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Is Doomscrolling Contributing to Your Anxiety?

By Ashley Howell PMHNP

In an era dominated by digital connectivity, the phenomenon of "doomscrolling" has emerged as a prevalent behavior among individuals across the globe. This compulsion has swiftly integrated into the daily routines of many, often with profound consequences on mental and physical health. This article aims to dissect the intricate relationship between doomscrolling and anxiety, drawing insights from reputable psychological studies to shed light on its detrimental effects.

 

What is Doomscrolling?

"Doomscrolling" was coined to describe the act of endlessly consuming negative news and distressing social media content. Unlike previous generations who were limited to an hour or less of news a day (literally, the show was called "60 Minutes"), we now have access to information 24-7, which shapes how our brains navigate the world. 

Recent research on time spent on mobile phones reveals how checking our phones has become a compulsive habit:

  • On average, people spend 3 hours and 15 minutes a day on phones
  • Individuals check their phones 58 times a day on average
  • 78% of women believe they spend more time on their phones than their partners
  • 68.6% of people surveyed believe that screen time affects mental health negatively

 

Why Do We Doomscroll?

Before delving into its psychological implications, it's crucial to comprehend the nature of doomscrolling. Driven by a compulsion to stay informed, individuals frequently find themselves engulfed in a spiral of bleak news stories, alarming statistics, and contentious social media debates. In a sense, we are trying to predict an unpredictable world to stay safe by data mining as much information as we can. We believe that my knowing as much information about the potential dangers, we can make better, more informed decisions that prevent negative outcomes. Unfortunately, while the initial intention might be to remain updated, the incessant exposure to distressing content can foster feelings of helplessness, despair, and anxiety.

 

Effects of Doomscrolling

Research by the Journal of Experimental Psychopathology highlights the profound impact of negative news consumption on mental health. The study revealed that individuals who frequently expose themselves to adverse news stories experience heightened levels of anxiety and stress compared to those who limit their media consumption.

Continuous consumption of shocking information can cause

This finding underscores the pivotal role of doomscrolling as a catalyst for exacerbating anxiety symptoms.

Moreover, the relentless barrage of negative information inherent in doomscrolling can trigger a phenomenon known as "vicarious traumatization." Roxane Cohen Silver's 3-year study in Psychological Science demonstrated repeated exposure to traumatic events through media channels affected both mental and physical health even 2-3 years after exposure to traumatic graphic media.. Thus, individuals immersed in doomscrolling may unwittingly subject themselves to secondary trauma, further intensifying their anxiety levels.

In short, even if the news events do not affect you, simply hearing or seeing the events can cause stress to your brain and body.

When you spend too much time reading or hearing about negative things, your sympathetic nervous system causes your body to release stress hormones. Consuming too many pessimistic topics can also cause physical symptoms such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, nightmares or other sleep disturbances, and stomach problems. The continuous feed of sad or devastating events can alter your perception of the world, as well as worsen the state of your mental health.

If you feel like your depression, anxiety, PTSD, difficulty sleeping or any of the other physical symptoms listed earlier are negatively affecting your life, it may be time to get professional help.

 

How to Stop Doomscrolling

Beyond its immediate emotional toll, doomscrolling can also induce cognitive distortions that fuel anxiety. According to research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, excessive engagement with negative content on social media platforms is associated with heightened rumination and catastrophizing tendencies. Constant exposure to alarming news narratives can distort one's perception of reality, amplifying feelings of dread and impending doom.

Furthermore, the addictive nature of doomscrolling perpetuates a cycle of reinforcement wherein individuals seek solace in the very behavior that exacerbates their anxiety. A study conducted by Marino et al. (2019) in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions elucidated the mechanisms underlying compulsive social media use, highlighting the role of reinforcement and craving in sustaining maladaptive behaviors.

It's not easy to stop doomscrolling, but the following tips may help.

Limit screen time to certain times of the day

80% of people check their phone within 10 minutes of waking up. Often people will read or watch the news in the morning, exposing ourselves to negativity at the start of the day.

You can limit the amount of time on your phone by using the time limit functions available on most smart phones. Additionally, you could only watch one news program in the evening, or spend a short amount of time on your lunch break on your phone.

Set Boundaries with friends and family

Ask your friends or family members not to discuss the news when out to dinner or spending time relaxing. Explain it can be overwhelming and you’d rather talk about something more pleasant. They’ll likely understand and agree with you.

Limit the temptation to doomscroll by turning off notifications

Turning off notifications stops news stories from appearing on your phone. This can limit your temptation to read negative events outside of designated times.

Remember that habits can be changed. If you find yourself continuously picking up your phone to look for negative news, try choosing another activity that will positively affect your day. There are only so many things that you can control in your life, and world events are not one of them. You can, however, change how you absorb the information. It will take some time, but you can make this helpful change.

 

Reset your social media accounts

Whenever you consume content on social media or the internet, tracking software records your preference and begins to offer you more content tailored to your interests and beliefs. By delivering information to you based on your own confirmation bias, you are more likely to click on the media, and increase the click-through-ratios for the content, and proving the marketing value of the advertising platform (which is what all social media is) to the advertisers. These algorithms are surprisingly sophisticated, and at times harmful, especially if you are suffering from a mental illness.

An example of how media consumption can influence behavior in negative ways is the way that Facebook  and Instagram glorified eating disorder content to vulnerable teens. "The Wall Street Journal reported last month that researchers at Facebook who have studied its effects on young users over the past three years found that Instagram can damage young users’ mental health and body image, especially among teen girls. One internal document cited by the newspaper said that for teen girls who had recently experienced body image issues, the app exacerbated those feelings for one in three of them."

Doomscrolling isn't very different from an eating disorder. Depression, PTSD, anxiety and any mental illness are exacerbated by consuming negative content. When you have a bias to confirm the negativity, the content you consume will continue to perpetuate that belief. It's important that as you recover, you reset social media profiles so that you can be served more positive content that emphasizes your healing, and not your illness.

 

Get professional help

Most people are not going to need meds to stop this habit. However, therapy may help with reducing anxiety. Therapeutic modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) equip individuals with effective strategies to challenge negative thought patterns and enhance resilience. Through tailored counseling, mental health professionals provide a safe environment to explore triggers and develop personalized coping mechanisms outside of scrolling through the phone. Psychoeducation on the psychological impact of excessive media consumption empowers individuals to make informed choices about their digital habits. By fostering a collaborative therapeutic relationship, professionals guide individuals towards emotional well-being, enabling them to navigate digital platforms with confidence and purpose.

 

Is Doomscrolling Bad? 

In an age characterized by information overload, doomscrolling poses a significant threat to mental well-being, precipitating a cascade of anxiety-inducing effects. By acknowledging the psychological ramifications of incessant negative news consumption and adopting proactive coping strategies, individuals can reclaim agency over their digital habits and safeguard their mental health in an increasingly tumultuous landscape. Remember, while staying informed is crucial, preserving one's peace of mind is paramount.

 

 

Turning off notifications stops the news stories from appearing on your phone. This can limit your temptation to read negative events outside of designated times.

Remember that habits can be changed. If you find yourself continuously picking up your phone for doomscrolling, try choosing another activity that will positively affect your day. There are only so many things that you can control in your life, and the world events are not one of them. You can however, change how your absorb the information. It will take sometime, but you can make this helpful change.

Link for research-https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley
.com
/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2044-8295.1997.tb02622.x

Link to 80% statistic

https://www.reviews.org/mobile/cell-phone-addiction/

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