What is Doomscrolling?
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, lots of us have been scrolling and scrolling and scrolling…You hop on your smartphone or tablet to find the local weather, national news or how the pandemic is developing and suddenly your drawn into a whirlpool of bad news.
You’re compelled to read through Twitter, Facebook and all the news sites for no good reason and without any clear idea what you’re looking for. No matter how bad the news is, and all news sites prioritise bad news. From absentee mothers, air disasters, expense scandals, flash floods to Taiwanese typhoons, we keep reading. This tendency to endlessly scroll through bad news, no matter how disheartening or distressing is called “doomscrolling”.
While people have been “doomscrolling”, in one way or another, for decades by channel-hopping through news stations, “doomscrolling” has really taken off during the pandemic.
The threat presented by Covid-19, to health, life, jobs and security has caused a big increase in both doomscrolling and the numbers of doom mongers feeding their appetites, with the numbers of daily users on Facebook and Twitter, ideal platforms for doomscrolling, having shot up by 25% since the start of the pandemic.
So why are we doomscrolling?
It’s a question doomscrollers often ask themselves. There are many reasons why we have the urge to seek out negative stories. The main reason being that the media alerts us to threats like epidemics, floods, hurricanes, civil unrest and so on, by sensationalising and exaggerating them. This spurs the need to seek out more information in order to avoid, mitigate or take some action to protect ourselves and our families.
However, social media and news sites, don’t stop there. Not only do they report pandemics, floods and so on, they also manufacture more threats by spinning conspiracies and pseudo-problems around the original problem, adding to the atmosphere of uncertainty and spurring the need for even more information.
Ordinarily, it is reasonable to protect yourself by seeking knowledge, but most people go beyond this. Driven either by distrust of mainstream news sources or desire to get the bigger picture, we scroll through pages of comments under the articles. There we find enraged zealots, ideologues, rumour-mongers and trolls of every colour, failing to agree to disagree and trying to cancel or demonise each other.
Somehow, we’re strangely drawn in by this. This attraction to bad news, troll fights and rumour mongering is often seen as an effect of negativity bias. Negativity bias is the tendency, that most of us have, to give more attention to negative events such as bad news, unpleasant thoughts or traumatic experiences.
Recognising threats has helped humans survive in hostile environments over the millenia, and arguably this threat finding instinct is hard wired into our brains. Even in cases where there is no clear and present danger, we still seek out hidden dangers. In difficult times this hardwired threat seeking instinct goes into overdrive.
Not only do we pay more attention to negative events, they also have a greater effect on our psychological state than positive or neutral events. They sting and leave an impression. This is the reason why people are more likely to remember rebukes and insults rather than praise and compliments.
People also think that negative information gives a better indication of a person’s character than positive information, another reason why people seek out bad news.
During the pandemic, governments, politicians, health officials, covidiots, toilet paper hoarders, party goers and so on were being judged in various ways. Seemingly people were seeking out negative information, found in abundance on social media, to do this, adding another aspect to doomscrolling
Is doomscrolling bad for our mental health?
Intuitively we know that doomscrolling makes us feel bad, and research conducted during the pandemic has confirmed this. Excessive doomscrolling through Covid-19 news stories has been linked to anxiety, depression and increased feelings of isolation and loneliness.
How to stop doomscrolling
Doomscrolling is a perfectly natural response to danger, but the human brain has not evolved to deal with huge loads of negative information, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s time to change the way you engage with online news.
3 Tips to Cope with Doomscrolling
Restrict the behaviour
Restricting the behaviour to a particular time or place prevents you from being overwhelmed by negativity. It’s good that you’re keeping up with what’s happening in the world, but by creating boundaries and keeping them, you can create more time for less negative activities like exercise, hobbies or walking in the open air.
If you start to scroll when you wake in the morning, put your phone in another room before you go to bed. Instead of switching on your phone immediately when you get up, get some coffee and breakfast before checking up on what’s happening.
Be aware of how articles make you feel, as you read them. Notice any sensations within your body or your mind as you react to them.
When you pay attention consciously to negative states such as anxiety, agitation, worry or stress, it’s more likely to motivate you to take action to reduce these states by desisting from whatever is upsetting you.
Mountains and Molehills
Avoid catastrophizing, Catastrophizing is when you jump straight to a potential disaster or worst-case scenario, building mountains out of molehills. Very often, these thoughts about a potential disaster are possible but not probable, ask yourself what is a more likely result of the events you’re reading about.