Scrolling Down the Rabbit Hole? Rise Above Doomscrolling for Mental Respite

Scrolling Down the Rabbit Hole

Doomscrolling eats away at our time and health—how do we break away from this cycle? 

In today’s interconnected world, we find ourselves constantly inundated with a deluge of information. Amidst this information overload, a peculiar behavior has emerged—doomscrolling. Defined as the act of endlessly scrolling through negative news and content, doomscrolling has become a widespread phenomenon with significant implications for our mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified this issue, with information gaps, misinformation and social isolation fueling the optimal environment for doomscrolling to thrive. 

To regain control over our digital lives and mental well-being, it’s important to navigate the complexities of doomscrolling. In this article, we will explore the psychology of doomscrolling, examine the role of the 24-hour news cycle and social media in fueling this self-destructive behavior and offer practical tips for breaking free from its grip. 

Understanding the factors behind doomscrolling

The psychology of doomscrolling

Natural negative bias and the need for self-protection

Recognized as the word of the year for 2021 by the Oxford English Dictionary, “Doomscrolling” is far from a new phenomenon. It stems from our innate inclination to gravitate towards negative news rather than the positive. This negative bias permeates various facets of our lives, rooted in our ancestral survival instincts. As our predecessors prioritized negative information to detect threats and ensure their survival, we, too, tend to focus on negative, traumatic experiences in a bid to safeguard ourselves. 

The desire for knowledge and control

Another reason that ensnares us in the doomscrolling spiral is our insatiable thirst for knowledge and desire to establish a sense of security through comprehensive understanding. Particularly during times of uncertainty and crisis, we yearn to comprehend the unfolding events, make sense of the world and do something to make a tangible impact. 

However, the overwhelming abundance of information in today’s world often leaves us grappling with where to begin or what to trust. Overwhelmed by anxiety and stress, individuals often find solace in doomscrolling, seeking answers amidst the ceaseless churn of the news cycle.

The 24-hour news cycle

The incessant stream of news and a cascade of negativity

The 24-hour news cycle, a phrase coined to encapsulate the constant availability and uninterrupted flow of news around the clock, bombards us with a constant stream of news. Within this relentless stream, negativity takes center stage, amplifying our stress levels and fueling a pervasive fear of missing out (FOMO). This compels individuals to remain constantly informed, even when they are not interested in what’s happening, inadvertently exacerbating the grip of doomscrolling.

Confirmation bias in the age of nonstop news—the quest for negativity

Moreover, the never-ending news cycle can also foster confirmation bias, a phenomenon where individuals actively seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs while disregarding contradictory viewpoints. As a result, many find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of doomscrolling, driven by the relentless pursuit of information that substantiates their negative or pessimistic worldview.

The rise of social media as a dominant news source 

The evolution of social media: from personal connections to news consumption

Social media has transformed from a platform for personal connections to an all-encompassing digital world. It not only offers insights into the lives of our loved ones but also serves as a source of entertainment, information and news. 

According to Statista, 47% of 18 to 34-year-olds and 45% of 35 to 44-year-olds in the U.S. rely on social media for their daily dose of news, solidifying its position as the go-to platform for staying informed. The popularity of social media as a primary source of news is significant in understanding the burgeoning phenomenon of doomscrolling. As more individuals turn to social media platforms to consume news on a daily basis, they are exposed to a constant stream of information, both positive and negative. 

However, social media algorithms are meticulously designed to maximize user engagement by tailoring content to individual preferences and interests. If individuals frequently engage with negative news or actively seek out crisis-related information—such as climate change, recession or COVID-19 cases—the algorithms will prioritize and promote similar content, creating a feedback loop. Consequently, users’ newsfeeds become saturated with distressing news, perpetuating the cycle of doomscrolling.

Compounding the algorithmic influence, news organizations themselves tend to focus on negative news stories that provoke stronger emotional reactions, as they strive to capture clicks and views. This combination of algorithmic dynamics of social media and editorial decisions intensifies users’ attraction to negative or distressing content, further contributing to the allure of doomscrolling.

The link between doomscrolling and declining mental health

Constant vigilance, dread, and negative thinking patterns

Doomscrolling weighs heavily on our mental health, keeping us in constant vigilance and dread. No one desires to reside in this relentless mindset. In an era where news is readily available and accessible through social media platforms, individuals succumb to excessive scrolling and compulsive consumption of negative information. The more we scroll, the deeper we descend into maladaptive thinking patterns, rendering it increasingly arduous to break away from them. 

Adverse effects on mental health, including anxiety, stress and depression

The continuous exposure to distressing news exacts a toll on our mental health, ushering in a host of adverse effects including heightened anxiety and mounting stress levels. Moreover, it could also raise the risk of developing mental health disorders, such as depression, sleep problems, reduced productivity and social isolation. For individuals grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the act of doomscrolling can be particularly harrowing, as encounters with stories mirroring their traumatic experiences could potentially trigger them.  

Breaking free of the doomscrolling cycle

If you find yourself trapped in the clutches of doomscrolling, it is crucial to take proactive measures to break the habit. Here are some effective tips to guide you on your journey:

  1. Creating boundaries around social media consumption: Set timers or use apps that remind you to take regular breaks, helping you combat information overload and prevent feeling overwhelmed. Additionally, disabling notifications from apps that promote doomscrolling can enhance your awareness of the time spent online. 
  1. Balancing your news consumption: Counteract the subconscious bias that drives us to seek negative news by diversifying your news feeds. Seek out positive stories or posts that provide a refreshing perspective. Follow meme accounts, comedians and sources of uplifting information to counteract the pervasive negativity that often dominates the news cycle.

Doomscrolling may possess an addictive allure, fueled by our insatiable craving for information and the FOMO. The combination of our innate negative bias, the quest for comprehensive knowledge and the influence of social media algorithms contribute to this phenomenon, exerting a profound impact on our mental well-being. To break free from the doomscrolling cycle, it is important to create boundaries around social media consumption, diversify news feeds with positive content, and acknowledge the addictive nature of doomscrolling. By managing doomscrolling habits, we can protect our mental well-being and cultivate healthier relationships with technology and the news. 

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash

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