In uncertain times, we all want answers. And with the internet giving us instant access to information at our fingertips, it is easy to find yourself in a loop of constantly scrolling headlines and hitting refresh. There is now a term for this: doomscrolling, sometimes called doomsurfing.
As its name implies, consuming information this way has its drawbacks, especially at the cost of our mental health. What’s more, there are plenty of bad actors who will take advantage of ambiguity to share misinformation or use dramatic headlines to draw users to their website, further contributing to the cycle.
In this article, we’re going to explain what doomscrolling is, how it affects your well-being and tips to avoid falling into the 24-hour news cycle rabbit hole.
What is doomscrolling?
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many of us likely had never heard of the concept of doomscrolling or doomsurfing. In short, it is the act of continuously reading bad news or commentary, even when it makes you upset, disheartened or depressed. And while this habit has finally gotten a name, the concept of continuously exposing ourselves to negative information is nothing new.
Why do we do this? To put it simply, humans are wired to survive and seek out threats. In situations with an unclear outcome, seeking information can give us a sense of control over what is happening in the world. And when we train ourselves to expect the worst, we feel we are better prepared to take on what may come our way. But this type of thinking has a significant toll on our health.
Our bodies adjust to survive…but at a cost
When faced with a threat, we trigger the amygdala, a neuroanatomical mechanism that sounds the alarm of danger in the environment. Our body responds by enhancing our vigilance and scanning our surroundings for new threats. (You might know this as a “flight or fight” reaction.) When this happens, other parts of our body channel energy to assist the components that need to react to threats: our heart, our limbs, our senses, etc.
However, when we are in a constantly-vigilant state, we enter hyperstimulation. This is when your body has not had time to properly come down from a threat, since it is constantly being exposed to the idea of risk. Hyperstimulation leads to anxiety, which has a massive list of symptoms, including:
- Increased blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Trouble sleeping
- High blood sugar
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Sense of hopelessness and depression
How to stop doomscrolling
Between our social media feeds and the non-stop news cycle, it can be easy to get caught up in the act of doomscrolling. But here are some ways to prevent it:
Set a time limit
It is good to be informed, so we are not discouraging disconnecting from the news. But by setting a time limit, you can keep yourself from entering doomscrolling mode. So, choose a designated time of the day and set an alarm. Once the time passes, you are cut off from scrolling until the next day.
You can also designate daily screen-free time to help curb late-night scrolling, such as after 8 p.m. This will help you get better sleep.
Take stock of who you follow
If you are like most Americans, you probably spend almost two-and-a-half hours a day on social media. And as part of your diligence to reduce doomscrolling, it is important to take stock of the accounts you follow. Does their content bring you happiness and fulfillment? Or does it anger or upset you? If you find yourself triggered by what they share, mute them or unfollow their account entirely.
Be mindful of where you source your news
Whether you get your news from internet research, a news aggregate or social media, it is essential to be vigilant of where information comes from. Many people are looking to deceive others with false news or sensational headlines designed to cause worry and increase clicks.
Look for reputable news websites and compare how different outlets cover the same stories. The website News Compare allows you to look at three major news websites side-by-side to see the differences based on perspective.
Tip: We have an entire post on how to spot fake websites and misinformation here.
Do something that enriches you and brings joy
Finally, one of the best ways to avoid doomscrolling is to simply do something different. The next time you are tempted to pick up your phone, make a list of things you would rather be doing than doomscrolling…and then do them!
Whether it is working on your garden, watching a few episodes of your favorite show, playing a game with family, finally organizing your shoes, or curling up with a good book or handheld game, just make sure it is something that will make you feel good while doing it.
The bottom line: Doomscrolling is a dangerous habit that can cause increased anxiety and a slew of physical and mental symptoms. Set a time limit for how much you consume news and commentary. Be mindful of the accounts you follow and where you get your news. Finally, take a break from the screens to do something that breathes life into you and brings joy.