Doomscrolling: Perpetuating the State of Heightened Anxiety

No, this isn’t the part where I preach to you about how bad social media is or that we should give up all modern technology and live a Henry David Thoreau type existence of quiet contemplation in the woods. There is nothing wrong and in fact something quite healthy in looking for the best cherry pie recipe on Pinterest, checking out the pics of your friend’s cat’s birthday party on Facebook, or checking out the latest post of your favorite celebrity on Instagram.

Doomscrolling is a different creature altogether. Merriam Webster dictionary defines Doomscrolling and doomsurfing as new terms referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. With so much negativity going on in 2020, it’s really hard not to get caught up in it. If you find yourself doing it, you are far from alone. Both Twitter and Facebook have reported significant increases in usage this year. Moreover, platforms like Twitter and Facebook perpetuate the problem. By that, I do not mean, they intentionally feed a person loads of negative information. What I mean is that each site uses what are called algorithms that determine what information shows up at the top of and most frequently in your feed. Both platforms focus that content on what would be of most interest to you. So, if you post and comment a lot about COVID, MEXIT, Zombie Apocalypse, and endless hurricanes, then whenever you return to those platforms, your feed will be full of offerings on those subjects, perpetuating scary information.

Here is the issue, when faced with the onslaught of trauma that we’ve faced this year from COVID to civil unrest to political turmoil, there are two psychological habits fueling this phenomenon:

  1. we like to familiarize ourselves with dangers in an effort to obtain some sense of control, says psychiatry resident, Dr. Patricia Celan and
  2. at the same time, we are looking for some answers or good news around the corner. Nicole Ellison of the University of Michigan’s School of Information notes though, “But it’s not. Right now, people are living at a time with no easy solutions, a moment with a lot of conflicting “facts” in a rapidly changing landscape.

There’s a lot of demand on cognitive processing to make sense of this. There’s no overarching narrative that helps us.” Her conclusion is that compounds the stress and anxiety we’re already feeling when we look at our phones or computers.

Doomscrolling that becomes a habit is bad for not only your mental health but can be for your physical health as well. When we are stressed/anxious/depressed, our bodies produce the stress hormone, cortisol. Too much cortisol can cause fatigue. Mental health professionals at the Cleveland Clinic recommend limiting the time spent on social media platforms; promote mindfulness as a way to stop scrolling when emotions run too high; and advised to beware of catastrophizing (which is when the mind jumps to the worst possible conclusion, the one which is rarely correct).

When I get caught up, I remember what the movie character Ferris Beuller said: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and in a while, you could miss it. If we don’t put down our phones and turn off our computers sometimes, we might miss the beautiful things going on right in our own homes, in our own neighborhoods, etc.

The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute the providing of medical advice nor is it intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified medical professional with any physical or mental health questions or concerns you may have.