The past few years have brought on more bad news than any of us can feasibly stay on top of. A global pandemic, racial injustices and war have all rocked our perception of the world around us, and had a profound negative impact on countless people’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
Though no one can snap their fingers and solve all the issues in the world, there are certain bad habits that can exacerbate the external factors that strain our mental wellbeing.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the phenomenon of doomscrolling, its potential impact on our mental health, and how we can set better boundaries to mitigate its damaging effects.
What is Doomscrolling?
Doomscrolling is a relatively new term referring to a phenomenon that’s been observed for some time now. It’s the habit of scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms for extended periods of time, specifically focussing on bad news and negative content.
Doomscrolling is nothing new, but the Covid-19 pandemic brought it into the public consciousness in a whole new way. The peak of the pandemic had people the world over facing down a crisis never before seen in living memory, and the snowballing rate of infection and death often made it feel like the world was ending. As people’s social media feeds filled up with updates about the virus wrecking havoc on people’s day-to-day lives, the bad habit of doomscrolling became far easier to fall into.
Though doomscrolling can start as a relatively benign way to keep up with current events, if it’s left unchecked, it can rapidly spiral into a compulsive bad habit that’s extremely detrimental to the scroller’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Teenagers are more likely to use technology and can be seen as more vulnerable to the effects of doomscrolling with the average American teenager spending 6.5 hours per day staring at screens.
The Impact of Doomscrolling on Our Mental Health
If you’ve ever found yourself falling into the habit of doomscrolling, it won’t be surprising to hear too much of it can have a serious, detrimental effect on your mental health.
A recent study showed that within people who exhibited problematic levels of news consumption, nearly three-quarters reported experiencing mental health problems, compared to just 8% of other study participants who reported healthier levels of media consumption.
Though poor mental health can manifest itself in many different ways depending on the individual and other lifestyle factors, there are a range of mental health symptoms that have been observed in people with a less-than-healthy relationship with their social media feeds…
It Incepts and Reinforces Negative Feelings
The mental impact of COVID-19 news scrolling, particularly in young people, has been studied extensively and shown to have a correlation with a general decline in mental health. Aside from manifesting as new mental health conditions, those who already suffer from depression, anxiety, and other conditions can see an increased incidence of episodes, and a general worsening of their symptoms.
It Encourages Rumination
As it’s associated with pervasive, existential crises like the pandemic and climate change, too much doomscrolling can make people more likely to ruminate, a habit that’s associated with an increased likelihood to develop depression.
It Interferes with a Healthy Sleep Cycle
Many people have a tendency to doomscroll before bed. Due to the addictive nature of social media, minutes can easily turn to hours and eat into the time that a person should be sleeping. Furthermore, scrolling through specifically negative news stories can worsen anxiety, which is frequently associated with difficulty falling asleep.
It Causes Cognitive Dissonance Via Conflicting News Stories
Though major platforms have taken steps to remedy it, social media is notorious for attracting dubious and unfounded news stories which are presented as fact. Your account preferences and increasingly sophisticated content filters can help to muffle this kind of content, but it can still slip through the net, especially when it comes to controversial topics such as COVID policy and racial injustice.
When you read about the same events, covered in a contradictory fashion by different news platforms, it can give rise to cognitive dissonance and anxiety. This can be especially jarring to people who see conflicting media stories shared by their close friends and family.
It’s Associated with Higher Stress Levels
Compulsive doomscrolling, and the overuse of social media in general, has a correlation with higher levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. Aside from its associations with depression and anxiety, out-of-control doomscrolling can cause people to experience more stress, making them more susceptible to mental and physical exhaustion.
How to Stop Doomscrolling
Quips and memes aside, it’s clear that doomscrolling is a prevalent issue that has serious mental health effects for those who are unable to control it.
If you know you have a tendency for compulsive doomscrolling, or you think you may be at risk of falling into an unhealthy doomscrolling habit, here’s some good habits and tactics to keep it under control, and prevent doomscrolling from causing serious harm to your mental wellbeing.
Firstly, Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out for Help
Seeing as you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re already experiencing troubles with your mental health, and wondering if doomscrolling could have something to do with it.
Though doomscrolling certainly isn’t good for anyone’s mental wellbeing, it’s often just one part of the puzzle. Before reading any further, it’s important to know that there’s no shame in needing outside help to deal with mental health issues.
Though myths and misconceptions still persist in many social spaces, tens of millions of people throughout the nation seek treatment or counseling for mental health every year. With a rapidly disappearing stigma around mental health, there are countless treatment options ranging from simple meditation apps to extended stays at luxury rehabs.
Admitting you need help can be tough, but if you’re concerned about your mental health, remember that you don’t have to suffer in silence.
Make your Mornings and Evenings a Scroll-Free Zone
Scrolling through social media feels like a natural part of many points in our day-to-day schedules. For example, if you use your phone for alarms like most people do, waking up and indulging in a “quick” scroll might be a normal daily occurrence.
Habits like this can easily turn one quick check into a scrolling session lasting an hour or more, often characterized by a slew of bad news and doom-mongering hyperbole that can leave the reader feeling utterly hopeless.
To curb this habitual doomscrolling, try to set aside certain times of the day when you’ll abstain from social media. App timers and blockers on your phone, as well as throwing yourself into a healthier way to spend time like reading or meditation, can be a great way to set boundaries with your social media use, and mitigate the effects of doomscrolling on your mental health.
Set Times of the Day for Scrolling
On the other hand, if your social media use is more of a universal constant throughout the day, you may want to take an inverse approach, and set specific times of the day for scrolling social media.
By setting specific slots of the day (avoiding mornings and evenings!) when you allow yourself to scroll through your news feeds and catch up on current events, you’ll find it easier to avoid slipping into the trap of the infinite doomscroll, and keep social media in general from eating into your precious time.
To make this habit even more beneficial, consider going into your designated scrolling slots with a specific, positive intention in mind. For example, you might want to set one block aside for replying to messages and checking on your favorite influencer accounts, and another block for catching up on the news.
By fencing in your scrolltime like this and devoting less of your mental processing power to negative content, you’ll naturally begin to draw more positivity from your social media use, and spend less time compounding the anxiety and hopelessness that comes from habitual doomscrolling.
Try to Practice Mindful Scrolling
Though many people associate the concept of mindfulness solely with meditation, it can be applied to practically any activity and situation in life. Though no one’s expecting you to swear off the news altogether, you might be able to make it a more positive experience by trying to practice mindful scrolling.
The idea here is to keep your attention focussed solely on the present moment as you scroll, and not letting your mind wander to ruminating about the past or speculating about the future. As you scroll through your news feed, pay attention to the purpose of your scrolling, and the way it’s affecting you mentally, emotionally, and even physically. If, for example, you only opened a specific app to read up on the details of a certain economic sanction related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, then find those details, and close the app.
Scrolling is usually a pretty mindless exercise, but when you make a conscious effort to focus on the way you’re engaging with it, controlling your behavior relating to any given social media app can become so much easier.