What It Means To 'Doomscroll' — And How To Take A Break From The Anxiety-Inducing News Cycle

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women doomscrolling

Do you find yourself constantly scrolling through Instagram or TikTok in search of something light-hearted, but instead come across depressing, negative news or subjects? Have you gone down rabbit holes about particular topics?

You understand that it's a vicious cycle, no? Well, it turns out that there's a term to describe this behavior. It's called doomscrolling and it's bad for us — mentally and emotionally.

This constant news consumption of negativity bias straight to our minds can drastically hurt our mental and physical health, can lead to increased anxiety and stress, as well as catastrophizing and obsessive behaviors.

What is doomscrolling?

Doomscrolling (also referred to as doomsurfing) is the tendency to continuously and compulsively scroll through social media feeds, newsfeeds, or other online content platforms that focus on negative or distressing information.

The term came into popularity in the 2020s, most notably during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when people found themselves spending excessive amounts of time consuming news updates, such as infection rates, economic downturns, political unrest, and other unsettling events.

The term "doomscrolling" is derived from the word "doom," which implies a sense of impending disaster or gloom, and "scrolling," which refers to the action of moving through content on a digital device.

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How does doomscrolling affect mental health?

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 clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly.

But when we engage in doomscrolling, we actively promote negative thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. “Short-term, doomscrolling can cause an upwelling of feelings such as irritability, anxiety, and sadness. 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 bad habits like doomscrolling negatively affect the physical body. Adds Dr. Manly, “From interfering with sleep to creating a craving for comfort food and overeating, doomscrolling can have immediate negative effects on physical health.”

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

Why do we continue to doomscroll?

1. We have an innate need to be 'in the know.'

It's human nature to want to know the state of the world, and doomscrolling scratches that itch, so to speak.

“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,” comments Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP.

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 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, psychiatrist.

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.

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

How To Stop Doomscrolling

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 [a threshold or border] every day,” says relationship and communication 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. The 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 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.

You can also personalize your social media feed to no longer send you news stories.

3. Listen to your body and emotions.

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

“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,” Dr. Manly advises.

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 and your negative emotions.

4. Physically separate yourself from your phone.

This can be quite hard, but just put your phone somewhere away from you. Charge it across 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 is 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.

“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,” Tarugu adds.

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.

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,” suggests 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 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.

Setting time limits can also help stop you from doomscrolling.

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6. Ask serendipitous questions.

When meeting someone new during 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.

You can also be a warrior of your own and seek out positive news to stay informed.

8. Avoid social media and news outlets.

Social media have analytics, algorithms, and data that are used to keep you on their site and to keep you scrolling, so do yourself a favor and just avoid those platforms altogether. If you find it difficult to do so, set a time limit for each app.

Most phones even come with a screen time limit that can be designed for each app before it boots you out. The same goes for news sites.

9. Practice gratitude.

Doomscrolling makes you forget all the good things in life, so one way to combat it is to remind yourself, every day, what you are grateful for. Are you grateful for your pet? Your mom? That you got out of bed this morning? Write it down and stick the list somewhere you will be able to see it.

You can also take five minutes every morning to go over in your head all the things you are thankful for or any good news you have recently heard.

10. Power down early.

Another way to get you off your phone or social media is to set a timer to shut down your devices at least two hours before bed. This way, you can focus your mind on other things before heading to sleep for the night. You will rest easy and get a good night's sleep.

“Staying up late at night while doomscrolling not only encroaches on your sleep time, but also makes it harder to fall asleep or have a restful sleep,” adds Dr. Madan.

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyle writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly.