What news from 2020 do you remember? The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns are highlights, but what other news stories were there? If you only remember the negative news and negative information that filled social media feeds every day, all the bad news may take a toll on your sleep.
In fact, the constant reading of news—including sad, disheartening, or depressing stories—can be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Known as “doomscrolling” this phenomenon has become increasingly popular in the past year, this can also affect your sleep if you are doomscrolling into the night, or are letting these sad stories plague your thoughts to the point where you can’t sleep.
Doomscrolling: Is it bad news?
Popping up on Merriam-Webster and Urban Dictionary, and even being Macquarie’s word of the year in 2020, “doomscrolling” or “doomsurfing” is a new buzz term, even though it’s not yet an official psychological behaviour.
The term is quite new, yet the practise described by it seems to be an old phenomenon. Doomscrolling is “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.” The term gained traction in the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic and other troubling events that made 2020 a year to remember.
How bad is bad news?
If you think about it in one way, there’s nothing new on the news. Ever since the dawn of the media, the news thrives on troubling events. So how can bad news take a toll on a person? The information begins to harm a person once they are consumed by the stress of what’s happening in the world.
Too many negative stories can overwhelm your system. Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, may rise to such highs that you will feel anxious and depressed. As a result, you might struggle to fall asleep, ruining your chances for a good night’s sleep. What’s worse is that you will feel compelled to keep consuming negative information on media sites.
Must keep reading the news
Why can’t you just stop? Once you’ve developed any habit, good or bad, it can be quite difficult to break out from it.
Whatever you may be reading about—the pandemic, racial injustice, environmental disasters and whatever other problems are happening in the world—will upset and confuse you, but instead of cutting yourself off from the trauma, you will feel attracted to it. This behaviour is called “counterphobic”, where you feel that facing the reason for your anxiety and stress will help you overcome those feelings.
Doomscrolling effects on mental health
Aside from interrupting sleep, doomscrolling, and the resulting stress hormones, can lead to mental and physical health issues. Symptoms of anxiety and depression can manifest and be reinforced in a continuous cycle, potentially leading to an actual psychological problem. Pre-existing or developing mental issues may also worsen due to doomscrolling.
Your worldview may change as well. You may think that the world is a scary and dangerous place. Due to catastrophising, you may see only the negative aspects of life and leave out all the good things.
Lastly, with the amount of time you spend not sleeping, your physical wellness will decrease. Blood pressure may rise, and you may begin to feel chronic pain. Sleeplessness can also disturb your daytime behaviour and activity.
How to find the light again
Like we mentioned, doomscrolling can become a bad habit that can negatively impact our lives in so many ways. Try implementing these strategies to switch off from the bad news.
Limit screen time
Start by making time limits for your media consumption. Loved ones can hold you accountable for this. The less time you spend on social media, the less you tend to doomscroll, so set time for media use.
You can even use apps that will monitor your consumption or will lock media apps to keep you away at certain times, plus most smartphones allow you to set limits on apps and screen time.
Stay away from social media
As above, setting yourself limits from your general screen time and social media usage are great ways to limit doomscrolling. Try spending a couple of hours before bed away from your phone, and instead spend that time reading, watching TV or spending time with your loved ones. In the morning, set a routine that doesn’t include your phone for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
Game the algorithm
What you see on social media sites is predicted based on your behaviour. If you tend to doomscroll on social media, the AI algorithm will keep feeding you an endless thread of bad news.
However, you can gain the upper hand by deliberately searching and looking for good, funny, or uplifting content. There are pages, channels, and creators which highlight positive stories. You can then make the algorithm predict a more positive outcome for your online behaviour by focusing only on the positive content.
Live in real life
Whether you cut yourself off entirely from social media, limit your use, or play the algorithm, you can always live out in the real world rather than online. Try and fill your time with different activities, or simply talk and enjoy your friends and family’s company. Sometimes, all you need is actual people to talk to.
Practise mindfulness and gratitude
Finally, if doomscrolling continues to be a problem, you can intentionally practise mindfulness and gratitude. Be aware of how much negative information you are taking in, and think of the good things to counterbalance the bad. Write down what you are grateful for in your own life, as well as positive news stories of the week. Commit them to heart. In time, you will learn to focus on the good, and it starts with awareness and gratefulness.