In the few minutes before work started this morning, I gave Twitter a courtesy scroll. I knew I was planning to write a piece this morning so wanted to see what was happening in the world, take its pulse as it were. I was not expecting to see the news that Trump supporters had stormed the Capitol, leading to four deaths.
The more I saw, the more I scrolled. Getting lost in threads and seeing the shocking comments, I felt my mood slipping and yet couldn’t stop. This activity, scrolling and searching for bad news even though it’s disheartening, is often referred to as ‘doomscrolling’. An activity that has risen in popularity alongside baking banana bread as we seem to navigate disaster after disaster following the Coronavirus outbreak.
Unlike baking however, doomscrolling is not a harmless way to pass the time. Exposing ourselves to negative news can aggravate the anxiety we’re already feeling and exacerbate depression.
So why do we do it? At its core, doomscrolling is a totally human reaction to what we’re going through. When stressful things are happening in our life (hello pandemic) our primitive brain takes over and it’s concerned with keeping us alive above all else. This can lead to us scanning for danger, putting ourselves on high alert for anything that could be perceived as a threat.
And, of course, news outlets don’t help matters with constant coverage and sensationalist headlines. When people then take to social media, perhaps reporting inaccurate news or making inflammatory comments, it adds fuel to the fire. So it’s no wonder that when we go online it feels like the world is burning sometimes.
How to stop doomscrolling
We know this response is a perfectly natural and human one, but that doesn’t mean we should feed into it. If you’re finding yourself getting sucked into this kind of behaviour, it’s time to get more intentional with your online habits.
1. Make your mornings sacred
Scrolling on social media used to be the first thing I did when I woke up. With my phone being my alarm, it just made sense to have a ‘quick’ check after it went off. But I quickly realised this wasn’t the best way to start my day – it either became a time-sap and I’d end up running late and feeling rushed, or I’d lose myself in bad news and start my day feeling hopeless.
Now I have a separate alarm (one that wakes me up with light) and I use the ‘downtime’ function on my iPhone to lock certain apps and the Internet before 9am. Now I use my mornings to meditate and check in with myself before checking in with the rest of the world.
This can be a great first step to stop your doomscrolling habit – make your mornings an Internet free zone. Utilise apps and blockers to make it harder for you to go online and use this time to ask yourself what you need from your day.
2. Allocate time for phone checking
If you’re anything like me, phone checking is a habit. Something that happens almost unconsciously. To help you break out of this habit, try allocating certain times of the day for phone checking – this could be on your lunch break, after putting the kids to bed or another time that suits you. My only advice would be to avoid early mornings and before bed, if possible.
To take this a step further, you could try setting intentions with your phone checking. Perhaps at lunch you’ll check in with your favourite social media account and engage with people, and in the afternoon you’ll catch up with the day’s news. If you can put a ring around the time you spend doing this (allocating 30 minutes for example), this can help you avoid a never-ending doomscroll.
Sharing her advice for protecting your mind when the media is overwhelming, psychologist Kimberley Wilson suggests the ‘two by two approach’.
“While it’s important to be informed, there is a limit to the usefulness of this information for people who don’t have any power to intervene. Instead, it just increases a sense of powerlessness, fear and uncertainty. For people who are already anxious I recommend a Two by Two approach: limiting news viewing to two good quality sources that are checked at only two points in the day.”
3. Check in with yourself more often
Doomscrolling is often a ‘mindless’ habit. We’re being led by fear when we’re doing it and, often, time and place just slips away as we’re sucked into whatever’s happening. Embracing mindfulness then and checking in with how we’re feeling more often can only be a good thing.
As suggested, the morning may be a good time for this but, honestly, any time is good. You might want to meditate to help you practice mindfulness or use a tool like journaling to process how you’re feeling. Whatever tool you use, use it often.
Need to shift your mood? Try this meditation from our very own Hannah:
4. Use the ‘stop’ technique
Even with the best of intentions, we can still end up doomscrolling. If you find yourself doing this (like I did this morning) try saying out-loud to yourself ‘stop!’. Put your phone down and move your body – go into another room, do some stretches, anything to change your physical state. This can pull you out of the state you’re in and bring you back to the here and now.
5. Find another activity to replace doomscrolling
Sometimes we end up doomscrolling simply to pass the time. It’s understandable. Some of us have been faced with an expanse of time during the various lockdowns and anything that makes the clock tick that little bit faster can be welcome.
Try to replace this with something more positive. Why not start reading that book you always said you never had time to read? Text or call a friend and see how they’re doing. Get some paper and doodle or write out how you’re feeling.
If you can start replacing doomscolling with something that leaves you feeling nourished, you’ll quickly find yourself with a new hobby and positive habit.
6. Visit uplifting sites
Where can you go online that will leave you feeling inspired and hopeful? Make a list of all the sites or social networks you can think of that help you feel more positive and make a promise to visit these more often. This might be a website with helpful articles or a social media site where you have a strong sense of community.
Visits to these sites are like anti-doomscroll medication. Take them whenever you feel hopeless and need a lift.
The world can be a scary place sometimes but there are ways we can help ourselves take control and feel more safe. Limiting your doomscrolling habits is one way to do just that. But remember, it’s OK to admit you need more help.
If you think you’d benefit from talking with a professional, don’t hesitate to reach out. Exploring your thoughts and feelings in this type of secure environment can be a big help. Learn more and find a therapist on Counselling Directory.