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Caught in the Scroll: The Psychology of Doomscrolling and How to Break Free

In today's digital age, where information is at our fingertips, a new phenomenon has emerged, subtly affecting our mental health and well-being.

It's called "doomscrolling," and if you find yourself reading this, chances are you've fallen into its grip at one time or another.

At Key Psychological we’ve seen firsthand how this behaviour can impact individuals, and we’re here to share insights into why we do it and how we can break free to live more intentionally.

What is doomscrolling?

Doomscrolling—or doomsurfing if you want to be cool—refers to the act of endless scrolling through bad news stories on the internet, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.

A similar concept is social media envy or the fear of missing out.

It's that habit we've developed of waking up and immediately reaching for our phones, only to get sucked into a vortex of negative headlines, catastrophes, and gloomy updates, often for hours on end.

What happens is that we sit there and disassociate from the physical reality in front of us.

Often when doomscrolling our minds wander to far-off places thinking of the worst possible outcomes imaginable.

Instead of focusing on the controllables right in front of us, we focus on the horrors and hardships that others are experiencing and we worry that it will affect us too.

Sometimes we feel guilty about our place in the world and doomscrolling serves as a reminder of the reality others face.

It’s an addiction that can afflict all of us as the world becomes increasingly interconnected and intolerant to boredom or not knowing.

And it’s something we are having a hard time distancing ourselves from.

There’s an innate desire to be connected even to the most horrific of things, due to our never-ending fear of missing out.

Why are you doomscrolling?

We are doomscrolling simply because we are social creatures.

And the limitless access to news and information, at our fingertips, is too hard to pass on.

Try thinking back to a time before this level of media consumption.

Some of us are young enough to have grown up with social media and instant news from the get-go.

The rest of us have varying degrees of experience with the early days of the internet before doomscrolling became so prevalent.

Nonetheless, we have all fallen victim to the dopamine-reducing doomscrolling at one point or another, maybe you’re dealing with it right now.

But there’s a reason that we do and that’s mostly to cope with our anxiety.

“We doomscroll to avoid dealing with our anxiety. When that happens it becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism,” said Chris Lefebvre, Registered Psychologist and Owner of Key Psychological.

“As humans, we’ve always been somewhat limited in the ways we could avoid our anxiety or boredom, but in today’s modern world, the opportunities are endless and it negatively impacts our mental health.”

The Psychology of Doomscrolling

At its core, doomscrolling is a behaviour fuelled by our innate desire to predict and prepare for danger.

Our brains are wired to prioritize negative information as a survival mechanism—a throwback to times when immediate awareness of potential threats was crucial for survival.

This "negativity bias" means we're naturally drawn to bad news, as our brain tries to make sense of it and prepare for similar scenarios. It captivates attention.

However, in the modern world, where the flow of information is constant and often overwhelming, this instinct does more harm than good. Instead of informing us, it puts a spotlight on the negative and makes us believe that this is an accurate representation of the world.

Our brain ends up noticing the negative and overlooking the positive in our world, which traps us in a cycle of anxiety and pessimism, making us more fearful about the future.

We saw doomscrolling become even more prevalent leading up to and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

People would spend hours in the early months of 2020 reading about the new coronavirus that was sweeping the world.

This created a lot of anxiety in our population.

Doomscrolling and Mental Health

The impact of doomscrolling on mental health is obvious.

Regular exposure to negative news can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, stress, and helplessness.

It can disturb our sleep patterns, affect our mood, and even change how we view the world and interact with others.

We become pessimistic about the future and lose hope that things will improve. We might become apathetic to make changes in our life....”Why bother, the world is going to shit anyway”.

Over time, this constant state of heightened alertness or hopelessness can wear us down, leading to burnout and, in some cases, contributing to the development of anxiety disorders or depression.

The sense of impending doom weighs heavy on our minds dragging us into deep waters.

According to Tess Brigham who is quoted in an article on about “How ‘Doomscrolling’ Impacts Your Mental Health—and How to Stop”, “People doom scroll for many different reasons.

The main reason is as a way of feeling in control in a world that feels so out of control all the time.”

