What Is Doom Scrolling And Its Effects On Our Mental Health?

Why are we compelled to endlessly scroll through bad news and can the habit be broken?
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It’s 12:01 AM and you know it’s way past your bedtime but the pattern seems to continue as before. At 1:14 AM you check for the time again but continue to scroll up, scroll down. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and then back again, an endless loop of social gratification that isn’t as gratifying as you think it is.  Ever since the global pandemic had us locked in our homes for over a year, with some still working from the safety of their homes, the evening ritual for most consists of doom scrolling through social media in a desperate hunt for clarity.

Between the endless news cycle and a global pandemic still hovering above our heads like a dark cloud, it seems like bad news is omnipresent in our minds. If you’re one of the many Indians who keep refreshing their social media feeds to stay on top of what’s happening, you’re not alone. This common compulsion is popularly known as doom scrolling, something you may be familiar with. If not, read on.  

What is doom scrolling?  

Doom scrolling, also known as doom surfing, is when you endlessly scroll through social media and other news websites to keep track of the latest news in real-time, even if the news isn’t particularly good. Coined back in 2018 on Twitter, the term has picked up steam since the commencement of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April 2020.

While we did indulge in an unhealthy amount of doom scrolling during the peak of the pandemic, almost falling into a morbid hole filled with overwhelming coronavirus content, doom scrolling doesn’t have to necessarily be regarding the COVID-19 crisis. It relates to the tendency to fixate on news, events, and scenarios and as a result, getting agitated enough to the point of physical discomfort. Somehow, people feel the answers to the world’s problems are just a click away but that’s not so.  

How does doom scrolling affect your mental and physical health?  

Since the inception of Facebook and then the emergence of various other social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, the world has constantly questioned the adverse health effects these platforms pose. And while some studies have found positive effects of social media, the negativity it brings is way too high to be ignored. Conditions like anxiety and depression or even the bare minimum, FOMO, can have a major impact on our mental health.

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Doom scrolling relates to the tendency to fixate on news, events, and scenarios to the point of physical discomfort. Image | Unsplash

And this is just the result of scrolling through countless brunch pictures or celebrity gossip. Imagine the effects of a crisis and civil unrest and the fact that social networks are galvanized to push the top trending news onto your feeds, even if it’s not great for the collective mental health of the public.  

Unfortunately, constant consumption of trending news, especially the bad, can reinforce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Even for those who don’t suffer from such mental health conditions, doom scrolling can lead to catastrophizing, forcing them to focus more on the negative and in turn seeing only the negative in all situations.  

These mental health effects aren’t just exclusive to your mind. We’ve always spoken about the mind and body connection and while it can be manifested wonderfully, if you fill your vessel with negativity, there will be consequences to be faced, physically as well as emotionally. When your body is under stress, it activates the flight-or-fight response and releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. The release of such hormones for a long period of time can cause burnout or worse.  

Combat the negativity with these positive affirmations for social anxiety.

However, the effects of doom scrolling depend on who’s doing it and how they’re doing it.  Doom scrolling for some can work in the inverse, especially for those who are looking for something other than the constant bad news. For many, it’s been an enriching time to connect with an interesting topic that they didn’t know much about or reconnect with a conversation that got lost in the negative wave the world has been in. If used correctly, social media can become a tool for active engagement, from speaking your mind to spreading awareness about unrest, protests, community resources, and more.  

How can you stop doom scrolling?  

Limit time spent on social media  

Since we’re all aware that doom scrolling can last for hours on end, especially those late-night hours, having a set time limit can help you exit the session without feeling totally drained. Note down the times you’re most likely to doom scroll and set reminders for when it’s time to log off. Take the help of a friend by scheduling an activity that takes your mind off the negativity. Measuring your screen time, a feature that Instagram offers can help you keep a track of how much time you’re spending on your phone each day. Once you have a number, you’ll know what to work towards.  

If you suffer from social media overwhelm, learn how to overcome such feelings with these 5-minute tips.

Seek out positivity  

Instead of doom scrolling through endless bad news, seek out positivity. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on social media itself. You can watch a funny movie or spend time with a dear friend, have a video call with them, you could also read a book or news that brings a sense of goodness. You can even follow pages like @goodnews_movement, @goodnewstoday, @thinkright.me and @tankgoodnews to combat the social negativity with some much-needed positivity.   

Create boundaries  

Those who have trouble controlling doom scrolling or who suffer from anxiety and depression should create healthy boundaries to keep their mental and physical health in check. Create boundaries around the media you consume, unfollow accounts that are harming your health and causing anxiety, even if they are of people, you are especially close to. Be conscious and mindful of the subject you want to focus on and the conversations you wish to be a part of. Put a cap on how long you wish to discuss these topics and know that there is always an exit, even if it doesn’t seem like it. You can always stop replying, unfollow or block if the situation requires it.  

Try the STOP technique 

A powerful yet simple mindfulness strategy that can help you be focused, alert and relaxed, the STOP technique is a four-step mental checklist that you can use anytime for energy, creativity, and insight. Essentially, the idea behind this technique is to take a break, even if it’s just for a minute, and determine what’s the best action to be taken at that moment.  

S = STOP 

Stop what you are doing: Press pause on your thoughts, emotions and actions.  

T = TAKE  

Take deep breaths to ground yourself and anchor your mind and body to the present moment.  

O = Observe  

Observe the sensations in your body 

  • What are the physical sensations coursing through your body?  
  • What are you feeling right now, emotionally?  
  • What’s the conclusion you’ve reached for these emotions you’re feeling? What stories are you telling to yourself as an explanation?  

P + Proceed  

Proceed with your action, make a conscious, intentional decision that aligns with what you just learned about yourself.  

It’s unrealistic to believe that once the Covid-19 crisis ends, people will stop doom scrolling. While we don’t have an end in sight, if it does end, there will be another reason for people to doom scroll. The power lies in awareness and action, in choosing valuable information rather than pointless gossip.  

Read more: How To Keep Your Lungs Healthy And Strong

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