It may feel harmless, but doomscrolling has a negative impact on our wellbeing
Are you stuck constantly cycling through social media and news apps, closing one just to open another? Are you exhausted despite having “not done anything” all day? Do you have a bottomless pit of anxiety where your stomach used to lie? Well, you might be doomscrolling.
We’ve all repeatedly heard that screens are bad for our health. But come on: the urgent “ping!” of a notification is addictive. Our screen time wouldn’t regularly hit double-digit hours if it wasn’t. And it’s always happening.
That’s the problem.
Let’s be honest: our society is terrible with boundaries. Like, really bad. Whether you’re checking work emails in bed or sacrificing your mental health for a one-sided relationship, it’s hard to construct limits when we’re always expected to be available.
Mix that constant availability with our urgency culture, then add a whole lot of pressure to stay informed: it’s the ideal recipe for a doomscroll. But we don’t have to bite.
Join me in learning more about why the doomscroll is so consuming, the factors that drive it, and how it affects our wellbeing. Together, we’ll discover how to stop doomscrolling so we can calm anxiety, and lead healthier, happier lives again.
What is Doomscrolling?
Alright, so what is doomscrolling anyways? And is it actually as dreadful as it sounds?
In short, yes. This apocalyptic-seeming term accurately sums up a destructive habit many of us recently took up: immersing ourselves in bad news online. But it’s more than skimming sad Facebook statuses or checking the latest pandemic stats, then exiting your browser. No, the doomscroll is consuming.
Although the phrase “doomscrolling” dates back to the 2018 Twittersphere, it quickly rose to infamy in 2020. No surprise there. When the world was in shambles from mass illness and deaths, racial violence, natural disasters, political tensions, and stay-at-home orders, we were more online than ever. This amalgamation of horrible events really was “unprecedented.”.
But somehow, turning to social media feeds brings us a sense of comfort in dark times, despite the mental toll it takes. And that’s the ironic part about it. It feels debilitating. Our bodies swell with anxiety, our minds start to catastrophize, and we continue spiraling down a hole of dread. Yet, we always want more.
Faces Behind the Doomscroll
If you’re stuck in a news addiction, don’t blame yourself. Instead, let’s unpack the factors that keep us hooked.
Staying informed in times of crisis is important, but there’s also social pressure to immediately know your stance on every issue. Being in the know can evolve from a preference to an obligation.
Now, nearly half of Americans get their news from social media. Media giants rely on sensationalized stories, clickbait headlines, and bad news to keep us clicking in a saturated market. After all, fear-mongering gains way more attention than uplifting, feel-good stories. Pair that with the 24-hour news cycle, and every piece seems urgent all the time. It’s intentional.
The Doomscroll Addiction: Why Too Much Is Never Enough
If doomscrolling makes us feel so awful, why do we do it? Well, the information-seeking scroll plays tricks on our brains, so even though it’s detrimental, it seems pretty great at the moment.
Smartphone Proximity Feels Empowering
Although doomscrolling leaves us feeling pretty darn horrible, it brings us comfort. People feel a sense of power when their smartphones are nearby. So, even when there’s nothing we can do about devastating current events, we feel some semblance of control when reading about them on our devices.
Information Helps Calm Anxiety
Funny enough, a good ol’ fashioned doomscroll can also calm anxiety. That’s right: the same act that accelerates anxiety also alleviates it.
Unpredictability is one of the most common anxiety triggers. The antidote? Learn more about what’s happening. Staying informed provides context that helps us set expectations, prepare for the future, and make a game plan that keeps us safe in uncertain times. It’s a survival instinct.
Holding Out for Hope
Slot machines are highly addictive for a reason: they run on an intermittent reinforcement schedule. We never know when we’ll hit the jackpot, but we know that it’s coming. Each time we lose, we’re that much more confident that the next round will be a surefire win. Until it’s not. But then the next one has to be, right?
That irregular reward schedule is the same reason we keep refreshing our timelines. Eventually, we’ll hear some good news, even if we don’t know when. And that makes the doomscroll worth it.
Bad News Confirms Our Biases
Our brains unconsciously seek out information that validates our existing beliefs. This phenomenon is called “confirmation bias.” So whether or not we realize it, every time we open social media apps and begin that doomscrolling cycle, it’s an attempt to confirm our suspicions.
If you’re stuck in a state of emotional dread believing “The world is a bad place right now,” the headlines suggesting that the world indeed is a bad place jump out. And it’s validating to hear our fears confirmed because, hey, who doesn’t want to be right?
Wellness Tolls of the Infinite Scroll
Need a reason to put down your phone? It’s harmful to your wellbeing, plain and simple.
Doomscrolling may not feel that damaging at the moment, but rather like you’re in a numb, foggy daze. However, it has significant impacts on all aspects of our health. Here’s how it might manifest in your life:
Triggering Mental Illnesses
As you can guess by the name, doomscrolling keeps us in a constant state of dread. No wonder it’s terrible for our mental health! Ruminating on these negative thoughts can lead to anxiety and depression or exacerbate pre-existing symptoms. And the deeper we spiral into these thinking patterns, the harder it is to change them.
