Since the pandemic began I’ve been engaged in an activity that I know isn’t good for me: spending lots of time scrolling through Twitter and news feeds reading grim news. Even though I know better, I find that I’m drawn to obsessively reading the news about the pandemic and our country’s dysfunctional political state. It’s not good for my mental state and this recent habit has interfered with other more productive activities like reading.
It turns out I’m not alone in my bad news scrolling as it’s become so common that there’s even a name for this habit: “Doomscrolling.” Merriam-Webster defines Doomscrolling or Doomsurfing as “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. Many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news about COVID-19 without the ability to stop or step back.” More succinctly, the Urban Dictionary defines Doomscrolling as “Obsessively reading social media posts about how utterly f–ked we are.”
Wired magazine perfectly captures our doomscrolling tendencies: “Now, the only thing to binge-watch is the world’s collapse into crisis. Coronavirus deaths, unemployment rates, protesters in the street on any given day marching for racial justice —the faucet of data runs nonstop. There are unlimited seasons, and the promise of some answer, or perhaps even some good news, always feels one click away.”
Why do we do this? It’s wired into our brains. We hate uncertainty, and right now we’re all feeling a lot of it. One of the primary things we do in the face of uncertainty is seek more information in the hopes of resolving the uncertainty. We also have evolved to be on high alert when we feel threatened and one way we respond to this is to monitor all the negative news to spot threats in order to protect ourselves. Thus, we have a natural tendency to pay more attention to negative news.
What can we do about this? Like all bad habits, step one is to realize that we’ve developed the habit and then try to replace the bad habit with a better one, like watching South Park, playing a board game, working on a puzzle or reading. Speaking of reading, a great book on developing better habits and getting rid of bad ones is Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear.
Finally, here’s great advice from an editor at Quartz:
OMG, I am so guilty of doomscrolling and your explanation (trying to combat discomfort about uncertainty) is right on!
Hate the idea of people wasting time doomscrolling.
For me, the antidote to this kind of thing is a habit called positive focus (not just gratitude – involves action). I adopted it after attending a program called “strategic coach.” It has made a massive difference in my perspective.
Hey John and fellow Ifoders – I too suffered from the hamster treadmill of doomscrolling. As a result, I implemented some changes that I’ve found useful, so I thought I would share them. First, I enrolled in a free online course at Coursera called the Science of Well-Being (https://bit.ly/321IXFC). This is the most popular course of all time at Yale. It discusses the scientific underpinnings of how our brains are wired and what really makes us happy. I’ve found that to be a very positive replacement for the negative time suck that is doomscrolling. The professor of the course, Dr Laurie Santos, also hosts a popular podcast called the Happiness Lab (https://www.happinesslab.fm/). It’s another good counterweight to the negative energy driving today’s media.
I took another step forward in doomscrolling reduction by implementing one of the insights and suggestions from the course – I stepped away from social media. Research shows that there is a direct correlation between the use of social media and key measures of happiness (the more you use it, the less happy you are). So I totally removed Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets from my life (no small step for me, and now 8 weeks and counting). My mood is better, and I spend a ton less time scrolling.
Another approach that has is limiting the time I devote to consuming news consumption to a designated hour each day. Setting a time limit forces a reduction in my doomscrolling tendencies.
Finally, I just keep trying to replace the negative with the positive such as John Krasinki’s short-lived Some Good News podcast (https://youtu.be/F5pgG1M_h_U). It will put a smile on your face and remind you that there is still good in the world.
Have a great one.