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: