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Escape the Doomscrolling Cycle

Published in Behavioral Health Services, For the Health of It Author: Barbara Skodje Mack,EdD,LMFT,LPCC

Merriam-Webster recently acknowledged a new term that could soon be added to the dictionary: doomscrolling. Doomscrolling (also called doomsurfing) refers to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening or depressing. Many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news about COVID-19 or politics without the ability to stop or step back.

During times of crisis and uncertainty, some of us pay more attention to the news, looking for answers. And this might not surprise you, but we have to say it: a lot of the news is bad. And yet we keep scrolling, keep reading article after article, unable to turn away from information that depresses us.

Turns out, our brain is hardwired to be extra alert to negative news. Our survival has depended on us avoiding danger, so it’s no wonder our brain has developed systems that would make it unavoidable to not notice danger. People may be drawn to doomscrolling because it gives them a sense of control over the bad news, but it often just leaves them feeling more miserable.

Of course, the “social” in “social media” is the gasoline on the fire. Many of us have felt isolated for months. So when we see posts from our friends, even if they’re rage-tweeting about something awful and outside of our control, we want to connect with it — and with hundreds of other similar posts — as we keep scrolling.

We crave connection in a time when there isn’t much.

Ultimately, you can't avoid how intense things are right now, but doomscrolling isn’t doing your physical or mental health any favors.

If you’re depressed, you often look for information that can confirm how you feel. If you’re feeling negative, then reading negative news reconfirms how you feel. It’s the same mindset.

Kick the habit

First, it’s important to recognize that you’re doing it. If you’re continuously scrolling, it becomes a mindless habit. A lot of times, you might not even be aware you’re doing it. But it becomes such a habit that if you have a down moment, you might pick up your phone and start scrolling without even really being aware of it.

Think about how it makes you feel

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, stop doing it, and make a choice to do something else.

Limit the amount of time

Allow yourself 15 minutes to look at social media. When the time is up, stop scrolling and don’t do it again for the rest of the day. It may be helpful to turn off social media alerts on your phone.

Go to newsfeeds and social media with a specific purpose

Don’t let your thumbs just scroll and your eyes just scan because you don’t have a more pressing thing to do. Instead, have a purpose in mind. If you have a purpose, you can be engaged with something you care about rather than falling down the doom-and-gloom rabbit hole.

Train yourself to see the positive things

Practice looking for at least three positive things a day, even the small things count. Practicing gratitude, acts of kindness and soaking in pleasant experiences can help reduce stress and improve our emotional wellbeing.