Doomscrolling and the effects of social media on the mind

September 2022
Are you addicted to bad news? It may feel harmless, but doomscrolling is taking a toll on your mental well-being.  

'Doomscrolling', also known as doomsurfing, is a relatively new term that describes the act of mindlessly trawling through negative news on news apps and social media for hours on end. Essentially, it's reading one negative story after another. 

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, doomscrolling is the “tendency to continue to surf or scroll to bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening or depressing.” The term first appeared on Twitter in 2018, but the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has brought more awareness to the habit.

There is actually a valid reason why we doomscroll. The human brain is hardwired to look out for threats to our safety and well-being. The more we know about a negative situation, the better prepared we will be for what is to come. Many people are drawn to doomscrolling because it gives a sense of control over the bad news, but often it just leaves you feeling more miserable.

Studies have long shown the links between excessive social media use and increased feelings of depression and loneliness. According to health experts, the more recent phenomenon of doomscrolling is having an even more negative impact on mental health, causing feelings of uncertainty, apprehension, fear and distress. It can also affect your mood and sense of well-being.

Some of the effects of doomscrolling are:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Panic
  • Sleep disruption or insomnia
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Depression
If you find yourself relentlessly doomscrolling on social media or other news sites, here are some strategies you can try to curb the habit.
Start by turning off push notifications on your phone for both social media apps and news outlets so you won’t be alerted every time a news story breaks. Push notifications can be anxiety-inducing and triggering, especially from news apps, since they can be interpreted as more important. 
To avoid the endless cycle of doomscrolling, set time limits on apps or use the timer on your phone to limit the amount of time you spend on social media and news sites. You should also set boundaries on what time of the day you will look at the news, preferably not first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
Having your smartphone plugged in next to your bed is a temptation that is often too hard to resist. Keep your phone on the other side of the bedroom so it’s out of reach, or better still, keep it in another room. Refrain from using social media 30 minutes before going bed to give your mind a chance to wind down. Before you go to sleep, read a book instead of one last scrolling through the news. 
Unplugging completely for a while every day from computers, tablets, and phones is great for your mental health. Engage in healthy, non-tech activities instead which can be beneficial in reducing doomscrolling and easing anxiety. Go for a walk or run, do some yoga, have a coffee with a friend, or play with your dog. 
Set aside some time every day to practice mindfulness. Reflect on what emotions a negative news article evokes while scrolling past it. Try to pay attention to the way your body feels and your mind’s response to the subject matter – and think about how it makes you feel. 
Rather than unplugging from the news altogether, try to seek out some good news when you scroll. Stick with a handful of trustworthy news sources and flood your feed with more calming, funny or entertaining accounts.