What is doomscrolling? End the toxic cycle of negative news

Anton P. | May 27, 2022

Doomscrolling describes the vicious cycle of compulsively scrolling through depressing and upsetting news. Such obsession over tragic incidents or global crises has become a mentally-exhausting coping mechanism. Sadly, users risk falling into an infinite loop when disturbing online stories never seem to end.

What is doomscrolling? End the toxic cycle of negative news

Doomscrolling can cause temporary gratification as if people do their part by raising their awareness of important issues. However, continuous absorption of negative information can disrupt sleep, mundane tasks, work, hobbies, and personal relationships.

Algorithms also play a role in what content arrives at users’ doorstep. According to people’s search histories and overall actions, they can repeatedly present negative information. Therefore, even if people manage to end this toxic behavior, the doomscrolling period has already made its mark.

What is doomscrolling? Spiraling down the bad news hole

The term doomscrolling refers to spending a lot of time exposed to negative news online. The intake of distressing information can correspond with the need to understand the nature of the threat.

Doomscrolling became especially prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marked its return. Millions of people reported feeling restless, and continuously updated news seemed to be the only remedy.

However, doomscrolling can be about anything negative, like climate change or a sudden tragic event.

While the term debuted in 2018 via Twitter, the concept itself is nothing new. Such toxic behavior even sprung the creation of a Doomscrolling Reminder Bot. It essentially reminds users when it is time to take a break from scrolling.

Many relate this disturbingly soothing behavior to a similar term from the 1970s called the mean world syndrome. It focused on paranoid feelings about the world due to the many violence-related stories reported.

What causes doomscrolling?

Particular traits and emotions can trigger doomscrolling and the drop into the distressing dark abyss:

  • Extensive use of social media. Repeatedly returning to your news feeds will mean that you absorb more information. Many users do this out of boredom, looking for entertainment. However, social media can trigger lengthy browsing sessions due to anxious interest in negative content users encounter.
  • FOMO or Fear of Missing Out. Being a part of the conversation and FOMO can be a priority for people. They might feel inferior or less involved if they do know specific facts. Thus, doomscrolling might be a way to learn as much as possible and not miss any important news.
  • Motivated by anxiety. Doomscrolling could provide temporary relief and gratification. It also relates to survival instincts, believing that knowing all the facts can help you prepare for similar situations. However, it can only further trigger digital burnout.
  • Social distancing or loneliness. Limited social interactions can coerce people into spending excessive amounts of screen time. Seeking negative information could be a priority as they tend to leave a larger impact on people.

What makes doomscrolling so dangerous

Doomscrolling is detrimental to people’s mental well-being and can affect physical health. However, let’s dig deeper into what emotions and thoughts this toxic behavior triggers or intensifies.

  • Interferes and disrupts your life

Getting addicted to negative news will likely mean less time for other activities in your life. For instance, you might cancel plans with friends and limit social interactions to a minimum.

Your work can also require frequent breaks to check social media or other news outlets. Besides actually doomscrolling, people can feel distracted, lose focus, and struggle to interact with others. So, people might feel isolated and unproductive, which further discourages people from regaining control.

  • Causes lack of quality sleep

Smartphones can be our greatest enemies. After all, they are the primary devices to perform doomscrolling. Millions of people cannot resist the urge to use them even before going to sleep.

Using smartphones before bedtime diminishes our sleep on its own. However, the effects intensify if people use that time to read more negative news.

Therefore, people might struggle to fall asleep or have nightmares about tragic events they saw. Poor sleep also triggers stress and other physical or mental issues. If such a routine continues, people might face more severe health problems.

  • Feeling helpless and stressed

Reading upon tragic events might inspire you to do your part in society. However, helping might not be possible due to various factors. Thus, people might feel helpless if they cannot contribute to the situation.

In turn, people will feel stressed and alert due to the increased adrenaline and cortisol. Overwhelming negative emotions can also manifest into panic attacks or paranoia. Fear is also one of the strongest emotions when it comes to doomscrolling.

  • Inability to break free from doomscrolling

Algorithms behind social media platforms deliver content according to users’ habits, preferences, and interests. Such personalized news feeds hope to increase engagement and encourage people to spend more time online. Sadly, algorithms might not understand that they can support doomscrolling.

Therefore, even if you stop deliberately looking for negative news, it might find you anyway. Social media algorithms remember your actions and will try to present information that you have found interesting before. Thus, your news feed might stay filled with distressing information, articles, and comments.

How to end the doomscrolling cycle and be more positive

Essentially, doomscrolling is the dangerous line users cross when their wish to stay informed turns into an unhealthy obsession. Users might even realize that consuming negative information leads to harmful consequences.

However, stopping this absorption requires strict self-control. And even if users show the necessary restraint, the digital world might work against them.

It is also important to note that completely disengaging from negative information is not ideal. While doomscrolling hyperpolarizes the situation, full dissociation might prevent people from fully grasping certain conditions.

Despite all odds, you can follow a set of recommendations to end doomscrolling or at least control it:

  1. Realize that uncertainty and anxiety are normal

You are unlikely to be the only one struggling with these emotions. Therefore, the first step to healing from doomscrolling is embracing negative feelings. Also, do not feel guilty about spending time doing something that you love.

  1. Limit your screen time reading negative news

Wanting to know more about a specific issue or incident is understandable. The key is setting limits for social media or any news site usage, even using actual timers. Doomscrolling makes it easy to lose a sense of time. Therefore, helpful reminders can help you grasp the time spent on it.

  1. Spend more time with friends or in leisure activities

Boredom breeds doomscrolling. Instead of grabbing your phone, try finding another way to alleviate boredom. It can be a hobby, social interaction, or even house chores. Anything productive that acts as a distraction from negative information works in this case.

  1. Do not be afraid to ask for help

Doomscrolling can significantly affect your mental health. If you struggle on your own, contact people that might be able to help. Also, there are many mental health apps that can be helpful. However, choose reliable applications that treat your data with the integrity it deserves.

  1. Try to find positive news and stories

Negativity bias is incredibly prevalent in the media. News outlets do this via clickbait and sensationalism to generate views. You should skip such negative articles and focus on inspiring or heartwarming stories. Do this when you feel overwhelmed or wish to break the doomscrolling cycle.

  1. Use a VPN for more resources online

A Virtual Private Network can help you access more sites, especially those delivering positive messages. Additionally, it can minimize content personalization online. Thus, past doomscrolling might not affect your future browsing as much.

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