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The dangers of doomscrolling: Why we need to stop obsessively consuming negative news.

I have only just learned the word Doomscrolling!

This is despite me indulging in the practice far too often, especially in the past year.

Doomscrolling (also known as doomsurfing) is consuming a large quantity of negative online news at once. Mental health experts have stated that the practice can be detrimental to mental health. It was one of the words of the year in 2020.

Endlessly scrolling through bad news articles, social media posts and websites – has become a habit for many of us during the coronavirus pandemic. Adding in news about Brexit and what has been happening in the US, it has become a habit for many of us.

All too often it is not news we are consuming, but opinions on the news! And opinions on information that is not necessarily true or accurate. Social media especially is a quagmire of theories, opinions and rhetoric, often overwhelmingly negative.

Millions of years of evolution means our brains are instinctively hardwired to pay attention to potential threats to your survival. Constantly we are scanning our environment for perceived threats, on both a conscious and subconscious level. People tend to zone in and give their attention to negative news because it has the potential to impact on their ability to cope or survive. This makes sense when the threat may be a predator on the prowl, when there is something we can actively do to take action against the threat. In the modern world, however these perceived threats are far less tangible. If you are looking for perceived threats, you will find them quickly on all social media channels. When we find a perceived threat (whether it’s physical or psychological, like doomscrolling), our bodies go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Our stress hormone cortisol increases, and this may lead to depression, irritability and / or mood swings

A study showed that more than 30 minutes a day of Covid-related media consumption was enough to significantly increase anxiety levels on the subject.

So why do we do it?

People tend to doomscroll due to a need to feel in control. However the negative emotions triggered by the content we consume while scrolling creates a vicious cycle. The uncertainty of the news and opinion consumed creates the need to search for more information coming from a need to feel more in control. If you are already on a heightened state of anxiety and start to scroll, you’re more vulnerable to fear-based news and media reports which can have an adverse effect and make you even more anxious and fearful. So rather than increasing your sense of control, it can seem to reinforce concerns, worries and fears. This then plays into the notion that you need to keep scrolling and getting up-to-date information in order to stay safe or be prepared. And so it goes on, and on.

Studies have shown that once we go past around 2.5 hours of social media consumption related to the current pandemic, we are at a higher risk of depressive symptoms developing and worsening.

So what can you do?

There are ways to end the vicious cycle. It doesn’t mean completely avoiding the news or social media

Create boundaries with your phone and the news. This may feel difficult, but give it time. Make checking your phone intentional — not compulsive. Examine the thoughts that come up when you’re doomscrolling. Examining the negative thoughts you have and then slow your reaction to them.

There are many ways to deal with feeling anxious in general.

  • Try meditation. Even a 10-second meditation can make a big difference. Dedicate some time to letting go and relaxing.

  • Carve out time for creative activities. Paint, draw, write, sing, dance… whatever you like that isn’t looking at a screen and engages your creative side. Dig out those old mindfulness colouring in books that were popular a few years ago!

  • Set time to talk with your family and friends — and make the news off limits. Yes – the news seems all consuming at the moment but try and have a chat about other things that are going on.

  • Get outside during the day for a few minutes. This benefits you in so many ways. A quick walk makes all the difference.

  • Write it down. Jotting down your thoughts, worries or concerns get them out your head and often things seem much more manageable when written down. This engages the logical part of your brain, which is really helpful when so much anxiety comes from the illogical part.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or stressed, find out how online hypnotherapy can help. Get in touch for a free consultation.

Malcolm Struthers Hypnotherapy - Online and in-person in Dumfries & Galloway


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