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Doomscrolling: What it is and why it's bad news

Humans are hard-wired to seek out the negative and doomscrolling feeds into this quality. But is it good for us?

Doomscrolling has been defined as the urge to surf or scroll through negative or unhappy news
Doomscrolling has been defined as the urge to surf or scroll through negative or unhappy news (Photo by Shane, Unsplash)

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Ever notice yourself sitting on your phone to look at a message your co-worker sent and suddenly, realizing an hour later that you were actually scrolling through tons of articles and pieces about the wildfires across Europe? Or, have you ever caught yourself opening a chain of stories about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it keeps resurfacing?

You’ve been doomscrolling. Here is what it means and how you can cope with it.

Also read: Do you have social fatigue? Step back

What it means and when did we know we were doing it?

According to Merriam-Webster, doomsurfing or doomscrolling are two terms that have recently been coined to characterise the propensity to surf or scroll through negative or unhappy news. The term was coined in 2018 on Twitter but only got popularized recently during the pandemic.

Wakefit’s Great Indian Sleep Scorecard 2022 found that 25% of Indians believe they have insomnia because of how excessive screen time has impacted their sleep cycles. In 2022, upwards of 59% of Indians went to sleep past the ideal bedtime, 11 pm, and 57% of them were up late at night doomscrolling through social media.

What do experts say?

So, why do we doomscroll? As explained by Ken Yeager, a psychiatrist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, humans are hardwired to seek out the negative. Sounds self-destructive, right? But it's true. Humans are drawn to negative and scary things because reading and exploring more about these things makes us believe we have control over these things.

However true this might be, doomscrolling doesn’t help us feel like we have control over the negative things around us at all. And yet, we still do it. Professionals attribute it to curiosity; we read more and more hoping to get answers to our questions, but the end result is only unfavorable. People end up feeling much worse after scrolling through a pile of information.

According to psychotherapist Tess Brigham, people who struggle with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder and other forms of anxiety-related mental health issues tend to be most prone to doomscrolling because “anxiety is about control or the lack of control.”

Why is it bad for you?

To begin with, doomscrolling is bad for your mental health. It isn't good for your mental health because it potentially does no good to you; it only makes one more scared and anxious about all the things that are out of their control.

Excessive social media engagement also makes it difficult to pay attention to your emotions and thoughts, which is also bad for your mental health. And while we don't realise how detrimental consuming so much of distressing information is immediately, when we lay down to sleep, our brain tends to revisit all the content we have consumed throughout the day – ultimately making it difficult to fall asleep.

Also read: Why you must strike a balance between socialising and me-time

How to know you’re doomscrolling and ways to stop it

Experts say doomscrolling occurs when you notice you’re reading a story but you don’t remember how you got there or even why you got on your phone in the first place. These stories tend to be more distressing and unpleasant to read than you’d like them to be.

Set time-limits for yourself: Try to engage with content on social media for not more than half an hour per day.

Read happier things: New discoveries in the world, upcoming albums by your favourite artists – watch things that make you feel better. We highly recommend watching cat and dog videos.

Shift focus: As soon as you realise you are doomscrolling, shift your focus to something else – go to another website, or put down your phone.

Practice gratitude: Try making a small list of things you’re grateful for at the end of the day, instead of overthinking about what scares you.

Also read: Everything you need to know about 'doomscrolling'

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