What Is Doom Scrolling?

Distressed young woman looking at laptop in bed in the dark

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What Is Doom Scrolling?

According to psychotherapist and coach Tess Brigham, doom scrolling is mindlessly scrolling through negative news articles, social media posts, or other content-sharing platforms. Essentially, it's reading one negative story after another.

Although it may seem as if 2020 and all its hurdles (the COVID-19 pandemic, political tensions, and social injustice to name a few) would inspire the term “doom scrolling,” it actually likely sprung up on Twitter in 2018 and has been a cultural term ever since.

Signs

If you’ve spent several minutes or perhaps even hours engrossed in reading stories or posts online—and they tend to be of the distressing variety—it’s likely that you’ve spent your time doom scrolling.

Tess Brigham, Psychotherapist

Doom scrolling occurs when you realize you’ve landed on a story and have no idea how you got there. You can’t remember why you even got on your phone in the first place, but now you’re reading hundreds of comments or retweets of someone you don’t even follow.

— Tess Brigham, Psychotherapist

With studies pointing to a surge of poor mental health this year (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] reported in August that nearly 41% of U.S. adults have symptoms of at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including anxiety), it’s no wonder that more and more doom scrolling has taken place.

One Canadian study has even called this phenomenon “social media panic.”

Mental Health Impact

Brigham says that those who struggle with anxiety or anxiety-related disorders (these can include panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD], and social anxiety disorder) are especially prone to doom scroll because “anxiety is about control or the lack of control.”

She goes on to say, “The more anxious we feel, the more we try and control the situations and people around us. Being informed seems like a good way to control what’s happening around us, but it actually just creates more anxiety and fear.” 

Why People Doom Scroll

If deep-down it’s affecting our mental health in a negative way, why do we continue to doom scroll?

“People doom scroll for many different reasons,” Brigham says. “The main reason is as a way of feeling in control in a world that feels so out of control all the time.”

She points to a feeling of, “If I know what’s happening, I can be better prepared when things get bad,” as a reason for doom scrolling. The fear is that something terrible might happen that you don’t see coming; doom scrolling seems to be an effective way to stay prepared.

“We are hardwired to survive and to see the things that could potentially harm us,” Brigham further explains. “That’s in our DNA and our ancestors needed this ability in order to literally survive. While our world is very different, we still have this drive to keep ourselves safe which we think we’re doing by reading negative news stories.”

Potential Pitfalls

Daily doom scrolling simply isn’t a wise idea if you’re striving for good mental health.

“It’s bad for your mental health because there is no real benefit to doom scrolling,” Brigham notes. “It only makes you more anxious and paranoid about the world around you.”

Brigham also says that doom scrolling robs you of living in the present moment, since it’s a “mindless” activity.

Doom scrolling prevents you from paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, which is additionally detrimental to mental health. And, you may not even be fully conscious of how much it’s impacting you.

“While you’re scrolling through all these articles,” she says, “you may not be aware of how all of this negative information is affecting your psyche, but once you close your eyes and try and go to bed, your mind is spinning with terrible images.”

How to Make Scrolling More Positive

As tempting as it is to consistently consume negative news stories, there are ways to turn scrolling into a positive experience.

“One way to make it positive is to only visit sites you trust and report on events in a fair manner,” Brigham says.

“Some news sites are just sensational and want to shock or scare you, so avoid those outlets and focus on places where you know you’ll get honest, accurate information. Limit your intake. You can stay informed by watching one show or even reading a summary of the news of the day.” 

If you’ve found yourself in a swirling vortex of doom scrolling that takes place multiple times a day, it’s time to do a mental health check-in and apply Brigham’s tips and tricks so you won’t go down the rabbit hole:

Tips to Prevent Doom Scrolling

  • Attend to something else: The moment that you realize what you’re doing—stop. Brigham advises redirecting your attention to something else on the web or simply putting down your phone or logging off your computer.
  • Set a time limit: While it’s fine to stay informed, keep yourself from entering doom scrolling territory by limiting yourself to only 20 minutes of scrolling.
  • Seek out positivity: Instead of doom scrolling, watch something funny, look at family photos, or read a story about something good in the world.
  • Practice gratitude: Pinpoint things to be grateful for instead of things you need to be fearful of.
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