Doomscrolling, also known as doomsurfing, is the trendy new buzzword that has been receiving a lot of attention lately. Doomscrolling is a relatively new phenomenon. It describes a person overindulging in social media usage or web surfing to absorb negative news. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of it around at the moment. While a typical surfer reads a balanced mix of positive and negative news, a doomscroller tunes in to bad and depressing news. Although this concept has been around for some time now, considering how incorporated into our lives the internet is today, doomscrolling really took off during the covid-19 pandemic when bad news became never-ending. According to Kaz Nelson, a professor at the University of Minnesota, our brains are wired to look out for possible threats to know what to expect and how to protect ourselves. She says, “When we read upsetting news, the threat response is activated. This can be helpful if it helps us to be aware of true threats to our safety and health and motivates us to work to address or respond to the threat. This is why it is so tempting to scroll page after page. Our brain perceives that we are doing something essential and productive.”
While there is a valid reason behind our compulsive need to check our phones to see the bad news every now and then, this constant need can be counterproductive. Not only does this habit of doomscrolling waste a huge chunk of our day, but the anxiety and depression that comes with the news can also be harmful to both our mental and physical health.
If you have spent the last 2 hours searching the web for bad news, the chances are that you have become a victim of doomscrolling. However, just because you have fallen down the rabbit hole of doomscrolling doesn’t mean you cannot put an end to it.
If doomscrolling were an Olympic sport, I suspect a couple of my clients would have got on the national team recently! I’ve needed to work in strategies to help them wipe it out for their own well-being as it contributed to some of the therapeutic issues we were working on – here, I wanted to share some strategies; those with good evidence to support them in particular. Here are a bunch of tips that can help you get rid of this habit for good.
- No push notifications!
Many doomscrollers can attest that turning off the push notifications can actually help with stopping the habit of doomscrolling. These notifications are nothing but a mere distraction that forces you to pick up your phone and read the news immediately. Candance Love, a licensed clinical psychologist at North Shore Behavioral Medicine in Chicago, says that “They’re [notifications] just distracting and make you feel a false sense of urgency to read something right now. Those articles can wait.” Not only does turning off these notifications allow you to kick the habit of doomscrolling, but doing so also allows you to regain some control over your life and be more productive. Push notifications rob us of our time and attention, which gives way to procrastination. These notifications also play an important role in causing stress and anxiety. Being bombarded with a sea of notifications makes us feel like we are falling behind and need to catch up. So, if you want to break away from this habit for good, try turning off the push notifications on your phone.
- No phone in the morning!
Research shows that more than 80% of smartphone users check their phones within 15 minutes after opening their eyes. This speaks volumes about the influence the internet and our phones have on us. This habit is even more common in doomscrollers who check for bad news first thing in the morning. The habit of doomscrolling can be addictive for many, and perhaps this is what makes it hard to break away from it. Elaine Roth, who self-diagnosed herself with the habit of doomscrolling, says, “Every morning, I wake up and press refresh on the websites that track the number of positive COVID-19 tests in my town and state. Then I move to the news and read every word of every article that is no doubt pointing to the end of the world.” In order to break away from the cycle of doomscrolling, set some ground rules. Try making your mornings screen-free. Instead of starting off your day with a dose of bad news, try taking up meditation or self-hypnosis or exercise as healthy ways to kick start your day.
Liana Pavane, a wellness coach, advises people to eliminate technology for the first half an hour after waking up. According to her, “This will allow your body and mind to awaken naturally and increase productivity for the rest of the day. Start your morning by doing an activity to fill your normal commute time slot that doesn’t include looking at a screen. Maybe that means listening to a podcast or reading a book — not checking the news.”
- Learn to be more grateful.
Doomscrolling can create mean world syndrome by giving you too much exposure to negative content. The term mean world syndrome was first coined in the 1970s. This syndrome makes people perceive the world as much more dangerous than it actually is. Media bias is real! News about violence and negativity can make you forget about everything good in the world until all you remember is what is wrong with the world; in order to stop doomscrolling, practice gratitude. Try listing down the things you have and the things you are grateful for every day. This list will serve as a reminder to you about the good in the world, and this practice will keep negative thoughts at bay and make you much more positive and optimistic. Being more grateful will serve as a mood booster, but it will also have a positive effect on your mental and physical well-being and allow you to deal with adversity in a much better way. Read this article for more on this topic: The Science of Gratitude.
