It starts innocently enough but is damaging your mental health!
So many of us do it: You get into bed, turn off the lights, and look at your phone to check social media one more time. You see that coronavirus infections are up. Maybe your kids can’t go back to school. The economy is taking a dive. Still, you incessantly scroll though bottomless doom-and-gloom news for hours as you sink into a pool of despair.
This self-destructive behavior has become so common that a new word for it has entered our vocabulary, “doom-scrolling.”
The recent onslaught of negative stories related to the coronavirus pandemic, combined with stay-at-home orders, have enabled our penchant for binging on bad news. But the habit is eroding our mental health, experts say.
Doom-scrolling traps us in a “vicious cycle of negativity” that fuels our anxiety. Our minds have been wired to look out for threats since the dawn of time. The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we tend to search them out, the more we get sucked into them, and the more anxious we get.
That grim content can then throw a negative filter on how you see the world, often lead by confirmation bias. If you’ve encountered the same, here’s some encouraging news: You’re not at fault for doom-scrolling, Anne McLaughlin, a human factors psychologist and professor at North Carolina State University, writes via email.
According to McLaughlin and health-care, addiction and technology experts I’ve spoken with, it’s not a penchant for pain or a deficit of self-discipline that causes people to repeatedly tumble down the rabbit hole; it’s the tangled relationship of human survival instincts and technological design amplified by the pandemic. And we can get a handle on it if we understand how it works.
the human brain has evolved to address stimuli hierarchically — to deal first with those things that have the highest degree of survival.
People probably aren’t searching for disheartening news, as the term “doom-scrolling” implies; they’re simply info-gathering. Seeking out information is something we tend to do even during normal circumstances in order to make informed decisions, unfortunately, a lot of information is negative these days, and we’re motivated to pay more attention to negative news — and remember it longer — because it has a direct linkage to our survival.
Additionally, Social media content is increasingly designed to trigger hyperarousal by playing on our more primitive emotions — fear and outrage, which activates the survival centers of our brain. So, we continue looking for answers by clicking on recommended content rather than searching separately for every piece of information. And in doing so, we reinforce the [artificial intelligence or algorithm behind the platform] and believe that this is the type of news we want — unintentionally attracting more of the same.
How to stop Doom-scrolling.
Try to limit the amount of time you spend on your devices. So, maybe you put aside 15 minutes for you to cruise social media but, when the time is up, you put your phone down and don’t do it again for the rest of the day. And, if even that makes you feel stressed, don’t do it, you will (over time) get used to it.
Then, train yourself to see the positive in things. “It’s not going to come about naturally—you have to work on it.” I recommend looking for at least three positive things a day, even if it’s as minor as thinking that your coffee was particularly tasty this morning. Over time, these positive thoughts become more meaningful.
You can step things up from there by trying to do more nice things for other people, or donating a bit of your time to the community where you live, maybe you let a clearly frazzled mom cut in front of you at the grocery store. These type of things work against the negative sensations.
Ultimately, you can’t avoid how intense things are right now, but doom-scrolling on a regular bases isn’t doing your physical or mental health any favors and it’s definitely not helping your loved ones, either. This is the time for everyone to be really mindful of what we’re doing, and to try to do better, and if that includes putting your phone away once in a while, so be it.