by Gracie Alvarez
Doomscrolling: a new word created during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is used to describe the phenomena where you continually scroll through bad or breaking news, feeling like you can’t stop, even though it’s anxiety-inducing and/or depressing. Doomscrolling is something it seems like we’ve all formed a habit of doing lately.
You know right after you wake up and turn your alarm off, when you tell yourself you’re just going to check social media or Inbox to see if anything happened overnight? And then you end up scrolling through anxiety-inducing news, tweets, or Facebook posts for an hour longer than you intended to, and suddenly feel significantly more stressed than before? That’s doomscrolling. People also tend to do it at night before they fall asleep or on their lunch break.
It started out as just staying up to date on COVID-19 news: new recommendations by the CDC, the death rate, how long this pandemic would last. Then, after the tragic murder of George Floyd in June, we clung to our phones to stay informed about the Black Lives Matter movement and the escalating police violence. Now, news about the approaching election and various political scandals… it never seems to end. This is doomscrolling.
Personally, I used to spend mornings and nights wasting my time scrolling through viral TikToks and celebrity drama, with a healthy amount of time spent reading up on local and world news. I considered wasting time on entertaining social media a bad habit, but not one that really hurt my mental health. But doomscrolling is actually causing an increase in catastrophizing and/or ruminating thoughts and panic attacks, Dr. Leela R. Magavi, a psychiatrist and regional medical director, told Healthline.
Ruminating thinking is when you continually think about the same sad or dark thoughts over and over. The best example I can give is to think of the first time you realized the COVID-19 pandemic was as bad as it is- that feeling of disbelief and thinking yourself in circles about ‘how is this possible, how could this be happening, or when am I going to wake up from this nightmare?’
Why do we doomscroll when we know its consequences? The answer is due to a combination of things. Firstly, the way social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook are designed actually encourage the phenomenon. They’re designed with the ‘infinite scroll’ feature–meaning, there is no end to your news feed. You can keep scrolling and scrolling while content continually loads for you. It makes users feel like if they don’t keep reading, especially when there’s so much ‘breaking news’ in their feed, they’re going to miss something important. It’s impossible to feel ‘caught up’ when you can never reach the end.
There’s also a survival instinct aspect of it; when you consider the pandemic, the wildfires, the hurricanes… It might feel like if you’re not staying informed, you won’t be able to protect yourself. Lately, it seems like our world is in a constant state-of-emergency with no end in sight. It’s a natural human instinct to feel like you need to be aware of what’s happening and what dangers are out there. According to experts, even just reading about danger can kick our bodies into fight-or-flight. Adrenaline starts pumping, our senses turn hyper-aware, and our heart rate speeds up – something that’s meant to protect us if we’re really in danger, but not meant to be our resting state while we scroll through Twitter.
So how do you stop doomscrolling while still being a responsible, informed citizen? Here’s a few strategies:
1. Don’t scroll first thing in the morning. What you take in when you first wake up will affect the rest of your day and it’s best not to start your day in a state of anxiety. Wait until you’ve gone through your morning routine, drank your coffee, organized your day, and then check out the news.
2. Re-evaluate your news sources. Twitter and Facebook are easy to open the app and just start reading, but what’s so bad about an old-fashioned newspaper? The good thing about reading a newspaper is that there’s a clear beginning and end to it. You catch up on the local and world news, read up on the sports games if that’s your thing, and maybe laugh at a comic or crazy op-ed– and you’re caught up for the day. No infinite scrolling. If you’re not into reading a physical paper, consider subscribing to an email newsletter that will summarize the news for you. A couple good options are The Skimm,The New York Times, and the NPR Daily News. These options help you stay informed of the important stories and filter out the other clutter that will just bring you down.
3. Change up your phone habits. Find a few apps or social media platforms that won’t send you into a vortex of depressing news, and make an active effort to go to those first in your downtime. It could be subscribing to Youtube channels you enjoy, scrolling through Pinterest, or reading/listening to books on apps like Kindle or Audible. Then, when you’re sitting on your phone in the morning procrastinating getting up, try to turn to those apps that won’t bring you down. It’ll still feel like you’re indulging but it won’t be as harmful.
Doomscrolling is something we’re all guilty of, but knowing the causes and effects of it allow us to take steps to actively avoid the action. Next time you’re scrolling through Facebook News and your heart starts pounding, you’ll know why. Maybe you’ll realize it’s time to just download TikTok to endlessly scroll through instead.