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How to Stop Doom Scrolling (Yes, It's a Problem)

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Joanna Yuen

Marketing & Content Specialist - 27 Jun, 2024

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Do you ever think to yourself, “I have a few minutes of spare time; maybe I should try to work up some anxiety or feelings of gloom about the state of the world”?

I’m guessing the answer is no. And yet, we spend so much time on social media and the internet in general, viewing and reading things that make us feel bad in some way. The propensity to spend time absorbing content that is discouraging or anger-inducing is called doom scrolling, and our society has gotten really good at it.

Research tells us that the average person spends 3 hours and 15 minutes per day doom scrolling.

Note that the statistic doesn’t refer to time spent online in general. That’s over 3 hours each day spent on an activity that has been proven to not just waste time but increase anxiety and add to mental health struggles. So why do we do it?

Usually, it starts with something innocent. We plan to check tomorrow’s weather forecast, or view the hours for a local business on Facebook. Then something else calls us to click, and we go down rabbit holes in a seemingly endless doom scroll. Well, it’s not healthy (and surely you can feel that, even as you’re doing it). Here are some tips and tactics to help stop doom scrolling and make the digital landscape your happy place again.

What is Doom Scrolling, Anyway?

Doom scrolling is the act of continuously scrolling through negative or distressing news or social media content, often without the ability to stop or disengage. It refers to the tendency to become absorbed in and overwhelmed by a constant stream of alarming or depressing information, leading to feelings of anxiety, stress, and hopelessness.

Doom scrolling can have a negative impact on people's emotions. Constant exposure to distressing news and negative content can contribute to feelings of anxiety, stress, sadness, and hopelessness. It can amplify existing worries and fears, making it difficult to switch off from negative thoughts and emotions. The constant barrage of negative information can also lead to a sense of helplessness and a loss of control, as individuals may feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of problems highlighted in the news or on social media. Additionally, excessive screen time and engagement in doom scrolling can disrupt sleep patterns, further exacerbating negative emotions.

Constant exposure to distressing news and negative content can contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress in several ways:

  1. Cognitive overload: It makes sense that consuming a constant stream of distressing news can overwhelm the brain with information, leading to cognitive overload. This can make it difficult to process and make sense of the information, causing heightened stress and anxiety.
  2. Emotional contagion: Do you ever spend time with “that friend” who is always down and complaining? You don’t usually feel better after hanging out with them, right? This is the same concept. Negative news and content can elicit strong emotional responses, such as fear, anger, or sadness. When repeatedly exposed to such content, individuals may experience emotional contagion, where their own emotions mirror those portrayed in the news. This can intensify feelings of anxiety and stress.
  3. Rumination: To ruminate means to dwell on negative thoughts and to replay them in your mind. Distressing news can trigger rumination, and constant exposure to negative content can fuel it, causing individuals to continuously worry and stress about the issues highlighted in the news. In other words, the more that you consume, the more you’ll dwell on it.
  4. Perceived threats: Continuous exposure to distressing news tends to create a perception of constant threat or danger. This can activate the body's stress response, which leads to increased levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Over time, chronic stress can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. Here’s an example: Today’s generation is more aware of and concerned about crime than any before it, and yet Pew Research tells us that violent crime rates have actually gone down significantly since the nineties. Unfortunately, we are just inundated with content about negative events like crime, which makes us feel like trouble is lurking around every corner.
  5. Loss of control: Constant exposure to negative content can make individuals feel a loss of control over their own lives and the world around them. This sense of helplessness and powerlessness can contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress.This is especially troubling as many people turn to online sources as a way to feel in control of their circumstances – but they end up with the opposite effect.

It's important to be mindful of our media consumption habits and take breaks from distressing news to prioritize self-care and maintain emotional well-being.

Related Post: Social Media and Mental Health Explained

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Are Some People More Susceptible to Doom Scrolling?

The short answer is yes.

Some individuals may be more susceptible to doom scrolling than others. Are you at more risk than people around you? Several factors can contribute to an individual's susceptibility to doom scrolling:

  1. Sensitivity to negative information: Some people may be more affected by negative information and have a stronger emotional response to distressing news. They may feel a greater need to stay informed, even if it means exposing themselves to upsetting content repeatedly.
  2. Perfectionism and FOMO: Individuals with perfectionistic tendencies or a fear of missing out (FOMO) may have a higher likelihood of engaging in doom scrolling. This is driven by a strong desire to stay up to date on current events and a fear of being left out or uninformed.
  3. Anxiety and stress: People who already experience high levels of anxiety or stress may be more prone to doom scrolling. Engaging with negative news can feed into their existing worry and amplify their feelings of anxiety (the confirmation bias we mentioned above).
  4. Difficulty disconnecting: Some individuals may find it challenging to turn off their devices and take breaks from consuming news and social media. This constant connectivity makes it much easier to fall into a pattern of doom scrolling.
  5. Personal circumstances: Things going on in your own life, such as experiencing a major life event, being in a vulnerable state, or facing specific challenges, can make you more susceptible to doom scrolling. When this happens, people may seek reassurance or distraction through constant news consumption.

If any of these sound like you, you should be especially aware and look for signs that doom scrolling has become a problem. This can include setting boundaries for media consumption, practicing self-care, seeking support from friends or professionals, and engaging in activities that promote well-being and positivity. We’ll give more actionable tips further on.

Why Has Doom Scrolling Become More Common?

