doomscrolling [ doom-skroh-ling] noun the practice of obsessively checking online news for updates, especially on social media feeds, with the expectation that the news will be bad, such that the feeling of dread from this negative expectation fuels a compulsion to continue looking for updates in a self-perpetuating cycle. (dictionary.com)
Doomscrolling, also called doomsurfing, is the act of spending hours scrolling, focused on absorbing negative news. Scrolling and scrolling, losing time as we hunt for the next news line, is such a prevalent behavior right now that both Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com have recognized the word. The Los Angeles Times first used this word in an article where author Mark Barabak described doomscrolling as “an excessive amount of screen time devoted to the absorption of dystopian news.” (Merriam-webster 2021)
So, fess up. Have you have found yourself in that bottomless dark cycle wrapped up in doomscrolling – watching the news feeds while obsessing about the latest “Breaking News” alert or looking for the latest COVID statistics? Thumbing endlessly on those twitter threads and finding yourself more irritated and anxious is giving you information: live data that the behavior is impacting you. I have certainly heard from clients over the last two years that this doomscrolling is causing them mood and sleep issues. It is true – this consumption of negative news may result in harmful psychophysiological responses for people. In fact, it may be eroding our mental health. (Amen, 2020)
Endlessly reading the negative news, looking for answers, replaying the information repeatedly does bring up physiological responses that any stress-provoking content does. The constant dumping of gloom and doom into the brain conjures up terrifying images which activates the brain’s fear circuits (amygdala). The negative content provokes the stress response which activates the brain’s fear circuits and puts our body on high alert, moving us into the flight, fight or freeze reaction. We know through neuroscience that our brain is wired for negativity and stays attuned to anything that might be harmful. That is why those headlines of gloom and doom and concern keep your attention. But there is more to it than that. There is a physiological response to information.
Information is like crack for the brain. (Amen, 2020) The results of a 2019 brain-imaging research project, published in the PNAS journal, reported that information triggers our dopamine-fueled reward system in the same way that food, money, and drugs reward our brain. The research called the information “clickbait” on steroids. We see the tease, click on it and we are hooked as we continue to scroll, looking for the information that might make it better. (Kobayshi, 2019)
Doomscrolling impacts your mental health. The constant cycle of negative news and information feeds into depressive thoughts and feelings and keeps you in a harmful cycle. The doomscrolling increases your stress reaction, dumping cortisol and adrenaline into your system. If you have a low mood already, the doomscrolling habit can trigger a depressive or anxiety episode or worsen symptoms. It increases panic and worry and can lead to rumination.
Doomscrolling may also interfere with your sleep. Scrolling through the newsfeeds before bed may increase your anxiety and put you into a stress reaction just when you are trying to calm your system down to go to sleep. Poor sleep increases stress and other mental health issues, feeding into the negative cycle. We have plenty of opportunities to practice managing negative news and circumstances without adding more to it through doomscrolling.
We have our hands full with the goal of finding healthy ways to maintain and take care of our mental well-being. I do not believe this is going to be something that just happens. We must make very mindful choices to prioritize our mental health and then become aware of what is not working towards that goal. Good habits for our mental health cannot wait until we get back to our old ways of living. We must implement these choices now. Our mental health is calling for it. (Check out the next article for ideas to implement to stop these behaviors).
Amen, D. (2020, Dec 16). https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/a-psychiatrist-shares-six-ways-to-stop-doom-scrolling/. Retrieved from Amen Clinics: https//www.amenclinics.com.
Ellis, M. (2021, January 12). https://www.constellationbehavioralhealth.com/blog/what-is-doomscrolling-why-it-happens-and-how-it-affects-your-mental-health/. Retrieved from Constellation Behavioral Health:https:/www.constellationbehaviorhealth.com.
https://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-day/doomscrolling-2020-12-03/. (2020, Dec 3). Retrieved from Dictionary.com.https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/doomsurfing-doomscrolling-words-were-watching. (2021,Oct).
Retrieved from Merriam-Webster: https//www.merriam-webster.com.
Kobayshi, K. &. (2019, Jun 25). https://www.pnas.org/content/116/26/13061. Retrieved from PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.Tags: dark cycle of dooscrolling, doomscrolling, doomscrolling effects mental health
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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