It’s true - Our anxious mind will demand certainty....and this might result in the urge to read even more information about the latest political scandal, even though it does not concern you in the slightest.

How to stop doomscrolling

Breaking free from the habit of doomscrolling requires intention and practice.

Here are several strategies to help you regain control and foster a healthier relationship with the news feed and your devices.

According to an article on called “How to stop Doomscrolling—With Psychology”, you need to get in touch with the thoughts and feelings that drive your compulsions toward doomscrolling across social media and news platforms.

Set boundaries for news consumption

Start by noticing all the moments throughout the day where you mindlessly reach for your phone and start scrolling....unfortunately, most people are doing this dozens of times per day!

Then, counter this by setting specific times for checking the news and stick to them.

Limit your news intake to a few minutes in the morning and evening, and choose reputable sources that focus on solution-based reporting rather than sensationalism.

Consume your news directly from the source rather than reading about it through the comments. The comment section on social media platforms can be like quicksand - they appear harmless and stable, but they are deadly and devouring!

Reading comments tends to suck us into a river of emotion and judgement, which leads to more negative content and increased social media use.

Use technology to your advantage

Take advantage of screen time tracking features on your phone or install apps that limit your access to news sites and social media during certain hours.

This can help reduce the temptation to start scrolling.

Consider using apps like Flipd or One Sec that track and limit your screen time, even limiting access to the apps you struggle most with. These apps will set time limits for apps on your phone and even set up focus timers for what you should be doing instead.

iPhones and Androids have simpler versions of these apps already built into their systems if you don’t want an app.

Engage in mindful consumption

Before you click on an article, ask yourself questions like: "Is this going to benefit me, or is it likely to increase my anxiety?"

“Does this topic even effect me? Does it really matter to me?”

Try to be more mindful of your consumption habits, choosing to engage with content that is informative and uplifting rather than distressing.

There are so many positive and amazing stories that go unnoticed every day because we tend to latch on to the negative ones.

Cultivate a positive digital environment

Curate your social media feeds to include positive news outlets, motivational speakers, and content creators who inspire and uplift you.

Spend time going through who you’re following and start pruning that list of any contributors to your overall consumption of negativity, even if they are loved ones.

This can help balance the negativity and provide a more rounded perspective on the world.

Remember, social media platforms are designed through their algorithm to continuously feed you content.

When you engage with negative things and bad news, the algorithm will increasingly send you more of the same, if not worse content.

Be mindful of the content you are consuming.

Replace doomscrolling with positive habits

Identify activities that relax and rejuvenate you, and turn to these whenever you're tempted to start scrolling.

For example, when you first wake up in the morning practice self-control by avoiding scrolling your phone for at least 30 minutes. Instead, try going for a walk or reading a few chapters of a book.

Whether it's reading a book, practicing yoga, improving your physical health, or spending time in nature, these positive habits can offer a much-needed break from the digital world.

Practice gratitude

Take time each day to reflect on things you're grateful for. This can help shift your focus from negative to positive, reducing the urge to seek out distressing news.

Seeking professional help

The first thing you need to understand is that feelings of anxiety are completely normal. Your doomscrolling is a normal response to the anxiety you’re experiencing.

However, if you find that doomscrolling is significantly impacting your mental health, reach out to the team at Key Psychological. We can offer personalized strategies to manage anxiety and improve your relationship with digital media.

Remember, the goal isn't to become uninformed but to find a balance that allows you to stay informed without compromising your mental well-being.

By building awareness of our thoughts, actions, and beliefs, we can choose to live more intentionally, fostering a sense of well-being in the digital age.

Breaking free from the cycle of doomscrolling will take time. It requires patience, self-compassion, and persistence. Notice when old habits come up, and then return to your plan without falling victim to self-pity or shame.

But by taking small, deliberate steps towards healthier habits, we can begin to reclaim our peace of mind and view the world through a more hopeful lens.

Let's embark on this journey together, supporting one another in living more intentionally and positively in an overwhelming world.

If you’re looking to talk to somebody about your doomscrolling habits, book a 15-minute risk-free phone consultation to see if Key Psychological is the right fit for you. 

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