Are You Doomscrolling Again?

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Doomscrolling (or doomsurfing) is a relatively new term used to describe the tendency to continuously scroll or surf through bad news – especially when that news is sad or depressing – without the ability to stop or step away. This year there’s been no shortage of bad news, from a global pandemic and subsequent recession to widespread racial protests. With that much going on, it’s no surprise that doomscrolling is on the rise.

Doomscrolling usually begins with good intentions. After all, it makes sense to be informed, and often you’re just searching for answers. But then it escalates, and before you know it the mindless habit takes over whenever you have a few minutes of downtime. In the end, it has more to do with reinforcing your negative thoughts than staying up to date on the news. While the negative news and doom-and-gloom headlines tend to validate how you feel, it quickly becomes a vicious cycle that increases anxiety. Before you know it, the world feels dark and troublesome, maybe even apocalyptic.

Whether by phone or computer, Facebook or Twitter, if this sounds like you, it may be time to stop subjecting yourself to a constant stream of perpetually bad news. Doomscrolling can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety, and spending too much time on social media and other media sites has been associated with feelings of depression and sadness.

Here are some tips to help curb your fixation with doomscrolling, especially in the time of COVID:

  • Choose your news consumption. Be intentional about when and where you will tune in to the daily news, and then stick to that schedule. If necessary, set a timer to remind yourself of the limits you’ve established. Whether you decide on 15 minutes in front of the local TV news or a five-minute check-in on Twitter, develop a plan for consuming the news and then commit to it.
  • Banish your phone from the bedroom. Resist the temptation to use your smartphone as an alarm, and opt for an old-fashioned alarm instead. This prevents you from checking your phone during the night or first thing in the morning. It’s better to get out of bed and start your day with a positive outlook.
  • Opt out of negative news sources and news alerts. If you sense that a particular news site tends to make you anxious, simply un-follow it. No one needs that added stress in their day. Once it’s out of sight, it will be out of mind as well. As for news alerts, not only do they disrupt your concentration, but they can deliver bad news during what might otherwise be a joyful moment.
  • Find a replacement. If you’ve been devoting a lot of time to doomscrolling, you will need to find a way to replace that time with something positive and upbeat. You might want to keep a favorite book nearby and start reading whenever you’re tempted to check the news. You could also listen to your favorite tunes or take a walk around the neighborhood.
  • Keep it real. During times when it feels like all the news is dismal and hopeless, it’s easy to catastrophize. That’s what happens when your mind immediately jumps to the worst-case scenario. Keep in mind that things are rarely as bad as they seem, and your fears may be amplified over something that’s not likely to happen.

If you’ve tried any of these strategies in the past but eventually returned to doomscrolling as a way to ease your fears, try again. You need to give it some time. Your brain will eventually adapt to the new parameters, and your mental health will likely improve as a result.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.