Rebecca May Ristow | A&E Editor
Those who are unfamiliar with internet slang, or older generations that may not have or want constant access to social media, might not be aware of the term “doomscrolling.” This term refers to the obsessive, and sometimes unstoppable, scan of the internet for bad news. Sometimes it is unavoidable, especially when the bad news is often the news that headlines, but it doesn’t stop the relentless stream of stress hormones that affect both your physical and mental health. So, what really causes doomscrolling, and why should you avoid it?
The constant access to the internet, in our living rooms, backpacks, and even pockets, is sometimes praised for its value. Afterall, we can now be completely up to date. Minute by minute, there are developments around the world and the internet is always being updated to meet these changes. It's nice to get updates on friends and family, local events, or even larger news, but the downside to being informed is the constant exposure to the terrible things happening everywhere, constantly. Doomscrolling refers to the itch we all feel at times. We need to be in the know and find it impossible to put our phones down, especially when news is bad. The phrase is thought to have been created on Twitter, likely around 2018, but really joined common slang during early 2020, when news about the COVID-19 pandemic was ever-changing and constantly getting worse. In a global pandemic, of course people felt the need to be well-educated, but the morbid hole of knowledge the world fell down quickly became agitating, uncomfortable, and anxiety inducing.
I think, during quarantine, people got used to this new normal. The isolation and loneliness felt by many was juxtaposed with the entertainment and connection provided by social media. We found ourselves seeking any stimulus to get through such trying times, but every news article was about political uproar, death, intolerance, or new variants in a virus we kept failing to keep up with. Every TikTok was about the latest scandal, or celebrity cancellation. Every Instagram story was suddenly indicative of people’s social and political beliefs and people you thought you knew well were posting the most heinous opinions you’d ever seen. This exposure to ‘doom’ was not only normalized, but popularized. The narrative surrounding social media became far more about being “in the know,” than being entertained. So, people doomscrolled. We all did. We scrolled on every app, going through the cycle of opening and closing tabs like wildfire, scanning comments that made us want to rip our hair out or cry. But, we were insatiable. Like watching a car crash, we couldn’t look away.
However, there is a line between being well-informed and making yourself sick. Doomscrolling is terrible for you. “Doomscrolling can be a harmful habit, and detrimental to your mental and even physical health,” explains Stephanie J. Wong PhD, a clinical psychologist based in California. She goes on to explain, in an interview with Endocrine Web, the COVID-19 pandemic created an over-arching sense of “anxiety and depression.” Additionally, consuming more information does nothing but reinforce those feelings, creating an unending cycle. This cycle not only causes anxiety and depression, it worsens pre-existing conditions and mental health symptoms. When these mental health problems are exacerbated, say for example, over almost three years of a global pandemic, they evolve into physical issues.
When you experience stress, you’re releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This phenomena, often called fight or flight, used to be helpful. Humans would use this to escape predators, or sense danger. However, too much of these hormones over too long a time period has been proven to cause burnout, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, weight gain, anxiety, sexual side effects, and high blood pressure. It's scary, we know this, so how do we stop?
It's important to recognize when you have a doomscolling problem. The second you start to feel anxious while reading the news, it might be time to put the phone down and take a break. Set a time limit on your social media apps. Stop liking posts that upset you and teaching the algorithm you want to be miserable. Follow accounts that bring you joy. One I love and can recommend is The Happy Broadcast (@the_happy_broadcast). They post habits to reduce anxiety, as well as good news that isn't highly reported. For example, did you know that Spain is working on plans to ban single-use plastic wrap for produce, giant pandas are no longer endangered, and Bhutan has become a completely carbon-negative country? Also, a study on more that 150,000 participants over 26 years found that optimism lengthens your lifespan! This is all great news and I personally never see any of it.
We should all be working to find our line. We want to be informed, or share our support for world issues, but we also need to think more closely about our mental health. Practice gratitude, set your limits, and find news that makes you happy, even in the midst of all the bad.