Firstly...WTF is this doomscrolling I speak of?
Doomscrolling or doomsurfing, are (apparently) new words used that describe our tendency as a species to continue to surf or scroll through bad news ad nauseam even though what we're reading and watching is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. This is actually the truth, because Merriam-Webster says so.
While doomscrolling existed—in practice, if not in name—before the COVID-19 pandemic came screaming into existence like the bat from which it originated, Merriam-Webster points out that it’s really taken hold lately. It’s not just about the virus, though: People can doomscroll through news about racial injustice and the unemployment rate. Basically, if the news is bad or depressing, you can doomscroll it.
OK, but why do we doomscroll—and how bad is it, really?
As it turns out, your brain loves this stuff. Why is that? Well, because we are all hardwired to see the negative and be drawn to it because it can harm us physically. This is because of good 'ol evolution. If your ancestors learned all about how [insert scary ancient creature here] could injure them, they could avoid that fate. We can sense danger. It helps us survive.
But in modern times, most of us don’t realize that we're even doing this. All that we know is that have a question, we want an answer, and we assume that getting that answer will make us feel better. So, we keep scrolling and scrolling. Many of us think that will be helpful, but we end up feeling worse afterward.
To that point, doomscrolling can really challenge the way you see the world. People are drawn to doomscrolling because they feel like they have a sense of being able to control any of that bad news. But, seriously, doomscrolling does not create control and only makes you miserable. The overall impact doomscrolling has on people can vary, but typically, it can make you feel extra anxious, depressed, and isolated.
How can you stop doomscrolling, for real?
Well, first it’s important to recognize that you’re doing it at all.
But, seriously, doomscrolling does not create control and only makes you miserable. The overall impact doomscrolling has on people can vary, but typically, it can make you feel extra anxious, depressed, and isolated.
From there, take a beat and think about how you feel after you do this. Does it make you feel better and more empowered to have this knowledge, or do you end up feeling even more anxious and hopeless? If it’s the latter you’ll want to get out of the habit ASAP.
I recommend to my patients that they try to limit the amount of time they spend on they're glowing bricks. So, maybe you set aside 15 minutes for you to cruise social media but, when the time is up, you put your phone down and don’t do it again for the rest of the day. And, if even that makes you feel stressed, don’t do it.
Then, train yourself to see the positive in things. It’s not going to come about naturally—you actually have to do some work. Try to look for at least three positive things a day, even if it’s as little as thinking that your coffee was particularly tasty this morning. Over time, these positive thoughts become more meaningful.
You can step things up from there by trying to do more nice things for people. Maybe you tell your dad you like his new quarantine buzz cut or you let a clearly frazzled mom cut in front of you at the grocery store. These type of things work against the negative sensations that you've been used to experiencing.
Ultimately, you can't avoid how intense things are right now, but doomscrolling on the regular isn’t doing your physical or mental health any favors—and it's definitely not helping your loved ones or society at large, either. This is the time for everyone to be really mindful of what we’re doing, and to try to do better and if that includes putting your phone away once in a while, so be it.