Doomscrolling is when someone 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, also called doomsurfing, is when someone continuously searches for bad news on a particular topic or topics to where there is no end in sight.2 It 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, the inclination becomes pervasive and chronic.
Why Do People Doomscroll?
Doomscrolling is an often paradoxical and confusing behavior. Some of the reasons people doomscroll include:
- Uncertainty & anxiety: The unknown can be scary, so people may seek to learn about as much as they can from as many sources as possible. The hope is that more information will reduce anxiety, but it only makes it grow.
- Negativity bias: People are hardwired to see negative news as more important and significant than positive news. This trait is an evolutionary leftover meant to keep you safe, but today, it only makes bad news overwhelm good news.
- FOMO: The fear of missing out drives people to constantly be “in the know” when it comes to everything from major world news to local gossip. With endless information, you will always be missing out on something.
- Lack of self-control: At times, doomscrolling simply comes down to a lack of self-control and being able to impose limits on your behavior.
- Being right: Some people are so intent on proving themselves right or others wrong that they will endlessly seek information that proves their point.
- Procrastination: Doomscrolling may serve a secondary function of chronic procrastination. Rather than doing what you need to do, you spend your time doomscrolling to avoid the work.
Doomscrolling and Recent Events
Recent events like the pandemic and widespread police brutality have spawned an increase of people turning to the internet for information and updates.3, 4 While it’s important to stay informed, constantly updating yourself on the news, particularly bad news, can have serious consequences on your mental health.
Other recent events that may trigger doomscrolling include conflicts like the war in Ukraine, refugee and migrant crises, and environmental disasters. Climate change in particular can cause climate anxiety and may be especially hard on tweens, teens, and young adults.
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.5 Negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, fear, and anger are already present.5 Researching the topic excessively serves to exacerbate the problem even further, and the negative emotions already experienced intensify, creating a downward spiral.6
Doomscrolling & Anxiety
Anxiety is generally associated with worry and fear of the unknown. It intensifies when someone ruminates on a negative thought and perceives themself as having no control. 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. Someone can continue to search more and more while becoming increasingly more anxious, especially if they’re focusing on topics that fuel their specific type of anxiety, like experiencing eco-anxiety and continuously researching ecological disasters, oil spills, etc.
Doomscrolling & Depression
People 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 behavioral addictions. People 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 person 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, those 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.
Other Symptoms Likely to Occur With Too Much Doomscrolling
If someone doomscrolls frequently, some other potential symptoms specific to mental health that can happen include:
- Mood swings
- Reduced self-esteem
- 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
- Hopelessness and helplessness
- Lack of engagement in activities other than doomscrolling
- Complications with school, work, and social commitments
- Interpersonal struggles
- Stress in relationships
- 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. From what we know about the brain, doomscrolling fulfills essential human needs: This includes our basic survival need of safety as well as quest for knowledge, instant gratification, control, and having 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. Other times, it may be an answer we do not like. Either way, our brains are wired to tell us to keep going.
How to Stop Doomscrolling
The first step toward stopping doomscrolling is knowing that it is happening7 —if you are oblivious to it, 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.
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.
Here are 11 tips for how to stop doomscrolling:
1. Set Time Limits
It is vital that you break the habit of non-stop scrolling. 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.7 You can keep track by simply using a timer. Should that prove problematic, then discontinue Internet surfing until it is safe to resume.7
2. Prepare Your Internet Search
Take action by preparing your Internet search. This is done by removing potentially triggering content out of the equation.8 On social media websites and apps, it is possible to adjust settings to exclude certain content. You may also block selected websites all together on 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.”
3. 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.9
The following apps help to limit excessive Internet use:9
- Freedom (iOS, Android, Desktop)
- ZenScreen (iOS, Android, Desktop)
- Breakfree (iOS, Android)
- Social Fever (Android)
- AppDetox (Android)
- RealizD (iOS, Android)
- OFFTIME (Android)
- Space (iOS, Android, Desktop)
- AntiSocial (Android)
Be sure to check if there are any associated costs upfront or through a subscription service. Individual terms and conditions will apply.
4. Seek Out Positive Stories Online
Though it may not be as engaging or “click-worthy,” plenty of positive stories exist online. Your energy will be better spent seeking out the positives and bypassing the negatives. Your stress levels will be happy for a dose of good news.
5. Engage in an Offline Hobby
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.6
6. Take a Mindful Social Media Break
Check in with your social media use and the effects of it. If your scrolling and swiping leaves you feeling stressed, frustrated, or inferior, it could be time for a break. Decide to schedule breaks in your social media use at regular intervals. These breaks will give your body and mind a chance to break up the harmful routine.
7. Practice Meditation
Meditation is a healthy way to stay grounded in the present. 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.6
Begin slowly—about 3-5 minutes at a time.6 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. Meditation apps can make learning meditation or improving a practice simpler.
8. Focus on the Positive
Focusing on the positives 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 scroll through negative news.
Changing to a positive mindset can take considerable time, depending on a multitude of factors. Perhaps start by looking for three positive things per day, even if they are seemingly insignificant.7 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.
9. Talk With Loved Ones & Friends
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.
10. Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude can be an antidote for the stress and anxiety of doomscrolling. Take a moment to appreciate what you have, the beauty of the world, and most importantly, the person you are. You don’t have to be anything other than your true self.
11. Remain Aware
Stopping doomscrolling requires intention and consistency. The better you keep on top 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 self-talk 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.11 Continue your search for that thing, find what you need, then log off.
When to Get Additional Help
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. Finding an online therapist can make getting some help very easy and convenient. 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.
How to Follow Events Without Doomscrolling
So much of doomscrolling is focused on the idea of getting every detail of a situation from every vantage point. This practice can seem never ending, so instead, find practical ways to limit yourself.
When a major story happens, focus on time and sources:
- Set time limits for each hour or each day for you to read the news. Once you hit your limit, put the phone down and change your environment.
- Sourcing is equally important. Picking two or three reputable news outlets is going to be the best way to gather the finest information. Using social media for news will only feed the unwanted doomscrolling behaviors.