In the age of digital media, information is presented at a fast pace. We are constantly bombarded with news one way or another. Society has always applauded us for staying informed and knowing what is happening around the world. As a result, we are constantly surrounded by the internet. Most of the news headlines are negative. Being on these news apps, we keep scrolling and coming across distressing and negative news. This compulsive habit of scrolling through negative news for a long period is called doomscrolling.
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We need to bring an awareness of what doomscrolling is and how it affects us. This is a key step to take to build a healthy relationship with digital media consumption. We can understand the effects of doomscrolling by focussing our attention on how the brain is impacted when we constantly present our brain with negative information.
What is Doomscrolling?
Picture this — it is late at night. You need to sleep soon but you have designed to take a last dive into social media before you close your eyes. You come across one negative story online and a moment later you find yourself consuming troubling things — tragedies, natural disasters, war, etc. This is doomscrolling or doomssurfing. This influx of bad news might activate your brain and lead to distress. This can eventually also lead to burnout. The effects of doomscrolling are detrimental. It can also hurt people suffering from anxiety and depression, as it can incite panic attacks (Pathak and Starkman, 2022).
Anyone can fall victim to doomscrolling. Spending a large amount of time on the internet will make you susceptible to falling prey to doomscrolling. The study, published in the journal Health Communication, found that 16.5% of about 1,100 people surveyed showed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption, leading to greater levels of stress, anxiety and poor health ( Cassidy, 2022).
Why does Doomscrolling occur?
There are a combination of factors that lead to doomscrolling. Anxiety, curiosity, desire for information and fear of missing out are some of the factors. The algorithm of social media platforms is such that once you start scrolling, you will keep coming across negative news and information. It provides you with such tailored content, that it is extremely easy to come across distressing information. Furthermore, our brain is stimulated by the reward system when we come across new information. This leads us to want to seek new information constantly and perpetuates a cycle and we keep scrolling.
Additionally, with so much uncertainty in our lives, we seek information again and again and rightfully question every critical aspect of our lives. Doomscrolling also occurs when we experience extreme anxiety. Anxiety is characterised by being alert and keeping an eye out for distressing news. This can also perpetuate the cycle of constant scrolling. Experts have stated that people with anxiety-related disorders are more likely to engage in this particular habit.
Why is Doomscrolling Negatively Impacting Our Health?
Since doomscrolling leads to excessive consumption of negative information. This is bound to make us stressed. Therefore, doomscrolling is connected to the activation of the stress response system. This leads to an increase in the levels of anxiety and stress. This causes emotional dysregulation. This exposure to negativity also leads to the release of stress hormones called cortisol. The brain’s reward system plays a pivotal role in perpetuating the cycle of doomscrolling.
The unpredictability of negative information triggers the release of dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical. This creates a feedback loop, encouraging individuals to seek out more information, even when it’s distressing. The addictive nature of this process can lead to compulsive doomscrolling behaviour. Doomscrolling will lead to the feeling of helplessness and feelings of fear. Instead of being effective and making us more informed, it rather just makes us anxious and paranoid about the world around us.
How to Prevent Doomscrolling?
If you’re spending a lot of time engaging in negative stories online, then it’s very likely that you’re doomscrolling. Knowing that doomscrolling can harm your mental health, you must take some important steps to prevent or avoid this habit. Following are a few points you can keep in mind —
- Know the difference between authentic, fair news and yellow journalism, that is, sensationalism. Believe news only from credible websites and avoid giving in to reading big, scary headlines.
- Pay attention to something as soon as you find yourself falling into a rabbit hole.
- Don’t only seek out negative news. Make a point to seek positive news.
- Give yourself a time limit and a particular time that you can follow to read the news.
Books related to Social Media and the Digital Age
- “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” by Cal Newport
- “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson
- “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle
- “The Circle” by Dave Eggers
- “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” by Jaron Lanier