Doom scrolling has always been a part of our relationship with the internet. In the quest to get new information, people turn to various online sources. As the internet has become more robust and more active, people tend to turn to online sources to catch up on news and events. In fact, a massive 86% of Americans get their news from their device or computer at least part of the time. They also prefer getting their news from digital sources, with 58% of people choosing apps and websites or more traditional avenues.

That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, except we all know how rampant “click bait” is. The true art of journalism has declined, leaving behind many online authors who are anything but objective, and know how to craft headlines that get people to click. As the internet has become increasingly monetized, clicks are king, and nothing generates clicks like scary, upsetting, or anger-inducing headlines. In the same way that social media has a psychological component, so too does click bait. The goal is not only to get you to click, but to engage in some way - by sharing, or making a comment, for example. This often leads to looking up other articles with similarly shocking headlines created to procure a reaction.

This phenomenon was expanded during the pandemic, as millions of people turned to the internet as their main source of information on this new experience. People all around the world were facing unprecedented challenges during COVID-19, and individuals tried to find every source of information available - much of which was online. There was an urge to get as many facts as possible to protect ourselves, which led to constant engagement on our phones as we reviewed new articles, opinions, social media posts, etc. This research combined with uncomfortable and uncontrollable thoughts or feelings produced even more negative emotions, but people felt powerless to stop.

There are many people simply stuck in a pattern of scrolling for depressing or negative news, knowing full well that it makes them feel worse. However, the engagement period online gives humans a brief boost of dopamine - in other words a short-term “feel good” emotion. Often, doom scrolling confirms thoughts or worries that we already have, validating our feelings and proving we are “right”. There is a huge confirmation bias in play, as we feel anxious about something and then find information online that tells us how anxious we should feel about that particular subject. Thus, doom scrolling became a vicious cycle that has not let up and will likely only get worse as online sources continue to become more savvy in what it takes to get people to click.

To boil it down, the prevalence of the internet combined with “click-bait” goals and unprecedented societal events have created the perfect storm that results in ongoing doom scrolling - and it’s not going to let up on its own. If you have a desire to stop or limit doom scrolling, it will require some personal effort.

Related Post: Digital Hoarding Impairs Your Productivity - These Apps Can Help

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Stop Scrolling: 9 Specific Steps to Limit Doom Scrolling

As promised, here are some realistic steps to take to stop doom scrolling and regain control over your media consumption. Start by being mindful and intentional about your use of the internet. If you have any of the risk factors that we mentioned above, which will make you more susceptible to doom scrolling and its effects,  put measures in place before it becomes a problem. Be honest with yourself about your mood and how digital content tends to affect it. Some people even keep a journal about what they were exposed to that day and how they felt, to look for patterns. Then:

1. Set boundaries

Establish specific limits for how much time you will spend on social media or news websites each day. Use features like screen time limits or website blockers to enforce these boundaries. We have a great article about various apps that can help your digital wellbeing.

2. Create tech-free zones and times

Identify certain areas or periods in your day where you will disconnect from your devices completely. This is especially important if you want to also strengthen your real-life connections. For example, you could choose not to use your phone during meals or before going to bed; and many families have tech-free dinner times or place everyone’s phone into a basket an hour before bed to focus on conversing with each other.

3. Curate your own news feed

No one is going to advocate for your mental health and digital experience besides you. Be mindful of the content you expose yourself to. Unfollow or mute accounts that consistently share negative or distressing news. Instead, follow accounts that provide positive or educational content that interests you. If you find yourself constantly engaging in things like message boards or comment sections that leave you feeling more down than up, block those sites or take a break and find more light-hearted content for a few days.

4. Be mindful about general media consumption

Before consuming news or social media, ask yourself if it serves a purpose or adds value to your life. Consider the emotional impact it might have and whether it aligns with your well-being goals. Before you visit a site or social media platform, ask yourself “What am I hoping to see or read here today? How will it enhance my life or bring me joy?”

5. Seek more reliable sources

This is something that we all need to be particularly aware of in today’s digital age. The standards for journalism have fallen in many areas, and much of what is shared as news is actually an opinion and backed by emotion. Focus on consuming news from reliable sources that prioritize accuracy and objectivity. Avoid engaging with clickbait headlines or unverified information that can fuel anxiety or misinformation.

6. Pick a few self-care activities

Many people think they are scrolling as a way to relax, when the opposite is happening in their body and mind. Replace doom scrolling with activities that promote well-being and relaxation. This could include exercise, reading, spending time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies, or practicing mindfulness and meditation. If you normally scroll before falling asleep, try reading a physical book instead, or writing in a journal.

7. Connect with others

Engage in meaningful conversations with friends, family, or support groups to discuss your concerns and share perspectives. This can help alleviate feelings of isolation and provide a healthier outlet for processing information. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people who love you if your emotions or feelings of isolation are becoming too much.

8. Try a digital detox

Take regular breaks from social media and news consumption. Consider scheduling “digital detoxes”, where you completely disconnect from screens for a certain period of time, such as a day or a weekend.

9. Have realistic expectations

Understand that you cannot stay informed about every single news event. Focus on your own well-being and prioritize the news that directly impacts your life or aligns with your interests and values. You don’t need to be an expert on everything - only things that really affect you or those around you in some way.

Remember, breaking the doom scrolling habit takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. If you are looking for more ways to have a healthier relationship with technology, make sure to follow our blog. You’ll find lots of content about the latest technology, including trends and reviews, and suggestions for finding the right balance in an increasingly digital world.

Related Post: Tips for Minimizing Distractions in Your Browser

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