Doom Scrolling

In our current political and social climate it can be very daunting to be online as much as we are. Constantly bombarded with information about peoples lives from all over the world. As our age of the internet continues to grow exponentially so does our locus of concern. So much information is so readily accessible to us. Often the idea of staying informed with what goes on in the world is greatly emphasized. Even those commercials on TV I’d see as a kid giving us random facts about other cultures that always ended with “the more you know”. Knowledge is power so staying informed gives us power in this way; however, in our digital age sometimes scrolling through the news can feel like doom scrolling.

Doom scrolling is when one spends an excessive amount of time reading or interacting with large quantities of negative, upsetting, disheartening, or disturbing videos online. Pamela Rutledge, a media psychology researcher describes doom scrolling as this “compulsive need to get answers when we’re afraid”. She explains how journalism in our world today capitalizes on this tendency. Headlines are meant to elicit strong reactions from readers and draw them in with a sense of urgency. Doom scrolling was the word of the year in 2020, peaking with the pandemic. The pandemic really intensified this need for information and news induced emotions. The pandemic gave us more time to scroll and less face to face time to socialize at work or with friends. An increase in depression symptoms, generally and pandemic related anxiety, were found in a German survey to be connected to “frequency, duration, and diversity of media exposure”. Dartmouth college also found an overall link between more anxiety, depression, and sedentary behavior with phone usage.

Doom scrolling mimics the feelings and sensations of gambling. We don’t always scroll for the bad news but sometimes someone might find themselves hooked by the possibility of finding good news or even just a cute cat video. A gambler keeps playing the slots with the hope of winning even though it’s more likely that they will lose. Losing, in the context of doom scrolling, means exposure to some “bad” news and the negative psychological and physical repercussions. It can be enticing for the same reason that gambling is; the chance.

So what do we do? We’re a media driven society, living in a digital age, and find phones a necessity despite the consequences. Staying informed to a degree that is excessive is doom scrolling. The information you decide to intake and stay informed about should put yourself first. If you have a deathly fear of snakes, don’t look up 10 deadliest snake bite encounters and watch then for hours. If there is a specific aspect or topic in the media that sparks anxiousness, depression, or any negative mental health outcomes, it is important to recognize that. To what degree is staying this informed worth the cost of mental wellbeing. Placing limits on what you want to stay informed about and for how long you will engage with this type of content is a good place to start.

Awareness of a habit is the best way to quit! Notice how much time you spend doom scrolling. Set a timer to stay aware of the amount of time you spend on your phone, or doom scrolling in particular. Find a buddy to help hold you accountable to spending less time in the screens. Physical distance can be a great coping skill such as taking a walk outside or finding a non screen activity. It’s important to remember that “scrolling through good news” can “bring us joy [that] could help make us more aware of how our online behavior affects our emotional state.”

Staying informed is important. Your mental health is important. Finding the right way for yourself to prioritize the two is just as important. Know when to give your brain a break and step away from the screens, the news, and reading about every major catastrophe. What is costing you to stay as informed as you do at this moment? What are your nonnegotiable topics that you need to be informed about? What ones can you let go for now, or engage with less? We live in the era of mass information. Humans have never had this much access to information about ourselves and others. It is important not to overload ourselves. Being kind to your mind is showing love to yourself; which is the most important person to do that with.

If you sometimes find yourself doom scrolling and having trouble putting your phone down or taking breaks from it, it may be good to talk with someone. Reach out to us at Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed mental health counselors.

Resources: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210226-the-darkly-soothing-compulsion-ofdoomscrolling


Arielle Teets