What is doomscrolling?

It’s late and no signs of shifting are seen in the pattern. It is more of the same at 2 am. Down thumb, up thumb. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, if you feel especially wrought/masochistic. The evening routine has been codifying since the Covid-19 pandemic left a great many people locked down in their homes in early March: every night ends the way the day started, with an endless scroll in a futile quest for clarity via social media.

Scrolling through social media for so long that you lose track of time, keeping you up at night or preventing any meaningful work from occurring during the day is not really a new phenomenon. But in the current climate, what’s odd about doing so you get an explosion of depressing data flooding all your feeds, whether because of updates to COVID-19 or photos of racial injustices.

There is now an official term for this practice of seeing a relentless stream of negativity, and it’s appropriately called “doomscrolling.” Doomscrolling, often also referred to as doomsurfing, is a phenomenon in which you continuously scroll or surf through social media and other news sources to keep up with the latest news, even if the news is bad (and it seems, especially). Although the term is believed to have been coined on Twitter sometime in 2018, it has since gained steam in our cultural lexicon, becoming more common after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April 2020.

You know it’s not a good idea, but you just can’t help yourself. Imagine doomscrolling like getting lactose sensitivity and still eating tons of cheese. Doomscrolling can take a real toll on your mental health, except when it leads to physical pain.

Why are the doomscrolling people doing too much? Perhaps it’s because now without the daily tasks that appear to keep them away from phones and computers, they’re so home. In addition, many simply want to remain updated about the pandemic, and social media may provide a seemingly real-time update on the world’s events. And that can eventually leave you feeling even more out of control and sad.

With this social media habit, a big problem: It can trick the brain into believing it’s all negative. If you switch from platform to platform, that might sound particularly real, hoping for exciting, uplifting details only to be fed more and more bad news. And this in turn, can leave you angry and unproductive as well.

While it can bring down anyone, the most vulnerable to the negative mental effects of doomscrolling are those who have depression or anxiety. If you do it first thing in the morning or before bed, picking through bad news (whether it’s on your social feed or a news site) can be extremely damaging.

Certainly, our collective stress levels do not need to increase right now, so how can you break the habit? Here’s what you need to do with doomscrolling so that you can stop it.

1. Give yourself a hard stop time

It can be too hard for certain individuals to cut it off cold turkey, so a good solution is to set a time limit for yourself every day. For instance, limit your doomscrolling to a total of no more than one hour and use a timer to stay honest with yourself. And don’t forget to have screen time on screens other than your phone; whether you watch it on TV or on your laptop, it always counts as doomscrolling.

2. Set up your digital health apps

The best way for this activity to modify or stop? Using the same technology that enables your doomscrolling to lock you out of access to the telephone. Most phones come with applications or functions for “digital health” that allow you to set time limits for phone use or for individual apps. If you pass the cap or at certain times of the day, such as during sleeping hours, it can also be set to lock you away from your devices. Instead of scrolling through Twitter, your phone can also prompt you to do other stuff, including taking more measures or drinking water.

3. Make a list of alternate activities

During times of boredom, a lot of doomscrolling takes place, so short-circuit this impulse by getting a list of more constructive things you can do with tiny chunks of time. Try to take a short stroll, relax in the sun outdoors, have a healthy snack, meditate, take a break by stretching, or visit a friend.

4. Find positive sites to read.

Looking to catch up on the news? Opt for certain stories that are uplifting. Bookmark places and accounts that bring you joy, and when you find yourself doomscrolling, go to those websites, she suggests. Check out Any Good News (with John Krasinski) on YouTube or Upworthy on Instagram for a few optimistic choices.

Another wise solution is to mute, block, or unfollow accounts that knock your mood down constantly. On such pages, avoiding push notifications would also remove some of the temptation to read them. You can also change your mood to something more optimistic by jamming out to an upbeat playlist, listening to a funny audiobook, or watching a rom-com on Netflix. And if you’re keeping a journal of appreciation, that’s a nice thing to read when you feel down.

5. Don’t underestimate the power of mindfulness.

A mindless job is doomscrolling. Make it a priority to be more attentive in your everyday life to avoid slipping into the trance-like state. For the Relaxation or Headspace applications, try only a few minutes of daily meditation or use the 7-minute exercise app to put your mind into your movement. Arrange those applications on your phone next to the social media ones, and you’re more likely to click on them. When you’re doing other things, including washing dishes or going for a walk, you can also practice mindfulness.

Doomscrolling will never avoid the doom itself, literally. It can be a salve to feel updated, but being overcome by tragedy serves no purpose. The current year is nothing if not a marathon; attempting to sprint to the end of one’s feed would only cause burnout among the people whose level-headedness is most needed and a decrease in mental wellbeing. It means you. It is not worth adding two hours of surplus Faceook or Twitter every night to the burden in the midst of all the misery, alienation, and devastation of the past six months.

Check out my related post: Is social media affecting your memory?

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