Doomscrolling: the negative effects of getting glued to the screen

Everyone has a different morning routine; for me, it is a relatively simple procedure that I typically follow through with every morning. I wake up, lay in bed for a while, check and respond to emails and prioritize school or work assignments. Lastly, I move to social media apps like Twitter and read through a variety of news feeds like Google News, CNN and NewsBreak. 

This has turned out to be the most time consuming aspect of my routine. I click on story after link after Tweet about ever-increasing death tolls related to the coronavirus, or another shooting or blasphemous Tweet from Trump. 

By the time I actually get out of bed, I have read a number of stories and articles highlighting the massive amounts of bad news that fills our world, and I feel exhausted. But I repeat this process throughout my day, even ending it the same way.

[Photo of a person scrolling through their phone]
Photo by Drew Marshall | The Arbiter

I long to be an informed, knowledgeable person, and a strong aspect of that is understanding what is going on locally, nationally or worldwide. Because of this value I hold, I find it necessary to read up on all the recent news, but these days, the majority of that news is “bad.”  

Fluff stories or good news articles are hidden under a bulky amount of bad, or sometimes terrible, news. The more I scroll or click, the more hard-hitting, slap-you-in-the-face articles I read. As I scroll through these stories, I hope desperately to find and end on one positive, one clear article to restore my happiness. But I most likely won’t find it. Recently, I discovered there was a term for this: doomscrolling. 

NPR, Wired and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary have all written on this concept. According to Merriam-Webster “Doomscrolling [is a] new term referring to 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.”

The first time I heard this term, I immediately understood that this is exactly what I have been doing since March, if not years. Journalists and reporters have to cover pressing, important topics, and most of those topics are some combination of saddening, disheartening or depressing. 

I constantly binge a monopoly of bad news, just as I would binge another series on Netflix. Learning that what I had been doing for a while was an actual issue that many others were going through helped me recognize the dangers and damages that it may have caused me.

When it comes to the pandemic, many people including myself want to stay as informed as  possible. It seems like a safe and innocent enough task to read through the latest updates, but doing this constantly and not being able to stop is where the problem occurs. 

Graphic by Sarah Schmid | The Arbiter

“Many people think that they’ll feel safer by staying abreast of the latest news. Yet, they don’t realize that consumption of the negative news only leads to greater fear, anxiety and stress,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist told Healthline. “For some, doomscrolling becomes a ‘unsatisfying addiction’ that promises safety, security or certainty when, in fact, the ever-changing, melodramatic news provides the opposite.” 

Besides leaving me and many others feeling exhausted and hopeless, doomscrolling can have a number of negative impacts on one’s mental health. Experts say that falling into the doomscrolling habit can increase levels of anxiety and panic attacks. Along with that, it can worsen your sleep habits if you doomscroll before bed, leading to negative side effects the following day. 

After recognizing this issue and acknowledging that one is struggling with, it can be confusing to decide what to do next. Living a life without any news what-so-ever leads to ignorance; some say ignorance is bliss, but I say it’s a prison. So if that is not an option, what exactly can be done to combat the negative impacts of doomscrolling?

A few suggestions from Kari Stephens, a clinical psychologist, include setting aside a specific time of day to scroll through news articles. Whether you get your news on a news app, website or social media, having a set time of day dedicated to consuming news can help limit how much you doomscroll. 

When you decide on a time, aim for the afternoon. Try not to scroll after waking up or right before bed. Decide in advance how long you want to read; set an alarm or a timer to remind yourself. The longer you scroll, the harder it becomes to stop. 

Having an intentional time and amount of time to read through the news can help keep you informed without falling into the much too common wave of doomscrolling.

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