So, what exactly is Doom Scrolling?
Doom Scrolling and doom surfing are new terms referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. This term rose to popularity during the recent Covid-19 outbreak. Because of the quarantine, people are engaging with their digital devices and social media more than ever.
Checking your phones and reading about the havoc caused by this pandemic won't stop the apocalypse and it certainly won't help you feel better. Many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news about COVID-19 without the ability to stop or step back.
Social media can serve as a great distraction and help you evade monotonous isolation routines. But if you don't keep a check on what type of content you consume and how much you consume it, it can also work counterproductively and may start slowly chipping away at your mental health.
Why do we do it? Why can't we just look away? Two factors contribute a great deal to this behavior.
One is our basic primal instincts to look out for threats ahead. We're biologically programmed to search for negative news in order to maintain our safety. So, it is natural for us to look to the media for clarity and for more stressful information during this time of turmoil.
The second reason why we are so hooked on bad news is the way social media platforms are designed.
Algorithms assess the content that you're most likely to engage with and then designs your feed accordingly in the form of an infinite scroll of relevant content. Also, it is no secret that the media thrives on controversial and emotional news. So, aided by these algorithms, your Facebook or Twitter feed will continue to deliver you enticing content that keeps you hooked whether it's good or bad news, if it ensures your engagement, you will see it on your timeline.
Unfortunately, this constant diet of bad news can lead to 'mean world syndrome'-the belief that the world is a more dangerous place to live in than it actually is-as a result of long-term exposure to violence-related and negative content. The nature of news sources on social media works differently than traditional media sources. You are provided snippets of information without much context and the majority of the time these snippets are missing reliable sources and cannot confirm the validity of what they are saying.
And often such negative news comes at a much faster rate than we can normally digest. Also, in large part due to the current protests and violence, it is easy for graphic images to appear again and again.
When your brain gets bombarded with constant negativity, your thinking can start going in a downward spiral. This can blow the severity of the situation out of proportion. In this mental state, you will only see negativity, even when there is still a lot of stability and positives.
Being only subjected to negative news and seeing this all play on a loop can give you feelings of hopelessness and make you feel as if the whole world is coming to an end.
Doomscrolling will never actually stop the doom itself. Feeling informed can help up to a point, but getting overwhelmed by tragedy serves no purpose.
If you are consuming too much anxiety provoking information, it may start slowly eroding your mental health without you even noticing it. You have to understand that staying up to date is not the issue. Keeping your mind preoccupied with unnecessary fears and anxiety will only deteriorate your thinking.
What to do to stop it
The first step towards the solution of a problem is identifying it correctly. You may be mostly unaware of your doom scrolling habits, but once you understand that what you are doing is harmful and it will only increase your fears, you have the power to control your media consumption.
Think about how you feel every time you go on this journey of endless scrolling? Does it help you in any way? Or do you return with even more anxiety?
For a start, be conscious of the amount of time you're online and understand when you're going in a negative direction with unnecessary scrolling and reading too much news.
Here are a few tips that you can use to progress faster:
• Set a timer
Doom scrolling is bad but you do not have to discard your social media usage entirely just because of its side effects.
Rather, you should adopt a better approach where you pick two periods during the day where you will check the news for only 5-10 minutes.
You should only gather your news from reliable sources such as government websites or renowned news sources. No more than 10 minutes. As soon as you are done, log off from that website and continue with your day.
• Go in with a purpose, then get out
The Internet bombards us with thousands of options and it is often easy to get carried away with them even if we don't intend to. So check your news with a specific purpose in mind and leave that website once you are done.
• Use news apps that summarize the major headlines
Try installing news apps of your favorite media channels. They will give you a summary of the major events that are happening without any false information or misguidance. Unfollowing news sources from your usual social media feed and keeping it separate will help you to focus on only one thing at a time and not get distracted by unnecessary information.
• Commit to positive, feel-good scrolling sessions.
There is a wide variety of content available for you to watch. Replace negative news with positive content such as humor, motivational videos and other sources of joy (my current favorite is The Dodo - video stories about how good samaritans help animals in need all over the world).
• Use scrolling for positive purposes -
It may help you feel better to know that there have been some upsides to the constant clicking. Social media is helping people stay connected during the lockdown, it has become a tool for active engagement-i.e. spreading the news about community resources-rather than just a way to passively consume pandemic updates.
• Get support and help if you need it from a trained counselor
While you can get control over doom scrolling with some conscious effort on your part, if you find it difficult to manage it on your own, there is no shame in contacting a mental health counselor. It is not unusual for people to experience heightened states of anxiety during the times of quarantine. Also, people are away from their usual therapist routines so the chances of experiencing mental health concerns are more prevalent than ever.
Keeping this in mind many counselors are shifting their services online and are providing professional services to those in need. You can contact your present therapist for online therapy sessions or browse other online options if you think counseling can help you stay mentally healthy.
• Give to others, volunteer, do more nice things for people
What better way to spend your time than helping others in need. See where you can lend a hand whether it is online or at any physical location nearby as long as they keep social distancing rules.
See if any of your family members need help and what you can do to help those in need around you.
• Get a buddy to help each other stop doom scrolling
Let your friends know about your doom scrolling and if they can help you keep a check on yourself. You can help each other by giving reminders to ignore excessive news intake. Discussing your anxiety with other people also has a relieving effect. So, whenever you are feeling down, sharing with your friends will help you feel better.
• Focus on what you CAN control (i.e. working on more positive thinking, reaching out and helping others, voting, following CDC guidelines).
It is not the end of the world by any means. We are focusing too much on the negative while there are still tons of things under our control that we can do to see positive improvement. Start by taking care of yourself and the people around you. Ensure proper hygiene in your house and engage in home-workouts and other positive activities such as reading or hobbies to stay physically and mentally fit.
• Remember bad times do end and we need to take care of ourselves mentally, socially, and physically in the meantime.
Coronavirus is indeed a testing time for all of us, but history is full of such examples and all such hard times eventually subside after some time. Several countries have already fully eradicated the coronavirus from their countries and soon the whole world will be free from it too. In the meantime, it's important to work with patience and keep ourselves engaged in healthy activities to maintain both physical, mental and spiritual health.
And remember that we are here at The Body Image Counseling Center to help you if you need it. We are offering video and phone counseling for support - all you need to do is call or email and we will be in touch with you the same day!