On top of this, the news cycle can be quite traumatic. Whether you’ve experienced prejudicial violence or had a loved one pass away, being bombarded with similar stories can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Carrying Stress in Your Body
People often say that stress manifests physically. And it’s true! Our nervous systems activate when we feel threatened, eliciting the fight, flight, or freeze response and releasing a cocktail of hormones into our body.
Think about the ways your body reacts to stressful moments. Does your heartbeat accelerate? Do your palms get sweaty? Do your shoulders scrunch up? These are all ways you physically respond to this hormone party. However, we aren’t designed to chronically live in survival mode.
An overactive nervous system can lead to persistent health problems, including cardiovascular diseases, muscle pain, digestive issues, and reproductive system changes.
It’s well known that nighttime is peak doomscrolling hours. Not only does this cause sleep loss, but blue light exposure before bed also disrupts your natural sleep-wake cycle. Plus, sleep and anxiety don’t pair well together.
Anyone who burns the candle at both ends knows that insufficient sleep comes with its own problems. Irritability, limited attention span, and a lower stress threshold are all symptoms of fatigue. Chronic sleep deprivation can cause other, more serious physical ailments too.
Inability to Stay Present
Scrolling is a mindless activity. You aren’t truly engaged with the content you’re absorbing, nor are you checking in with yourself. Spending excessive time in this disconnected state inhibits our ability to stay grounded in real life. Maybe you’re struggling to stay focused at work or no longer appreciate the smell of flowers on your afternoon walk — a pesky doomscroll habit could cause this.
How to Stop Doomscrolling
Though 2020 is thankfully over, our coping mechanisms remain. We revert to our doomscroll addiction when the news cycles turn dark, and we suffer for it. Luckily, we can learn how to stop doomscrolling.
- Limit Social Media
Limiting screen time is the most obvious way to learn how to stay off social media, preventing doomscrolling. But, it’s one of the hardest things to implement. So, if you’re like me and your smartphone’s app limitations have already failed you, try using Freedom to schedule recurring media-free sessions. Choose your restricted times in advance, or set them up when you sense a scroll coming on.
- Practice Mindfulness
Prioritize checking in with yourself. Notice how your body’s feeling, pay attention to your thoughts, and engage with all of your senses.
Set aside time to practice mindfulness every day, and your mental health will thank you. It’s one of the most effective techniques regarding how to stop anxiety over time. It feels like a breath of fresh air for your brain!
- Connect With Loved Ones
Sometimes, we get so absorbed in digital culture that we forget real people exist. Get back to reality by connecting with a loved one. Call your parents, visit your best friend, and relish the feeling of community support.
- Seek Out Good News
You don’t have to stop the news cycle completely to kick a doomscrolling habit. Instead, try seeking out some good news. Whether you create a “good news only” group chat with your pals or cleanse your following list, happier events deserve more space in your mind.
- Get Into the Real World
Go spend some time in nature! Feel the sun on your face, breathe in that fresh air, and enjoy what the earth offers. Get your blood pumping, too, if you can, by moving your body while you’re at it.
And if you’re feeling ambitious, stop at your local plant shop to bring some nature back to your home. Hopefully, caring for something else reminds you that you also need water and sunlight to thrive.
How to Stay Off Social Media While Staying Informed
Here’s the million-dollar dilemma: how to stay off social media while staying in the loop. Is it even possible?
Yes! It’s natural — healthy, even — to want to stay informed about what’s happening in the world. It’s all about finding balance. Here are some ways to stay educated that (hopefully) won’t make you catastrophize.
- Explore Other News Sources
It feels like a million years ago, but there was a time before social media existed. And people still managed to get news updates! So, explore other options that use more slowly-paced info cycles.
Subscribe to your local newspaper, tune in to a radio station (that also plays music) during your commute, or watch the evening news broadcast. Whatever it is, make sure that your source isn’t chock-full of information 24/7.
- Limit Your Time on Distracting Sites
Instead of attempting to stop the news cycle on social media entirely, try managing it. Use Freedom’s Limit and Pause extensions to adjust your time spent on distracting sites without restricting them completely. And let’s not forget that doomscrolling isn’t exclusive to apps. Instead, these extensions allow you to limit your access to popular websites that may drag you down the doomscroll rabbit hole.
- Turn Off Notifications
Nothing is more tempting than that dopamine-filled notification. It’s the easiest way to lose all focus for hours, then return to real life wondering, “How did I get here?” So, consider breaking up with them. No one needs access to you at every waking second — I promise.
Stop the News Cycle and Find Freedom
Like any habit, it’s possible to curb your doomscroll addiction once and for all. So next time you find yourself spiraling down an infinite scroll, check in with yourself, seek real-world connections, and find ways to limit social media using tools like Freedom. Now, set those limits, and get on with your day!