Doomscrolling (or doomsurfing) is when you see or read sad, scary, or negative news online and continue consuming such information.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, digital news consumption increased by 35%, and people who got their news through social media increased by 47%, contributing to this phenomenon. This habit can negatively impact your mental and physical health.
This article discusses doomscrolling, how it affects your health, and ways to break this habit.
Definition: What’s Meant by “Doomscrolling”?
Doomscrolling is the continuous cycle of consuming sad, scary, or negative content through news-related websites, apps, or social media. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, doomscrolling consisted of behaviors such as:
- Regularly checking the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths
- Eagerly awaiting and checking for new symptoms or transmission information
- Actively seeking new ways to protect yourself against the virus
Research has found that this habit can lead to an overload of information, stress, mood changes, and anxiety, even without the person noticing.
Effect of Doomscrolling on Mental Health
Nearly one-third of American adults are affected by anxiety. Doomscrolling increases the risk of mental health challenges such as:
It can also impact your emotional health, contributing to fear, sadness, and excessive negative thoughts. Exposure to negative information, especially frequent or continuous exposure as with doomscrolling, can lead to stress responses from the sympathetic nervous system.
An example would be reading a negative article, becoming scared, looking up more information about the topic, and then experiencing an increased heart rate while reading, listening to, or watching more negative content. When this stress response lasts too long, it can lead to chronic stress, depression, and physical concerns.
The Perception of Doomscrolling
Research has shown the percentages of people who feel doomscrolling is:
- Severely problematic: 16.5%
- Moderately problematic: 27.3%
- Minimally problematic: 27.5%
- Not problematic: 28.7%
Effect of Doomscrolling on Physical Health
Doomscrolling can also impact physical health. It can become a habit that interferes with other activities, responsibilities, and daily life. This may include the following:
Doomscrolling can lead to adverse effects even when a person is unaware of the problem.
How to Break the Cycle and Stop Doomscrolling
While doomscrolling continues to be an issue, research has shown that it has caused some people to shift away from negative information sources by avoiding exposure. It is important to monitor the messages and information you consume and how that affects your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical and mental health.
Some things to do when doomscrolling occurs include:
- Avoid sources that cause stress.
- Disable notifications on phones or other electronics.
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom.
- Limit time on social media.
- Plan activities to replace time spent on social media.
- Practice relaxation exercises.
- Set a screen-free schedule.
This may mean listening to music instead of the radio or news. If you find yourself doomscrolling at specific times during the day, setting smartphone restrictions for those times may be beneficial. Or consider setting up an app to track screen time.
Another strategy is to set a timer before opening an app and stop as soon as the timer goes off. It is also possible to adjust settings and preferences in some apps to show fewer negative pieces of content and more positive ones, which may mean following different sources or choosing “do not show” options.
Breaking the cycle to stop doomscrolling starts with determining the patterns that lead to this habit and developing solutions that work for each individual.
Asking for Support
If doomscrolling is having a negative effect on your life and you’re having trouble breaking the cycle, reach out to a healthcare provider, such as a therapist, for support.
What to Do Instead of Doomscrolling
More than 80% of people use social media at work for non-work-related purposes and spend an average of nearly an hour daily on social media instead of working. Doomscrolling is often used as a way to procrastinate or avoid other tasks.
Consider the following options instead of doomscrolling:
- Help someone else.
- Learn something new.
- Listen to music.
- Participate in an activity or hobby.
- Read a book.
- Spend time with family or friends.
- Take a walk or exercise.
- Work toward a goal.
Doomscrolling happens when you are exposed to sad or scary news on TV or social media and consume it continuously. This is a concern because it can harm your mental, emotional, and physical health. The risks of stress, anxiety, and depression increase with doomscrolling. This habit can also lead to prolonged feelings of fear or sadness.
Doomscrolling also impacts your physical health, possibly leading to weight gain, fatigue, and high blood pressure. It is important to recognize the habit and break the cycle, which can be done with the help of apps to track or limit screen time or turn off notifications to certain sources. Instead of doomscrolling, try reading a book, spending time with friends and family, or enjoying a hobby.
Anand N, Sharma MK, Thakur PC, et al. Doomsurfing and doomscrolling mediate psychological distress in COVID-19 lockdown: Implications for awareness of cognitive biases. Perspect Psychiatr Care. 2022;58(1):170-172. doi:10.1111/ppc.12803
Cambridge University. Doomscrolling.
American Psychological Association. Media overload is hurting our mental health.
National Institute of Mental Health. Any anxiety disorder.
American Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body.
McLaughlin B, Gotlieb MR, Mills DJ. Caught in a dangerous world: Problematic news consumption and its relationship to mental and physical ill-being. Health Communication. Published online August 23, 2022:1-11. doi:10.1080/10410236.2022.2106086
Ytre-Arne B, Moe H. Doomscrolling, monitoring and avoiding: News use in covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Journalism Studies. 2021;22(13):1739-1755. doi:10.1080/1461670X.2021.1952475
Ahmad MB, Hussain A, Ahmad F. The use of social media at work place and its influence on the productivity of the employees in the era of COVID-19. SN Bus Econ. 2022;2(10):156. doi:10.1007/s43546-022-00335-x
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