What Is Doomscrolling? Why It Happens and How It Affects Your Mental Health

Doomscrolling is a habit that involves slipping into a damaging cycle of reading negative news stories and social media posts. Most people are vulnerable to this activity now more than ever, with the ongoing pandemic and huge divides over political issues. Doomscrolling has a negative impact on mental health, triggering and worsening anxiety, stress, depression, and panic. It’s possible to curb the habit and minimize the harm caused by consuming so much negative media.

This year brought a lot of bad news, from the pandemic to social unrest and racial injustices.

If you have found yourself getting lost down a rabbit hole of reading negative posts on your social media news feeds, you’re not alone.

Doomscrolling is a damaging activity to which we are all vulnerable. If you find this habit triggering bad feelings, limit your screen time, set boundaries for news consumption, and spend more time doing things that make you feel good.

What Is Doomscrolling?

Doomscrolling is not really new, but the term is. It’s the habit of scrolling through social media regularly and for long periods of time, reading bad news and negative posts. The pandemic has brought doomscrolling to the forefront and has sucked more people into this destructive activity.

It may start as a way to stay up to date on the news, but doomscrolling can quickly turn into a bad habit, and for some people an obsession or compulsion. You scroll through, see COVID numbers rising, political bad behavior, and racially motivated crimes—and while these stories make you feel bad, you keep scrolling.

Doomscrolling and COVID-19

While some people have been engaging in this self-destructive behavior for some time, more people picked up the habit thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic increased doomscrolling and gave the activity its name. Dictionary.com lists the term as one of the new words people now use thanks to the pandemic, and Merriam-Webster recently listed it as a word to watch.

The pandemic made 2020 feel a little bit like the end of the world. No one living today has been through a pandemic like this, and the sense of doom and apocalypse is real. The continuous update of information on the pandemic is also to blame for doomscrolling.

While trying to keep up with the news and safety information, you start to get the sense that the world is ending. In attempting to be proactive and aware of the risks around you, the strategy backfires, leaving you with a feeling of unease and doom.

What Doomscrolling Does to Your Mental Health

If you have ever been sucked into the habit of doomscrolling, you probably are not surprised to hear that it’s bad for mental health. Long before doomscrolling of today, studies found that use of social media can negatively impact mental health. It contributes to anxiety and depression, increases loneliness, and triggers damaging comparison to others.

Now, with news stories about disease, deaths, violence, and political issues, doomscrolling adds another layer of damage to overuse of social media. The mental health effects are serious:

  • Doomscrolling reinforces negative thoughts and feelings. When you feel depressed or anxious, there is a tendency to seek out news and information to confirm those feelings. It’s a harmful cycle that keeps you feeling low.
  • It worsens mental illness. This cycle of turning to negative stories impacts existing mental health issues. If you have depression or an anxiety disorder, or are prone to them, the habit can trigger an episode or worsen symptoms.
  • Doomscrolling increases panic and worry. Scrolling through negative news stories leads to rumination, a bad habit that worsens depression. It can also make you feel panicky and may even trigger panic attacks.
  • Doomscrolling interferes with your sleep. Many people tend to scroll through their feeds before bed, which increases anxiety just when you’re trying to relax enough to fall asleep. Poor sleep, in turn, increases stress and other mental health issues, adding to the negative cycle.
  • Conflicting posts sow unease. Social media sites are notorious for allowing all kinds of posts, true or not. While many of the sites have begun to implement actions to reduce false news posts, they’re still out there. You’ll also see claims made by friends and family that may not be true. Reading one post and then another contradictory post is confusing and upsetting.
  • Social media and doomscrolling trigger stress hormones. Too much time on social media increases stress and levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. The more you engage in doomscrolling, the more cortisol and adrenaline are released in your brain and body. This leads to more stress and both mental and physical exhaustion.

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How to Curb Harmful Doomscrolling

Being aware of an unhealthy habit like doomscrolling is the first positive step toward curbing it. Here are some concrete steps you can take to take back your mental health.

1. Set Limits, and a Timer.

To avoid the endless cycle of doomscrolling, set time limits for use of social media and any news sites you turn to when scrolling. You can stay informed about the news and be connected with friends, but do it with boundaries. Set specific times of day for using these sites. Because it’s so easy to get sucked in and lose track of how long you’ve been scrolling, set a timer. When it goes off, you’re done.

2. Keep the Phone Out of the Bedroom.

Having your smartphone plugged in right next to your bed is a temptation that is too hard to resist. Keep your phone in another room, or if you need it there for safety reasons keep it on the other side of the room so you can’t just reach for it. Read a book in bed instead of looking at a screen.

3. Apply Mindfulness to Scrolling.

Scrolling through the news and posts has a useful purpose, but it can get out of control. Mindfulness is a positive mental health practice most applied to meditation. You can use it with scrolling too. The idea is to focus on the present moment, which stops you worrying about the past or future.

When using these sites, pay attention to how it makes you feel, both mentally and physically. Think about the point of what you’re doing. Are you looking for an update on COVID numbers? If so, find them and then leave. Greater awareness takes practice, so keep trying and with time you’ll have better control over scrolling habits.

4. Focus on the Positive.

There are many positive things about social media and staying up to date on news. Focus on these instead of the doom and gloom. For instance, use social media to reach out to and stay connected with people you can’t see in person right now. Block anyone whose posts upset or overwhelm you. Participate in positive pages, even just lighthearted joke pages. Spending more time in positive online endeavors leaves less time for doomscrolling.

5. Step Away From Technology for a While.

Unplugging completely from computers, tablets, and phones is great for mental health. Take some time away from devices every day and do something healthy and positive. Go for a walk, have a safely distanced coffee with a friend, play with your dog, or read a book. Healthy habits are good for mental and physical health, and sometimes you need to make a conscious effort to set aside time for them. Putting the devices away helps.

Doomscrolling is an unhealthy trend, and one that most of us can understand. It’s easy to get sucked into the news cycle and to be unable to turn away from the terrible stories. For your mental health, take time off from this habit, be more mindful about it, and engage in healthy, non-tech activities.

If you find that, despite these efforts, you just can’t look away and you continue doomscrolling, consider getting professional help. It’s possible to become addicted to behaviors like this, but doomscrolling can also be part of a mental illness. Treatment for both will help you learn to manage mental health symptoms and the behaviors that trigger them.

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