different for everyone. For some, it’s scrolling Facebook once to start the day, for others, even less.
To start, try to set limits and boundaries between what is non-negotiable (the things you actually need to know to keep yourself safe, do your job properly, and so on), and then work out how much of this news you can consume, before it becomes unhelpful, and affects your mental health and lifestyle choices.
Distance yourself from your devices
It’s not necessary to completely give your phone the flip. However, making some parts of our life “phone-free zones” - such as the dinner table, will force your brain to take a break from the endless new cycle. Even if it's only for an hour.
Curate your news feed
It’s a pretty commonly known fact that social media algorithms will give you more of what you pay attention to. So if you want to change what they serve you, take control and curate your sources of information. An easy way to do this is to simply click the three little dots and say "not relevant/not interested" on each of the posts that you are wanting to reduce. That way the algorithm will start sharing different things with you to try and catch your attention.
Conversely, spend some time on uplifting, positive-based news sites that leave you feeling inspired and hopeful. We love Facebook groups such as The Kindness Pandemic, and Instagram pages like Upworthy, which foster a strong sense of community.
Delete social media apps
While this might not work for everyone, deleting some social media apps from your phone means you’ll have to actively go to a computer and log in to the platform you want to check. As a result, you’ll have to be mindful and make an active decision to spend some time there.
Turn off notifications
Turning off news-based notifications on your phone can also be a great way to reduce the external driver of the phone telling you to pick it up.
Be aware of your addictions
Finally, pay attention to what you swap out for when you put down your phone. In these instances, it can be really helpful to speak with a professional about your relationship with information consumption - particularly if it is affecting your relationship with other addictive behaviours.