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Doomscrolling – A Woeful Goodbye To Healthy Sleep And Mental Peace

Attention! Your brain has pulled the emergency brake. Take the exit to positivity.

Image: A woman doomscrolling through the news late at night via Shutterstock

I take a last quick peek at my phone before I turn in for the night. The room is dark, but my focus is drawn to the letters that appear on my screen, screaming for my attention in bold letters. The news headlines describe something tragic, and it has piqued my curiosity. I decide to read what the news is about. Soon enough, I scroll and scroll and end up sleeping restlessly, my head heavy and filled with agonizing details of what I just read…~a habitual doomscroller

I’m sure many of you identify with this habit. This is something we unconsciously have been doing over the years that was quite recently given a name. Presenting to you, one of the most trending words of the Covid-19 pandemic – “Doomscrolling”, also known as Doomsurfing. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘Doomscrolling’ as “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though the news is saddening, disheartening or depressing”.

Before you read further, would you call yourself a doomscroller?

‘Get your facts straight’ like all doomscrollers do, which actually gets them into this negative habit. The first step is to examine your habits and the content you read on a daily basis and identify whether you are a doomscroller or not.

Do you compulsively gulp down tragic, depressing news like you binge-watch a new season of Game of Thrones? Then you are indeed a doomscroller! There! Now you have one more label to add to your bio!

The pandemic has seen an increasing number of people binging on ‘Bad News’ and getting addicted to Doomsurfing. The term’s origin is not clearly known, but the coinage was popularized by a finance reporter called Karen Ho who used her Twitter account to remind people of the ill effects of doomscrolling on mental health. People found these reminders helpful as it helped them focus on being positive rather than getting agitated about increasing Covid cases or unemployment rates. It is one of the many coinages that have popped up this year along with ‘Social Distancing‘, ‘Covidiot‘, ‘Herd Immunity‘, ‘Asymptomatic’ and so on. Like the literal meaning of the word suggests, this practice leads to the annihilation of mental peace.

Why would anyone develop such an odd and detrimental habit?

The unbelievable yet true explanation behind Doomscrolling is that the human mind is auto-tuned to look out for danger. When we read negative news and incidents, our brain automatically processes this information more easily than anything positive that we read about. Many doomsurfers are just people who are trying to stay updated with the current happenings of the world. The pandemic has left us hungry for clarity. People have deluded themselves into believing that reading the statistics of daily cases worldwide and increasing unemployment rates will help them analyze the situation better and vigilantly prepare and plan for the future.

Image: Anxiety and Stress are some of the symptoms faced by Doomscrollers via Shutterstock

The worst-hit population of doom surfing are teenagers. In an attempt to remain socially updated and on top of things, they end up doomsurfing and thus inject daily doses of negative thoughts into themselves that slowly poison their young minds.Says Dr. Priya Bahuleyan

But this endless scroll through the Internet has left a tangling mess in our brains that has left us mentally drained and overwrought with stress, anxiety and depression. We read and empathize with every single negative news and conclude with each piece that the world is a mean place that is off to an apocalyptic end. Teenagers are the most affected by this negative trend. “Doomscrolling not only falsifies their outlook towards life but also the society at large. Their ability to relate or connect to the real world has totally gone haywire. As a consequence, we see a bunch of depressed, stressed out, irritated, aggressive, and isolated individuals with zero productivity, creativity or command of themselves “, says Dr Priya Bahuleyan, an Ayurvedic Doctor and Lifestyle Consultant active in Delhi who gives valuable health tips through informative videos shared on Instagram and Facebook.

People are no longer engaging in the activities they were involved in before the pandemic that kept them away from their phones. With nothing better to do and each day appearing more monotonous than the previous, people have locked themselves into their phones and other gadgets which while on the one hand provides momentary relief from the pandemic also provides undesirable content that disorders the array of their mental wellbeing on the other.

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Another challenging facet to this issue is the contributing part played by social media algorithms. People mostly turn to social media for positive relief in the form of lighthearted memes and entertaining media. And in this search for optimism, they are overloaded with unnecessary gloom-ridden, depressing content that leaves them suffocated and hanging desperately for air.

How does reading a few negative news affect mental health?

We must ensure that we do not end up getting consumed while consuming the avalanche of dystopian news. This obsession with reading scary content online adversely affects us by creating feelings of depression, hopelessness, and loneliness, disrupting normal sleep cycles and increasing anxiety that causes physical discomfort. Doomscrolling distorts our perception of the world and kills the last tinges of motivation left in us that were already quite extinguished by the pandemic.

Doomscrolling is a great threat to the community that we shouldn’t overlook.opines Dr. Priya Bahuleyan

At times like this when a lot of discussions are going on about mental health, it is important to look even into habits like doomscrolling that can have long term effects on our mental health when practised often. It is important to stay on top of things, yes, but all that negativity, add in a pandemic and you have reached the limit you can push your brain into. Reading about it is not going to stop bad events from actually happening. And all you end up doing is spoiling your mood for the rest of the day.

How to stop yourself from Doomscrolling?

Since there is no escape from the usage of media, the bad news keeps pouring in day after day, so all we can ultimately do is control the gadgets we use before they control us. Here are a few tips that you can adopt to avoid Doomscrolling. “Timely attention and ‘conscious’ effort to cut off from this agonizing trend is the only solution that will work in the long term”, observes Dr Priya.

Image: Meditation, a healthy habit that prevents doomscrolling via Shutterstock
  •  Start your mornings right. Do not begin your day by scrolling through your feed and letting all the negativity seep in. Instead, start your day with a fresh cup of coffee and try to meditate for an hour using apps such as The Mindfulness App. This will set the tone for the rest of the day.
  • Limit your usage of social media. Set timers on the apps you use. Though this may be difficult to get used to, you will eventually see an increase in productivity and positive thinking.
  • Avoid using your phone before going to bed. Instead, develop a habit of reading a novel before sleeping. This will give you actual knowledge and will keep the negativity at bay. 
  • Take a break from your phone every once in a while. Practice social detoxification at least once a month. Turn your attention to family and friends. And develop new skills such as baking, gardening etc. 
  • Regulate the content that you see daily. Block and restrict sites that give you dizzying headaches. Read inspiring stories of people on a daily basis. This will provide you with the motivation to stay positive. 
  • Connect and talk about current affairs with people rather than relying solely on apps to provide you with the news. Choose the news that can and will reach you. If it is important, it will reach you by word-of-mouth. 
  • Focus on the present alone. Try to make yourself happy and live in the moment. Ask yourself constantly about what you’re feeling. Write it down. Keep a daily journal.
  • Switch off the option of news alerts when it gets too overwhelming. And choose a specific time and duration during the day to absorb news, advisably during the middle of the day. 

All that said, you don’t have to feel bad about being a doomscroller. 

Just breathe in and out. And smile. You’re doing fine so far, and you’re gonna make it. That’s all you really need to think of right now. The future will unfold on its own in time.

And don’t forget to take time off your phone after reading this article. Let your phone rest awhile!

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Written By

A stargazer with a penchant for words and chocolates. A fan of Greek lore and dystopian novels.

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