Before making my kids’ lunches for day camp, I take a few extra minutes to scroll through Twitter. Before falling asleep, I check my phone for news alerts. When I’m bored or anxious, I open Facebook. I’m overwhelmed and anxious and I’m falling into an early pandemic habit again. I’m doomscrolling and I need to get it under control before I send myself into too dark of a spiral. If you’re also stuck in an addictive habit of reading shitty news stories, you’re not alone.
It’s one thing to get lost in a wormhole of information on a particular topic, but doomscrolling, or doomsurfing as Merriam-Webster also refers to it, is the act of continuing to scroll and read through bad news that is depressing, sad, and disheartening. Doomscrolling is the equivalent of watching a train wreck or a car accident. We can’t pull our attention away despite the damage and upsetting nature of the crash.
Ken Yeager, PhD and associate professor of medicine who leads The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Stress, Trauma, and Resilience Program, says, “The pandemic, electoral issues, the economy, protests, and public expression of raw emotions, natural disasters like hurricanes have all contributed to the phenomena known as doomscrolling.”
I eventually adjusted to a new, but temporary, normal and accepted the state of our world. I, we, would get through this. Somewhere this spring and early summer I felt a bit more hopeful and realized I wasn’t reaching for my phone as much to see what awful thing had happened. Vaccines were coming, we had elected a new president, we’d made it through the school year. My workload had picked up again and my mental health was steady. I felt the benefits of resiliency and grit.
Then COVID-19 cases started to increase, hospitals began to fill again, and breakthrough cases were in houses of people I know. I felt the old, familiar pangs of hopelessness and went to the internet to validate these feelings. I wasn’t let down. Everything seems awful, and my scrolling seems to confirm that in the same way it did early last year when the first waves of COVID-19 hit our borders.
Instead of taking in a healthy balance of information, understanding and accepting what I can and can’t do about certain situations, and then putting my phone down, I maintain a continuous eye on the horrible things that keep happening. It doesn’t matter if anything new has occurred or if new details have surfaced since the last time I looked.
I usually start with looking up COVID-19 numbers in the states of my loved ones. I then linger on the dumpster fire that is Florida because that is where my long-distance partner is and I’m anxious about the safety of her and her kids. I read article after article about DeSantis and his approach to COVID, BLM, and queer rights — doom. The man is a disgusting waste of space, and I become angrier and more frustrated that she is stuck in such a hell hole.
Even though I live in Vermont, my kids aren’t old enough to be vaccinated, so I spend time looking at news articles about the risks of the Delta variant in children. Then I worry about the fear and uncertainty of my kids heading back to school. What are the protocols for masks? What if we have to go virtual learning again? There are articles on these topics too, especially ones that support my fears.
I tell myself that at least my kids are able to go to school even if it is through virtual options. The women, girls, and children in Afghanistan don’t have this freedom. I read articles about what the Taliban may or may not do to women and girls. How can I help? What can I do?
And then there are the people of Haiti and headlines about mass shootings, hate crimes, COVID, wildfires, climate change, Covid, conspiracy theorists, and Covid. The world is a mess and I’m struggling to take a break from bad news. It’s all doom and gloom and I’m going to spend too much time reminding myself of this fact.
Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?
“We are all hardwired to see the negative and be drawn to the negative because it can harm us physically,” Yeager, says. Our ability to sense danger has helped us survive. We’re trying to fight, outrun, or better understand the danger that is around us, even if the danger is far away. The uncertainty alone is enough to keep us doomscrolling because we’re trying to find a way to gain some element of control.
Thea Gallagher, PsyD, clinic director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perlman School of Medicine, says, “People have a question, they want an answer, and assume getting it will make them feel better. You keep scrolling and scrolling. Many think that will be helpful, but they end up feeling worse afterward.” Instead, Yeager says, “Doomscrolling does not create control and only makes you miserable.” We become more anxious, isolated, and depressed.
But in these isolated and shitty feelings is also the fear of missing out and the desire to feel connected to others. We seem to be stuck in perpetuating cycles of looking for and not finding true relief from the frustration and fear.
How We Resist Doomscrolling
Doomscrolling can take a toll on our mental health, sleep patterns, productivity, and relationships. Yes, it’s a privilege to look away from what is happening in the world, but we need to take breaks if we’re going to make the changes want to see in the world — or just get through the day with less anxiety.
I know I won’t completely stop doomscrolling, but now that I’m aware of falling into hold habits, I’ve started to limit the amount of time I spend lost in bad news. I allow myself 10 minutes a couple of times a day to get lost in Twitter threads. I’m also starting to resist the urge to open any social media app on my phone and choose to listen to a podcast or audiobook instead.
Go for a walk, text a friend, or donate to a cause that is trying to right the wrong you are obsessing over. Doomscrolling isn’t helping you or anyone else. Either put your phone away or choose to play Words with Friends instead. The doom will still be there whether you’re looking at it or not, so try to take a break from it so you don’t feel gloomy all the time. If you’re still struggling with depression and anxiety or obsessive thoughts, talk to a doctor or mental health provider. It’s okay to look away. You deserve to feel better.