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How to Break Your Doomscrolling Habit

Have you noticed that throughout the last year it’s been increasingly difficult to put your phone down? Specifically, scrolling through social media or surfing the web when you know that you should be sleeping, working, or exercising. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 election, and social unrest, it’s understandable to see why this has become an unhealthy habit.

“This year has been a year of unprecedented changes,” he says. “The pandemic, electoral issues, the economy, protests, and public expression of raw emotions, natural disasters like hurricanes have all contributed to the phenomena known as doomscrolling,” explains Ken Yeager, PhD, a researcher and associate professor of medicine who leads The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Stress, Trauma, and Resilience Program.

While not exactly a new phenomenon, recall searching for discussions or spoilers about shows like Game of Thrones, the term is a more recent one.

Merriam-Webster defines doomscrolling, and it’s cousin doomsurfing, “as the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. Many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news about COVID-19 without the ability to stop or step back.

“Doomscrolling is the modern-day equivalent to watching a train wreck,” adds Yeager. “It’s really very difficult to look away.”

But, why do we do this to ourselves? “The phone is our connection with the outside world. We are inundated with bad or negative news and it happens every few minutes,” Yeager says. “The sense of urgency, excitement, and danger can become very addictive.”

However, in some cases, this can be beneficial as it can help us make sense of uncertainty and reassures you that you’re OK. Some people even find that staying on top of bad news helps them feel more prepared, which may help reduce anxiety.

Overall though, doomscrolling has a wide range of negative effects on your emotional, mental, physical, and social health. Mainly this is because it may lead to an inaccurate view of the world, insomnia, poor weak performance, relationship issues, weight gain, and mental health concerns like stress, anxiety, and depression.

If you’re are prone to anxiety, depression or sadness, doomscrolling can be like stepping into quicksand,” states psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD,. “The negativity can pull you under quickly and can lead to panic attacks.”

Additionally, “Too much time on any media or social media sites, whether the news is bad or not, has been linked with feelings of depression,” Dr. Albers says. “Burying your nose in a phone can exacerbate disconnection and loneliness. Being locked on a screen can zap your energy and leave you feeling drained.”

While it can difficult to stop doomscrolling, there are ways to help you quit (or at least moderate) it.

1. Go to newsfeeds and social media with a specific purpose.

“Many of us participate in infinite-scroll mode out of muscle memory, where our thumbs just scroll and our eyes just scan simply because you don’t have a more pressing thing to do,” writes clinical health psychologist and host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast. Jade Wu Ph.D.

Instead, Dr. Wu suggests that have a purpose in mind, such as going:

  • To your news sources to see what a particular politician’s campaign message is

  • To Facebook to ask your gardening group about their favorite plants

  • To Twitter to see the latest science news from your favorite scientist

  • To Instagram to see pictures of your friend’s new baby

“If you scroll with a purpose, you’ll end up being engaged with something you care about rather than passively drawn down the doom-and-gloom rabbit hole.”

2. Set up your digital apps.

Regardless if you’re an iOS or Android user, most phones are equipped with “digital health” apps or functions. These allow you to set time limits for phone usage or even for individual apps.

There are also apps like Freedom, SelfControl, Forest, and RescueTime that let you block distracting websites and apps for specific periods of time.

3. Establish boundaries.

“Avoid news after dinner, as it increases evening stress and interferes with all-important sleep,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, told Well + Good. Additionally, you should attempt to avoid provoking and visual sources that could trigger traumatic responses from you. And, always, listen to what your body is trying to tell you.

“When you slow down to listen, your body and mind will tell you when you’ve absorbed enough or the wrong type of news,” Dr. Manly says. “If you’re feeling agitated, anxious, or stressed, you know your body is signaling you to stop what you’re doing.”

Other recommendations for establishing boundaries would be charging your phone in another room or designating tech-free zones like the dining room.

4. Make a plan to unwind.

“If you’re going to take time to read the news and it’ll key you up, plan time to wind down after,” says Kari Stephens, a clinical psychologist who sees patients at UW Neighborhood Northgate Clinic.

This can include anything from watching a funny video, going for a walk outside, or playing a game with your children. In fact, you can do whatever you want as long as it creates a positive emotion.

5. Avoid “catastrophizing”

“Catastrophizing” is whenever your mind immediately goes to the worst-case scenario. “Often, these thoughts are possible but not really probable,” says Dr. Albers. “You’re mind is jumping right from A to Z.”

Instead, Dr. Albers suggests that reel your thoughts back in. A simple strategy to do this is to ask yourself if the situation you’re reading about will become a reality.

If this doesn’t work Dr. Albers recommends that your practice thought stopping. “When you have difficulty turning off a thought, imagine a red stop sign,” suggest Dr. Albers. “The power of imagination is helpful in curbing your thinking.”

6. Be present.

“We can’t control what is going to happen in the future,” Dr. Albers says. “But you can control what is happening right now. Ask yourself what is going to help you to feel better in this moment.”

Meditation and breathing exercises are both effective ways to encourage you to focus on the present. But, you may also want to try the following daily activities that will help you stay in the present moment while also replacing doomscrolling:

  • Talking to a friend or family member

  • Hanging out with your pet

  • Mindful cooking

  • Gardening

  • Knitting

  • Coloring

  • Writing in a gratitude journal

  • Decluttering and organizing

7. Check in with a therapist.

Finally, if you can’t overcome doomscrolling and it’s interfering with your life by causing you depressions and anxiety, reach out to a mental health professional who can share with you coping techniques.

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