Over the last few years, the world has seen Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change, the January 6th insurrection, anti-trans legislation across the country, and a new variant of COVID-19: reading the news can be an unrelenting source of trauma, a hailstorm of stress and anxiety.
Can bad news give you a hangover? Fasten your seatbelts because the doom isn’t going anywhere.
“Doom and gloom” is an expression first coined in the 1947 Broadway musical Finian’s Rainbow. It has been a part of our vernacular for nearly one hundred years, but never so consistently as it is today, as we are privy to almost unlimited access to horrific news.
So what do we do about it?
A body is found in pieces in front of a Brooklyn pawnshop, while in Texas, two dogs maul a young girl: the news can be a killer. From Tolkien to Marvel: doom is a word we said long before it became a facet of daily life.
Doomscrolling – the addictive trait of engaging too long and too often with bad or unsettling news – has been a regular part of life for some since the onset of the pandemic two years ago.
It’s such a popular term, the Oxford English Dictionary named it a 2020 word of the year.
Scroll Away; Scroll Away!
While some admit it’s a bad habit, and seek balance, its effects can be debilitating for many others. Doomscrolling promotes stress, anxiety, and depression. And it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.
In a 2022 study published by Johns Hopkins University, researchers Alexandria Chisholm and Sarah Hartman-Caverly found “the ubiquitous integration of technology in everyday life transforms users’ relationships to their devices, selves, loved ones, education and work experiences, and society at large.”
For many, avoiding the technology to escape Doomscrolling would be like giving up oxygen to survive. The challenge is to find another way to interact with media without getting bogged down by the negative.
Doomscrolling is a product of our technological achievements, a side-effect of progress. Moderation is key.
Advice to decrease Doomscrolling is plentiful: practice mindfulness training, get involved with a charity, perform acts of kindness, or set a timer.
In 2021, Canadian writer Karen Ho created Doomscrolling Reminder Bot, a Twitter account with over 66,000 followers that challenges readers to stop scrolling.
Most tweets begin with “Hi, are you Doomscrolling?” and are followed by compassionate reality checks such as: “This website continues to be full of bad opinions and will still be here tomorrow.
You deserve time to rest and recover,” or “Think of something you’re grateful for today.”
The grumpy frog avatar adds a touch of humor to what could feel like entitled self-help from a lifestyle influencer.
While many offer tips and tricks for navigating the cumbersome reality of a world that often mirrors the science fiction films of yesterday, it is important to consider the addictive traits of Doomscrolling.
Curbing Addictive Behavior
It’s not leaving dishes in the sink or biting your fingernails: Doomscrolling more closely resembles alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions.
Experts in brain chemistry point out scrolling on your phone can be similar to constantly yanking on a slot machine.
Technology is often looked at in simple binaries: good and evil, iOs and Android. Yet, it’s a constantly evolving property we learn to live alongside as new inventions come out every day.
We were handed the keys to the car when we didn’t know how to drive, and Doomscrolling is one lingering effect.
Doomscrolling does not exist by itself. The action may be excessive exposure to negative news, but our empathy as humans triggers the often detrimental feelings we experience.
A recent study from the University of Florida found Doomscrolling “closely related to online vigilance, problematic use of the internet and social media, and fear of missing out.” They also found it linked to anxiety and poor self-control, noting that it was most prevalent among men, young adults, and the politically engaged.
Is FOMO possible even with something negative? People begin to ask: what terrible event did I miss out on today? Did they identify a deadlier variant while I was in the bathroom?
It’s been linked to watching the 11 pm news, a seemingly horrifying pre-sleep ritual. But, regardless of what you relate it to, Doomscrolling is here to stay.
The way we consume media will only become more readily available, and innovations in deepfake technology will force viewers to be more vigilant in discerning the reality of what they see or hear.
So What Can you Do?
Set the boundaries you need to be successful. Forgive yourself for Doomscrolling. It’s going to happen. We’re all learning to live in a world with a pandemic, with many giving up on post-pandemic utopias.
Treat Doomscrolling like a night at the bar: know your limits, and stop when you’ve had enough bad news to drink.
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