Doomscrolling, also known as doomsurfing, is when an individual engages in pervasive, incessant scrolling through bad news despite it being sad or depressing.1 It shares many similarities to that of other addictions, and may prove detrimental to mental and physiological health. Especially when emotions are high about a particular topic or issue, the behavior and consequent bad feelings intensify.
What Is Doomscrolling?
Doomscrolling is like the natural inclination to stare upon a bad car wreck. It is unsettling, but most of us cannot help ourselves. In fact, research even supports the notion that our brains are inclined to prefer looking upon the “gloom and doom” of the world because it can harm us physically.1 In this case, however, the inclination becomes pervasive and chronic. The individual continuously searches for bad news on a particular topic or topics to where there is no end in sight.2
Doomscrolling and Recent Events
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a plethora of news reports, social media posts, and videos. A new survey conducted by Pew Research Center in early April 2020 revealed that approximately 53% of U.S. adults find the Internet personally essential during the pandemic.3 The same organization conducted a 2019 study revealing that 81% of Americans reported daily Internet use, while 28% stated they are “almost constantly” online.4 Being in a state of quarantine with limited places to go, people are reaching breaking points.
Complicating matters further has been the national and international reaction to the murder of George Floyd, and ongoing police brutality. This has spawned a substantial civil rights movement, and during times like these, people look to the news for information.5 While it’s important to stay informed, constantly updating yourself on the news, particularly bad news, can have serious consequences on your mental health.
The Effects of Doomscrolling on Your Mental Health
Doomscrolling usually begins by becoming informed of something particularly negative, such as a tragic event in the news. This means that you are already upset about the bad news before you even begin searching.6 Negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, fear, anger, et cetera, are already present.6 Researching the topic to excess serves to exacerbate the problem even further,7 and the negative emotions already experienced intensify, creating a downward spiral.8
Doomscrolling & Anxiety
Anxiety is generally associated with worry and fear of the unknown. It intensifies when an individual ruminates on a negative thought and perceives oneself as having no control over something. As this happens, it is easy to switch to a negative way of thinking with behaviors that follow suit. Doomscrolling provides control in the respect that the individual may choose what to view when; however, the material is nearly endless. There is no final conclusion. One continues to search more and more while becoming increasingly more anxious.
Doomscrolling & Depression
Individuals suffering with any variation of depression already struggle to be happy, and are likely to take significant world events with increased difficulty. By feeding into the bad news further through doomscrolling, one is repeatedly reminded of the bad event—over and over and over again. With such bad news constantly in plain sight, it is nearly impossible to utilize coping skills that alleviate depression.
Doomscrolling & Addiction
The effects of doomscrolling on mental health are similar to that of addiction. Individuals have an incessant desire to participate in a chronic behavior that has no particular end in sight despite its negative impact physically, mentally, and socially. Even in cases where the individual recognizes it being detrimental to their wellbeing, the impulse is too strong.
Because of its perception of not necessarily being problematic like substance use or other similar addictions, people who keep their guards down may be especially susceptible. Doomscrolling, because of its reliance on the Internet to search for upsetting information, can also feed into Internet addiction and social media addiction.
Some other potential symptoms specific to mental health are:
- Mood swings
- Sleep loss and/or disturbance
- Checking for bad news first thing in the morning, last thing before bed, and all day in between whenever an opportunity arises
- Lack of engagement in activities other than doomscrolling
- Complications with school, work, and social commitments
- Interpersonal struggles
- Suicidal and/or homicidal ideation
It is important to consider that any diagnosable or potential mental illness will likely intensify alongside the symptoms of doomscrolling. Accordingly, mental health implications may prove quite severe if not intervened.
Why Is It So Hard to Stop Doomscrolling?
The reason that doomscrolling is so hard to stop is because our brains are literally wired to do it.8 From what we know about the brain, doomscrolling fills fulfills essential human needs. This includes our basic survival need of safety as well as quest for knowledge, instant gratification, control, and numerous choices.
The closer we think we are to an answer, the more determined we are to find it. Unfortunately, there are many cases where there is no answer. In others, it may be an answer we do not like. Either way, our brains are wired to tell us to keep going.
Tips for How to Stop Doomscrolling
The first step toward stopping doomscrolling is knowing that it is happening9—if you are oblivious to it, then the cycle will continue. Consider if you have experienced any changes such as lowered mood, extended amounts of time searching the same topic to exhaustion, disconnecting from other people, or having thoughts of suicide and/or homicide. If you have not personally noticed any changes, consider if anybody else has said anything.
