Doomscrolling: Why you do it and how to stop

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Whether you know what the definition of doomscrolling is or not, you have probably fallen victim to it at some point. Doomscrolling is the act of getting sucked into a screen and consuming nothing but negative news for an extended period of time. It is a coping mechanism that happens when we find out something bad is happening or experience anxiety about a recurrent national or international problem. To try and feel control over the situation we take in as much information as possible, even if this approach has detrimental effects on our mental health. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with being educated. In fact, I would usually say that it’s better to be educated on current issues than apathetic and ignorant. The problem really exists once you’ve gone from simply trying to learn more to obsessing over how much you can learn. It’s easy to allow the environment, politics and human rights issues to create a negative impact on our mental health, but by giving these things too much power, we will render ourselves incapable of functioning due to guilt and trauma. These are persistent issues that will not go away anytime soon, so allowing ourselves to be excessively affected by them will cause long-term mental health issues.  

A common example of this is the feeling of helplessness or guilt associated with reading about things we cannot change. Even if we can logically accept our inability to influence events for the better and even if we can acknowledge that these things aren’t our fault, a lot of us will still feel as though we could be doing more in the way of working to diminish or resolves these issues. The more we read, the more we recognize the need for change, and so the more we recognize our inability to affect change. This feeling was the subject of fellow opinion writer Sarah Matthews’ “You are not responsible for the world ending!” 

Most of us have already experienced or seen someone experience emotions like this, so why is it so hard to not let major events and issues get the better of us? This is partially due to the accessibility of pessimistic news. Ominous stories are easily sensationalized in the media and then repeated and amplified across social media. It will always be in the nature of the internet to spread bad news more quickly and easily than good news. It’s because of this that we find these events and issues so difficult to avoid – the algorithm works to push this type of content to as many people as possible due to the precedent set by similar news that received high engagement. 

So, if everything is rigged to feed us bad content and bad content is going to make us more miserable, what do we do? As much as everyone loathes to hear it, the easiest way is to take a break from socials. Social media breaks have long been cited as a method to improve mental health, but many people find that it’s difficult to commit to. Another option is to ask yourself before consuming this content if it’s worth engaging at this moment and possibly putting yourself in a bad headspace. Learning is gradual and consuming information slowly over a couple days will be easier on your brain than dumping large amounts of content at once, especially if you’re already dealing with poor mental health. Whatever the method, stop doomscrolling and learn to let yourself breathe.