- Practice mindfulness
Practising mindfulness can help you get rid of doomscrolling. Mindfulness exercise aims to focus and live in the present moment and understand your present feelings without any self-judgment. Mindfulness practices such as breathing exercises, meditation, and guided imagery are scientifically proven to fight anxiety, help reduce stress and relax the body and mind. Simple mindfulness practice can make a big difference in how you see yourself and your life. Meditating and trying breathing exercises on a regular basis can help you accept yourself and become more aware of yourself. When you spend time with yourself in solitude, you become more self-compassionate, which can help build up self-esteem and self-confidence. Moreover, living in the present and reflecting on the amount of stress and anxiety that doomsurfing causes you can actually encourage you to limit your doomscrolling.
- Spend time with your loved ones.
Spending time with friends and family is a healthy distraction from doomsurfing. Not only does spending some quality time surrounded by your loved ones keep you away from your phone, but this practice is also scientifically proven to offer a plethora of mental and physical health benefits. People who spend time with their loved ones are more likely to cope with stress in healthy ways. A research study found that family and friends act as stress buffers for people. People who choose to spend time with their family members are more likely to share their problems with them and less likely to resort to alcohol and drugs in order to cope with stress. Moreover, the emotional support provided by these people also enhances their psychological well-being. A study showed that people who receive support from their close ones are more likely to have a greater sense of meaning in life. Having good social ties may also lengthen your life. The American Society of the ageing article mentions that adults with strong social support have a stronger episodic memory, better cognitive function, and are less likely to suffer from damage caused to the brain and body by stress. Strong social ties also help you maintain your cardiovascular health. People who have their loved ones around them have a lower pulse and blood pressure in hard times. In a nutshell, spending time with your family and friends is not only enjoyable, but it is also very beneficial for your health and is an effective way to stop doomscrolling.
- Setting Boundaries.
Setting time limits and physical boundaries can allow you to limit your daily dose of bad news. Setting boundaries helps with forming healthy habits. If you are in the habit of checking your phone all time to see if something happened, try allocating certain times of the day for checking your phone in order to get rid of this habit. For example, check your phone for news only during lunchtime or on your way back home from work. Moreover, you can also take this practice a step further by allocating your time for the content you are going to consume on the internet. For example, you may decide to only check your social media accounts during the daytime and daily news during the afternoon. In order to protect yourself from all the negative content on the internet, you can also try out the “two-by-two” approach by psychologist Kimberly Wilson. Wilson says, “For already anxious people, I recommend a Two-by-Two approach: limiting news viewing to two good quality sources that are checked at only two points in the day.” Although it is important to stay updated with what is happening around the world, the content on the internet is not always useful. At times overindulging in the information available on the internet can increase your sense of fear and powerlessness.
In addition to setting time limits, practice setting physical boundaries as well. Try leaving your screens out of your bedroom. Many doomscrollers are in the habit of consuming bad news before they hit the sack. Create a physical boundary where phones and other gadgets are not welcomed in your room at night. This physical boundary will help you with your habit of doomscrolling, but it would also help you get a good quality sleep. These gadgets stimulate your brain and fool it into thinking it’s daytime, making it harder for people to fall asleep. Moreover, when you use your devices, you delay the time when you go to sleep. This reduces your sleep duration. So, in order to prevent the negative news from having negative consequences on your mental health and your devices from interfering with your sleep, enforce a strict no-gadget bedroom policy.
- Replace doomscrolling with a healthy activity.
Usually, we doomscroll in order to make the time go by faster. This is why many of us started doomscrolling during the Covid-19 lockdown. With nothing much to do and all the time in the world, we indulged ourselves in doomscrolling to pass the time. Try finding a new hobby or activity to replace doomscrolling. Take up biking or swimming. Read a book or call a friend if you feel you have a lot of free time on your hands. Feel free to experiment and find a hobby that aligns with your interest. Just replace doomscrolling with any positive activity that leaves you nourished.
We have all participated in doomscrolling, be it about the pandemic, the current war in Ukraine, racial injustice or a wide range of crisis that can engulf us. But don’t let this habit of doomscrolling erode your mental health. Spending hours of your day scrolling the web for negative news won’t stop the impending doom, but it will definitely harm your mental health. Follow the tips shared here to break away from the cycle of doomscrolling and limit your exposure to negative content.
Turning off push notifications, setting a no-screen morning routine, and setting time limits and physical boundaries works bests when trying to cut back on your habit of doomscrolling. However, everyone is different, and strategies that might work for some might not work for others. Try the trial-and-error approach to figure out the best strategy for you. Monitor how well a certain strategy is working for you. It is important to remember that you must hold on to what works for you and cast out what doesn’t.
Let’s end with the wise words of Erik Pevernagie, “Let us break the deadlock and stop doom-scrolling into the narrative of a fluctuating landscape of dispiriting thoughts…but, instead, invite the flowers of compassion to blossom in our hearts and our minds and overwhelm us with a spray of vibrant petals of well-being.”
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