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How “Doomscrolling” Can Negatively Impact Your Mental Health

Have you ever caught yourself going deep into a rabbit hole of bad news on the internet? Or do you perhaps know someone who spends the majority of their time looking for bad news online? If you said yes to either of these two scenarios, then you have experienced/witnessed a behaviour now known as “doomscrolling.” 

Doomscrolling or “doomsurfing” is an act or behaviour wherein a person spends a significant amount of time constantly checking negative news on social media and other websites. Though this may sound harmless, doomscrolling has the capability to produce harmful psychophysiological responses, especially for individuals who repeatedly participate in this behaviour. 

In this guide, we uncover why doomscrolling happens, its effects, and what can be done to address any negative implications. 

Let’s get started!   

A woman staying up late to do some doomscrolling

What Is Doomscrolling? 

Living in an age of increased mobile connectivity has empowered many to stay informed whenever and wherever. As such, it is normal for people to be interested in news items that specifically concern themwhether it’s regarding changes in the prices of gas, an incoming snowstorm, recent crimes occurring within the region, a global pandemic, and so on. However, the act of looking up the news is not considered doomscrolling. While these are all examples of bad news, staying up to date with the news does not automatically equate to doomscrolling. 

Doomscrolling, on the other hand, is the compulsion for a person to absorb negative news on the internet for prolonged periods of time. It can often look like an hour or more of mindlessly clicking through related negative news stories on social media or other websites. 

The term “doomscrolling” became more popularly used in recent years, and is said to have been coined on Twitter in 2018. The word itself may be recent and its origin quite unclear, but it has already been added to the Oxford dictionary.        

Why People Doomscroll 

Being constantly exposed to negative news can be disheartening, saddening, or frightening.  But if doomscrolling causes so many negative emotions, why do people do it?

Though the underlying reason behind doomscrolling may vary slightly from person to person, many use doomscrolling as a way to feel in control amidst unpredictable external circumstances. Some individuals use it as a means to find answers whenever they are afraid. This ties to why doomscrolling became a popular term in the midst of the recent global pandemic. 

Evolutionary hardwiring in the human brain is thought to be a causal factor here. Our ancestors always needed to pay close attention to things that could cause harm. However, this hardwiring, when unchecked, can cause problems in an era of information overload. Hence, we must be mindful when it causes detrimental habits like doomscrolling.

Another less commonly cited reason for doomscrolling is human fascination. A respondent in a related BBC article on doomscrolling likens it to “not being able to look away when you see a car accident.” 

It could well be a combination of the factors mentioned above that keeps someone stuck in the constant cycle of doomscrolling online.   

The Negative Impacts of Doomscrolling on Mental Health

1. Heightened Worry and Paranoia 

Watching fictional media, such as horror and thriller movies, may induce stress/fear and ultimately elevate cortisol and adrenaline levels. This is enough reason for many experts to say that these types of films are bad for mental health. However, many movie-watchers have a go-to phrase to cope with the stress from such media“Relax. It was just a movie.” On the other hand, after absorbing hours and hours worth of negative news items through doomscrolling, one has to cope with all that information and recognize that these stories (except for any fake news items found along the way) were based on facts. 

The end result could be increased feelings of worry and paranoia. If this continues to be chronically experienced, it can lead to more grave mental health conditions.

2. Increased Depression and Anxiety 

In the presence of an existing mental health condition, constantly heightened stress hormones and an increasingly negative outlook can result in the aggravation or comorbidity of mental health conditions. 

Therefore, individuals with depression and/or anxiety are likely to feel their symptoms worsen if they get into the habit of doomscrolling. A German study further validates this fact, showing a correlation between COVID-19-related doomscrolling and the increased severity of depression and anxiety in 6,000 respondents. 

3. Hampered Healing of Mental Health Conditions 

On top of the heightened stress and fear that this habit induces, doomscrolling also steals precious time that could’ve been used for productive activities that are beneficial for somebody who is healinghabits such as exercise, good sleep, or simply decluttering the house. 

In addition, simply the thought of being unproductive or not moving forward can put certain people (especially those healing from mental health issues) in a negative state of mind. So if hours of doomscrolling fosters continued unproductivity, it will trigger this mood repeatedly and hinder the healing process. 

4. Aggravated Addictions 

Anyone in addiction recovery knows the importance of taking care of one’s own mental health and wellbeing. Self-destructive behaviours such as doomscrolling can be detrimental to the recovery process, possibly leading to substance use triggers. If you find this happening to you, please reach out to your support system for help. 

A woman thinks about an addictive substance after feeling upset from doomscrolling

How to Stop Doomscrolling 

If you’re feeling the negative impacts of doomscrolling, there are things you can do to help. To lessen and eventually stop participating in this habit, here are a few tips to stop doomscrolling that you can try today: 

  • Make it a goal to start and end your day with some good news
  • Set time limits for any kind of scrolling
  • Substitute your nightly scrolling with nightly reading
  • Keep your cellphone and laptop outside of your bedroom
  • Make a plan for each day so that you are preoccupied with pre-set goals
  • Take a break from social media; use messaging apps instead to stay connected with loved ones 

Take Further Steps Towards Mental Well-Being 

In this guide, we talked about doomscrolling, what causes it, and how to put a stop to it. For some individuals, bringing doomscrolling and its harmful effects to an end may be simple. However, for others, doomscrolling could be a block towards quitting an underlying addiction. 

At Freedom From Addiction, we understand that mental health issues, detrimental habits, and addictions can often be co-occurring, thereby making these challenging to deal with alone. This is why we’ve developed treatment programs that are research-backed, safe, effective, and comfortable for anyone who would like to heal from an addiction.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help you or a loved one, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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