What To Do If You Catch Yourself Constantly Doomscrolling

Because of COVID, most of us are living our entire lives through our phones - and the impact on our health can be severe.

doomscrolling photo

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With everything going on right now — the pandemic, an earthquake, and violent protests this week alone — it’s easy to end up down the rabbit hole, absorbing updates about the state of the world for lengthy chunks of time. It’s a habit known as ‘doomscrolling’.

In a British study of emotional wellbeing last year, researchers found “levels of negative affect were notably higher when participants were using social media” and “informing [oneself] about COVID-19”.

More locally, over 50 percent of people feel the news has made them more anxious over the last year, according to the University of Canberra.

The bad or stressful stories cropping up seem to never end, but constantly taking in these negative headlines, even subconsciously, can take its toll on mental and physical health. Doomscrolling can impact physiology over time, change our morale and resilience, as well as increase blood pressure and cortisol levels, according to VicHealth.

“It may feel like keeping up-to-date with the news is a good way to have some agency over what’s happening in the world, but beyond a certain point, it can be harmful and leave you feeling even worse off,” Dr Marlee Bower from the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health told Junkee.

Why Doomscrolling Is Harmful

“In times like these it can feel important to be on top of what’s happening in the world,” said Dr Bower. “As humans we are evolutionarily programmed to pay attention to threatening or negative events in our environment to keep ourselves safe. However we are not designed to be constantly engaging with negative information; doing so can leave us feeling anxious, stressed, hyper-vigilant, and fatigued.”

Much like how social media apps are designed to keep you hooked on them for as long as possible while you procrastinate or multitask, media sites utilise clickbait and shock value to strike and maintain your attention.

Now the two are welded: news isn’t just capped to separate sites, but weaved into YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram too, Dr Bower explained, making it harder to escape the mass of content.

The Role Of COVID

“The pandemic is a scary, unprecedented time, but through lockdown, we have lost the ways we usually make sense of big events,” Dr Bower believes. When social interactions are limited or halted completely, you can’t process the world in casual convos by the water cooler, in the pub, or at the dinner table with loved ones.

“Instead, most of us live out our entire social world through our phones, leaving us ultra-susceptible to doomscrolling,” she said.

Lockdowns and COVID restrictions also remove a lot of choice in our everyday lives, said Dr Bower, making you feel “helpless at a time of such fear and uncertainty”.

“Getting as much information as possible through doomscrolling can feel helpful because it provides a sense of control, and can help you to feel part of something much bigger than yourself — making you feel less isolated in the short-term.” But long-term, people end up internalising a never-ending wave of depressing and anxiety-inducing stories.

How To Manage Doomscrolling

“To stop doomscrolling, you need to do something that disrupts or circuit-breaks the process,” said Dr Bower. “While it’s important to keep informed with some COVID news and updates, make sure you take ‘no news’ breaks.”

She suggested setting an alarm when reading the news to limit the time spent doing so, or changing your phone interface to grayscale in the settings.

“It’s amazing how just removing colour makes phone apps much less exciting to use — you will start to notice that you are more conscious of the time spent on your phone, and that you use your phone less.”

Acknowledging that the 24-hour news cycle will keep chugging along, and it’s impossible to wade through every single bulletin, can also help with perspective.

“Do what so many people are doing to cope — go for a walk, take a break from your screens, stay active,” she said.