What Is Doomscrolling? + 7 Ways To Take A Break From The Anxiety-Inducing News Cycle

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What Is Doomscrolling? + 7 Ways To Take A Break From The Anxiety-Inducing New
Self

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a never-ending bad news cycle, and as many of us are scared and unsure of what to do or what will happen next, we find ourselves constantly following the news on social media.

Since most of the news is negative, it's a vicious cycle. And it leads to increased anxiety and stress.

What is doomscrolling?

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Doomscrolling is the tendency to scroll through negative news on a chronic basis. “Given the ongoing upheaval, uncertainty, and high levels of fear, the pandemic has worsened many people’s tendency to doomscroll,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly.

Doomscrolling can negatively impact mental health on many levels. From provoking anxiety to triggering depression and stress, doomscrolling has toxic effects on overall well-being.

“The body, mind, and spirit tend to thrive when we engage in positive, uplifting thoughts and activities,” says Dr. Manly. But when we engage in doomscrolling, we actively promote negative thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. “In the short term, doomscrolling can cause an upwelling of feelings such as irritability, anxiety, and sadness. In the long term, doomscrolling can certainly foster chronic anxiety, depression, stress, and pessimism.”

Given that mental health is connected to physical health, it’s no surprise that negative habits like doomscrolling negatively affect the physical body.

“From interfering with sleep to creating a craving for comfort food and overeating, doomscrolling can have immediate negative effects on physical health,” Dr. Manly adds.

In the long-term, doomscrolling can increase levels of cortisol and adrenaline, both of which are stress hormones. Dr. Manly has a staunch warning, saying, “Research routinely shows that chronic levels of elevated stress hormones are associated with many physical health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.”

But why do we, as humans, continue to doomscroll? There are a few reasons.

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1. First, we have an innate need to be "in the know."

Comments Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP, of Foundations Wellness Center“We want to be in the know for many different reasons, but it's because we subconsciously want to feel as though we are the exception to the rule.”

2. Bad news, car accidents, and intense situations draw our attention.

Adds Baksh, “We look for them, we gawk at them, and we scroll for them. I'm sure we can all relate to being stuck in traffic trying to pass an accident, and it's so much worse due to all the rubbernecking going on.”

Psychology might say we do this to become aware of what has happened and avoid that scenario in the future, if possible, and this has some validity.  

3. Humans are designed to look out for danger.

When faced with fear or threat, people may even resort to hostile or aggressive behavior.

“Being constantly showered with fear-inducing content can lead to a variety of anxiety issues that can cause physical and mental discomfort,” warns Dr. Pavan Madan, M.D. “Staying up late at night while doomscrolling not only encroaches in your sleep time, but also makes it harder to fall asleep or have a restful sleep.”

4. We're hoping for a happy ending.

There might also be just a little twinge of hope that each news story will end well. Why? “Remember that, as children, most of the time there were happy endings to the stories we read,” Baksh recalls.

So, another explanation for doomscrolling is to see if the outcomes are not what the headlines seem to apply.  

If you find yourself stressed and anxious from a continuous negative news cycle, here's how to stop doomscrolling.

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1. Bring awareness to what you're doing, and the thoughts and feelings you have while doing it.

Then, you can start to change those patterns.

“One tool I use is setting my limen every day,” says relationship expert, Chloe Ballatore. 

Divide a piece of paper into yin and yang activities and be as specific as possible. “When you set your limen, you're setting your agenda for the next day, so be specific about the time and time spent. Organization is built around doing (yang) and feeling (yin),” she adds.

Try to have a balance of both in your day. If you want to doomscroll, put it down. Then, see if it's a good use of your time. You might come up with other ideas for more satisfying or productive activities. 

2. Set boundaries.

It can be difficult to break the doomscrolling habit, but like any bad habit we can mindfully fight the urge to doomscroll.

“It’s always important to set boundaries on social media and news intake as a part of basic self-care, yet during stressful times — such as the pandemic — it’s critical to avoid the urge to doomscroll,” says Dr. Manly.

Just as you would want to avoid exposing your body to harsh or toxic chemicals, it’s important to avoid chronically exposing your mind to toxic news. Although it’s important to stay abreast of current issues, it’s equally important to take in only necessary news.

3. Listen to your body and emotions.

You know your body better than anyone else. It's time to listen to it.

Dr. Manly advises, “When you slow down to listen, your body and mind will tell you when you’ve absorbed enough (or the wrong type) of news. If you’re feeling agitated, anxious, or stressed, you know your body is signaling you to stop what you’re doing.”

Just as if you’re eating bad food, your body and mind say, “No! Put down your fork and push the plate away.” You can get used to doing the same thing with doomscrolling.

4. Physically separate yourself from your phone.

This can be quite hard, but just put your phone somewhere away from you. Charge it across from the room. Monitor your social media habits.

“Doomscrolling happens because we've developed habits that drive us to use our phones anyway,” advises Dr. Vikram Tarugu, gastroenterologist and medical professional.

Doing this easier to stop when we first monitor our social habits, and then avoid looking at our phones at a time when our minds are ready to search for the bad news. Tarugu adds, “We just remember what it's like. The Scroll Void disappears. Looking at your telephone for so long you forgot why you started. Create the routines to avoid staring too often at your screen to begin with.”

If you find yourself gravitating towards doomscrolling, put down your phone or walk away from your computer. “Replace the negative behavior with an affirming action such as a breathing exercise, a yoga stretch, or a creative activity,” adds Dr. Manly. 

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5. Set specific times each day to log off.

“Whether that's a half-hour before bed (which is also great for sleep habits) or when you're at dinner (which helps you be more mindful with your food and with others), find something that's realistic for you so you can focus more on what's going on in front of you, rather than what's on your screen,” comments licensed therapist Rachel Gersten, co-founder of Viva Wellness.

Pause and ask yourself, "Am I learning anything new or am I reading the same information stated multiple different ways?" Because, as Dr. Manly says, “Oftentimes, it's the second one, and taking a moment to reflect on what's going on can help you stop and sign off rather than continuing to doomscroll.”

6. Ask serendipitous questions.

When meeting someone new during these uncertain times, don’t ask them, “How are you?” Instead, ask, “What is your state of mind?” or, “What are you finding most helpful during these stressful days?”

“These questions get us out of our usual auto-pilot response and help to open up conversations that might lead to intriguing, deeper connections, and often serendipitous, outcomes,” reveals Dr. Christian Busch, author of The Serendipity Mindset.

7. Expect the unexpected.

Alertness is at the core of noticing unexpected events and turning them into positive outcomes. Once we understand how serendipity works, we become curators of it, and luck is no longer something that just happens to us — it becomes a force that we can grasp, shape and hone.

Concludes Busch:

“We tend to underestimate how probable the unexpected is, and often treat life as linear and controllable, even though it is filled with twists and turns. And unexpected pandemics forcing us to rethink our view of the world.

During these uncertain times, one can find great comfort in this outlook on life and inspiration in the stories of CEOs, business leaders, parents and students that embrace the 'aha' shift from negative to positive views and connect the dots in meaningful and important ways.

Ask your friends, family members and neighbors: 'Did you come across something unexpected last week? Anything that can help you cope through uncertainty?'”

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her.