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In 2020, the Oxford English Dictionary named “doomscrolling” one of its words of the year. And recently, Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary said it was one of the “words we’re watching.” But what is doomscrolling, and how has it become part of our vocabulary and lives?
“Doomscrolling is a form of scrolling in which we spend an excessive amount of time consuming a steady diet of bad news,” says Emily Riggs, MSW, LSW, a therapist at Kettering Health Behavioral Medical Center.
More than a fad term for a social media habit, doomscrolling poses risks to our mental health.
“Doomscrolling is the internet version of ‘I just can’t look away,’” says Emily. “It affects our mood, attitude, and behavior.”
Most experts suggest that this increased engagement with bad news coincides with the twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic. But all the variables for doomscrolling’s prevalence existed long before 2020.
Doomscrolling emerges from the combination of the human impulse to learn, the internet’s globalization of news, and our digitally cultivated inclination to stay connected to our smart phones. Add a multi-year global pandemic with no shortage of headlines—punctuated by other tragedies and incidents—and the result is a difficult-to-avoid overload of overwhelming parades of information.
“Those first minutes of checking our phones can turn into hours, even days, where all we take in is information about the heavy, traumatizing state of the world.”
Emily continues, “No wonder we’re overwhelmed.”
Central to the idea of doomscrolling, says Emily, is the idea of mindlessness.
The difference between a Google search and doomscrolling is “whether we’re mindfully engaged with what we’re doing, staying aware of how the information affects us and how long we’re engaged with it.”
Passively letting bad news wash over us inundates our brains, and “we tend to shut down,” says Emily. “We grow numb and tune out our emotional reactions, unable to regulate them.” In other words, we become irritable, mentally fatigued, and reach for unhealthy ways to cope.
We adopt an emotional status quo that’s unsustainable. “It takes longer to return to a baseline emotional state because we’ve induced distress and stayed in that distress for quite some time.”
The best thing to do is to find ways to disrupt the habit.
Emily suggests the following to disrupt doomscrolling tendencies:
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