What Is Doomscrolling? Why It's Harmful & How To Stop, From A Psychoanalyst
Spending hours scrolling through social media and the news might seem like a reprieve from work or other responsibilities. Depending on the content being consumed, though, that scrolling may actually be harmful to mental health. And yes, there's a name for this proclivity—doomscrolling.
Doomscrolling, also called doomsurfing, was placed on Merriam-Webster dictionary's "Words We're Watching" list, since gaining popularity amid the pandemic. They define doomscrolling as "the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing."
Why are people drawn to doomscrolling?
"During times of stress people turn to social media for information, and doomscrolling has become a 'coping mechanism' with the uncertainty in today's world," psychoanalyst Babita Spinelli, L.P., tells mbg.
Staying up to date with the latest COVID-19 news is important, and so is staying connected with friends and family during quarantine. For both reasons, the pandemic seemed to heighten doomscrolling, Spinelli explains. "The uncertainty in the world and minute-by-minute news breaks has created a fear of missing out," she says. People are afraid to "let go," in case they miss something.
Following the killing of George Floyd, news about police brutality, oppression, and racial injustice is also finally circulating in mainstream media. With so much information about anti-racism resources out there, some people now feel guilty for not doomscrolling. They worry if they aren't constantly in the news, they're turning the other cheek, Spinelli explains. But spending too much time in the news and not maintaining self-care can prevent people from taking real action, which is vital.
How doomscrolling can affect mental health.
Many people turn to the news to make sense of what's going on in the world, Spinelli says, but since information is not always given in its entirety—and there's not always one clarifying answer—people can end up feeling frustrated, fearful, helpless, or angry.
In extreme cases, doomscrolling can create symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she says. "The kind of graphic violence shown on social media can elicit trauma," Spinelli says, "and from my view, this can be detrimental to mental health if it continues to be the fabric of one's day."
Right now, with two public health emergencies—COVID-19 and racism—impacting communities, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, it can be difficult to draw the line between staying informed and doomscrolling.
How to avoid doomscrolling while still taking action.
"Being aware, educated, and contributing in your own way to combat racial and social injustice is undoubtedly important," Spinelli says. "However, we need to utilize other mechanisms to do so rather than excessive doomscrolling." Here are a few strategies she suggests for doing so:
- Instead of aimlessly scrolling through apps, read newsletters, magazines, or newspapers that you receive via email or at your doorstep. Once you've found a couple of platforms and sources to receive news from, minimize the time spent on other sites. Here are two methods for limiting news intake while staying informed.
- Participate in consistent Zoom meetings with like-minded friends to stay connected on the issues.
- Listen to podcasts or read books on racial and social injustice. Incorporate this into your daily rhythm in place of doomscrolling.
- Spend time (even virtually) volunteering at organizations that support and fight for racial justice, or raise awareness in your place of work.
- Support Black-owned businesses, Black artists, authors, musicians, spiritual leaders, nutritionists, chefs, and fitness instructors. Support Black people.
Remember, it's possible to be mindful and connected to the issues in the world without excessive doomscrolling, Spinelli says. If someone does find themselves doomscrolling, she urges them to incorporate positive news and read content that brings peace, laughter, or joy.