BREAKING NEWS… BREAKING NEWS… BREAKING NEWS…
How many times have you seen those big capital letters flood your news feed or TV screen over the past year? If you live on Planet Earth, probably a lot.
If it’s not some dire news about the never-ending pandemic, it’s climate change, political turmoil, the spiralling economy, or mass protests. Sometimes I pinch myself… am I in a disaster movie? No, this is indeed reality and, according to the news, it stinks.
And, while I completely appreciate that some news stories are important and we need to know about them, increasingly it feels like I’m carrying around a really heavy burden that just keeps getting bigger.
What Is Doomscrolling?
During lockdown part one in the U.K., I felt a certain need – even a duty – to stay informed about all of these things. So, after a long day spent homeschooling and working, I’d “relax” by scrolling through all the breaking news stories I’d missed that day.
Except it wasn’t really relaxing.
It wasn’t relaxing at all.
Then I came across a word that described exactly what I was doing – “doomscrolling.” That is, mindlessly trawling news sites only to be sucked in by negative and often scary stories. Not a particularly healthy or productive hobby, but one that I’ve apparently committed myself to wholeheartedly since early 2020.
The Impact of Doomscrolling
Every time I see a “breaking” news story, I can physically feel the anxiety creeping in. That hot feeling on the back of my neck, my pulse rising. I sense a very real and present danger somewhere nearby (never mind that I can’t actually see it).
In fact, doomscrolling can lead to a number of mental and physical health issues alongside anxiety, including depression, lack of sleep, and nightmares. And yet, it would feel irresponsible, somehow, to stop doomscrolling completely. There is stuff I need to know! And I need to know it right now!
I’m not the only one. According to Mind Tools’ recent Twitter poll, over half (58.3 percent) of respondents revealed that they doomscrolled every day. Similarly, on LinkedIn, 53 percent admitted to a daily dose of doomscrolling.
According to psychologists, our drive to be hypervigilant is completely normal. It’s part of our survival instinct. After all, in order to protect ourselves properly, we need to gather information about the things that we believe will cause us harm.
It’s just that we’re faced by global news, now, not woolly mammoths!
My attitude toward news has completely changed now I’m in lockdown part three. Instead of gorging myself on bad news, I avoid all news, like (for want of a better word) the plague.
I only play games on my phone. I never look at news sites. If I hear news on the radio or TV, I quickly switch it off and turn on some music. I’ve taken up knitting and I’ve been reading a lot more. Anything to avoid hearing more negative news.
This is avoidance, I know. Some might say I’m “burying my head in the sand” – and they’d be right. Perhaps it’s not the wisest of approaches, but – for the time being at least – it’s helping me to achieve some modicum of normality in a world that feels far from normal right now.
Your Top Tips on Doomscrolling
We wanted to know more about how you’ve been impacted by doomscrolling and your top tips for avoiding it.
Limit Your Exposure
LinkedIn follower, Sarah Frampton said that she, “Made a conscious effort not to [doomscroll] for my own mental health. I am considered high risk [for COVID] for health reasons and my anxiety at the pandemic was rising. My partner watches the government announcements, we don’t watch the news, and I scroll past any ‘doom’ on social media. Best decision ever!”
Client Success Advisor, Charlotte Blake, recommended switching off from technology altogether at the end of the day. “I try and keep up with as many things as I can… then I find myself staying away from my phone and laptop in the evenings to have a break. Otherwise I do find it very overwhelming, can get headaches and not sleep well.”
Facebook friend, John Casebolt advised timing yourself to avoid doomscrolling, “I limit my scroll time to about 30 seconds. If I haven’t seen anything in that amount of time that I believe would be worth my time to look at, I quit. A few ‘positive’ views may give me another 30 seconds, then I move on to something else.”
If you’re finding it particularly tricky to put that phone down, there are handy apps that can help to limit your screen time for you. For instance, Freedom allows you to block distracting apps and websites. And Zenscreen helps you to discover how much time you spend on specific apps and to manage your screen time, and gives you tips on how to improve your screen habits.
Mind Tools’ own U.S. Marketing Manager, Carlyn Angus, explained how she’s overcome her doomscrolling habit by using her phone for more positive interactions, such as virtual catch-ups with friends, or by simply putting it away, “I’ve been battling with doomscrolling throughout the pandemic and during ‘lockdown one,’ I found myself sitting with my phone for hours, having achieved nothing but becoming anxious and worried.
“I think I needed reassurance, and had FOMO (not that anyone is doing anything), and wanted to feel in some way connected to people, as I live on my own. I wanted to keep on top of the developing news, but often as the stories were so negative, it was making me think the worst and getting into really low headspace.
“I noticed it was having a really negative impact on my wellbeing (I couldn’t switch off at night), so as the lockdown went on, I started getting into an evening routine of virtual catch-ups with friends, virtual yoga, and reading. I now limit my screen time (TV and phone), and actually leave my phone in another room for a couple of hours at night, which has really helped. And I make a point of putting it down and picking up a book before bed, so it’s not the last thing I’ve seen before I go to sleep.”
Get a Hobby
People and Culture Advisor, Holly Whitehead-Collett, reflected, “I find myself wanting to be up to date with the news as it feels like things are changing so quickly in the world. Part of this is wanting to be safe, in terms of COVID, but then you can find you are concerned about lots of things that are out of your control.
“I also want to keep as up to date as I can with friends and family and what they are up to, almost like FOMO from not getting to spend time with them! While looking at things like this isn’t doomscrolling, and actually makes me feel a bit more connected with people, channels like Instagram and Facebook are obviously open to news articles and more serious/negative posts as well, so you can’t avoid it.
“I think another reason why I find myself doing it is just out of boredom: your phone is pretty much always with you, so when you are sat not doing much, its easy to pick up your phone and scroll.
“I am trying to alleviate this a bit by finding activities and hobbies which keep me occupied enough to forget that my phone is there for a bit, like going out for a quick walk or… I have recently started some cross stitch patterns.”
Here are some more things you can do to reduce doomscrolling or to at least put a positive spin on it:
- Enjoy some screen-free time. Got a spare second? Don’t just jump on your phone! Why not go screen-free for a while? Mind Tools has compiled some great tips and tricks on how to avoid screen fatigue.
- Try joyscrolling. Retrain you phone algorithms by bookmarking positive news stories and following social media accounts that align with your interests, such as books, movies, gardening, or art. Why not also try out this fun joyscroll from the Icelandic Tourism Board that made headlines last year?
- Remap your phone apps. Position your news and social apps alongside, for example, meditation, workout or gaming apps. This will make it easier to interrupt a potential doomscroll with something more positive.
- Change your phone display to greyscale. This is much less alluring to the eye and may help to combat the addictiveness of mindless scrolling.
Do you doomscroll? How has it impacted you? And how have you tried to avoid it? Join the conversation and leave your tips in the Comment section, below.