Once the problem has been recognized and acknowledged, it is time to get to work. The following suggestions are only a few of many, but consider the ones that you believe will work best and start from there. If you find that one does not work, move on to the next. Using multiple strategies at once will serve to improve the likelihood of stopping.
Set Time Limits
Knowing that doomscrolling is bringing you down, it is vital that you break the habit of non-stop searching. To do this effectively, setting time limits is a must. If you feel the need to freely Internet surf outside of work and social obligations, a healthy suggestion is about 15 minutes.9 You can keep track simply by using a timer. Should that prove problematic, then discontinue Internet surfing until it is safe to resume.9
Prepare Your Internet Search
Take action by preparing your Internet search. This is done by removing knowingly and potentially triggering content out of the equation.10 On social media websites and apps, it is possible to adjust settings to exclude select content. You may also block selected websites all together through your Internet browser.
If you are unfamiliar with how to do this, select the “help” tab and conduct a search directly through your browser or conduct your search using your preferred search engine. This avoidance approach is highly recommended. Consider it “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Use Time-Limiting Apps
Because excessive Internet use has been a problem for some time now, apps are continually being developed to help limit screen time. These apps are designed to reduce screen time by limiting access to selected features such as text messages, emails, Internet browsers, and social media apps.11
The following apps help to limit excessive Internet use:11
- Freedom (iOS, Android, Desktop)
- Moment (iOS, Android)
- ZenScreen (iOS, Android, Desktop)
- Breakfree (iOS, Android)
- Social Fever (Android)
- DinnerMode (iOS)
- AppDetox (Android)
- RealizD (iOS, Android)
- OFFTIME (Android)
- Space (iOS, Android, Desktop)
- AntiSocial (Android)
Be sure to check if there are any associated costs upfront and/or through a subscription service. Individual terms and conditions will apply.
Engage in an Offline Hobby
While our options have become limited amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still much that we can do. Playing a musical instrument, bike riding, hiking, journaling by hand, reading a traditional book, painting something, sculpting something, gardening, landscaping, knitting, puzzling, board gaming, and so on are all considerations that do not require Internet use.
Beyond mental health benefits there are also physical health benefits of engaging in these hobbies, including reduced blood pressure, total cortisol levels, body mass index, and improved perceptions of physical function.7
Mediation is a means of keeping us grounded. It helps clear the mind while drowning out everything else. Further, the mental and physical health benefits of meditation are numerous. For those who have not had former experience meditating, it is important to ease into the process.7
Begin slowly—about 3-5 minutes at a time.7 From there, try working your way up to 20 minutes or more. This serves well in trying to redirect your thoughts when you begin thinking about doomscrolling behavior.
Focus on the Positive
There really is no replacement for focusing on the positive. Doing so releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin known to elevate mood. It also allows us to be grateful for the things that are good in the world. When we see the world through a positive lens, we tend to shed the negative—not allowing it to break our stride. We also tend to seek out positive things, which further reduces the incessant need to surf through negative news.
Changing to a positive mindset is certainly easier said than done. This can take considerable time, depending on a multitude of factors. Begin easy. Perhaps start by looking for three positive things per day, even if they are seemingly insignificant.9 Continue building up from there. As your mind shifts from negative to positive, your mood will naturally continue to elevate. When this happens, everything else will become easier and more enjoyable.
Talk With Loved Ones & Friends
The old tried and true method of speaking with loved ones and friends during a difficult time applies here as well. There is significant power in connecting with another person. Laughing together, crying together, sharing stories, and so on, all foster a sense of connectedness—another basic human survival need.
If you are facing a challenging day and feel compelled to doomscroll, talk about it directly. Talking it through will deescalate the situation and provide enough time for the urge to pass.
Stopping doomscrolling requires intention and consistency. The better you keep atop of it, the less likely it is to get back on top of you. Sometimes, though, when we find ourselves struggling, we resort back to negative patterns of thinking. When the negative thinking begins, so does problematic behavior. It is important to remain aware of how you are feeling at all times.
This awareness also applies during everyday situations in which you are searching the Internet. Prior to conducting any online search, think specifically of the search criteria. When you go online, search for that thing and that thing only. If you find yourself beginning to stray, remind yourself of why you are online.13 Continue your search for that thing, find what you need, then log off.
In the event of increased number of symptoms, intensity, or suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts, it is important to consult a mental health professional immediately. In the event of a true emergency where you do have a plan, means, and intent to harm yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.