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What is Doomscrolling and Why are we Addicted?

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Russia invades Ukraine, Coronavirus, Black Lives Matter protests, and Australian bushfires, are just some of the events of the last two years that have gripped the planet. Social media has allowed users to access live updates regarding any event they wish to follow. But is this practice good for our mental health?

Doomscrolling or Doomsurfing are terms used when a person is glued to news sites and social media timelines. Doomscrolling tends to result in reading reports and accounts of the dreadful things going on in the world. It became particularly prevalent during the Covid-19 pandemic, with misinformation spreading and lockdowns there were very few alternative ways to spend any downtime. But why is it so addictive? The act of doomscrolling can wreak havoc on our mental health. Nurturing anxieties and offering a fairly bleak outlook on the world. Do we scroll Twitter for hours in hopes we’ll actually find a silver lining or perhaps unearth the positive perspective we’ve been searching for?

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In addition to the passive scrolling, with massive online movements, there are often hashtags or trends used as symbols of solidarity. These trends often come coupled with a social pressure to join in, to inform followers and strangers alike what your stance may be. This tying in with the addictive nature of doomscrolling and the need to be liked or accepted. Perish the thought that you stay offline for too long, you may miss an important hashtag which may make you seem indifferent!

As well as a need for acceptance humans are inherently curious, if we have a question we tend to seek out the answer. However, it always seems to be the negative results that hold our attention the most, we can thank evolution for this. For our cave dwelling ancestors, it was crucial to our survival to pay the negative and dangerous the most attention. It was imperative that we committed to memory the berries that could kill us. The berries that were just tasty would not be nearly as important to our survival. This is what psychologists refer to as the negativity bias. This unconscious bias can be noticed in many facets of our lives not just while doom scrolling. It is why people seem to focus on negative comments over positive or traumatic experiences over wonderful ones.

Scrolling Reddit threads for hours may not mean life or death but it stems from our need for information. Humans then use the awareness of the negatives to protect ourselves or regain some control. This is where anxiety kicks in, often a lack of control is the source of anxieties. When scrolling for hours about a turbulent pandemic, or the ferocious spread of wildfires only leaves us to realise we cannot control everything. Doomsday themed events continue and so does the anxiety spiral. The logic seems to be if we can’t control it we may as well learn any little thing we can.

Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels

Part of the problem with doomscrolling is that it is hard to even realise we’re doing it until we’re four twitter threads deep. Journalist Karen Ho set up a Twitter account with the name @doomscroll_bot in order to alert people when they may be doomscrolling without realising. The most important part of any problem is admitting its existence. One way to combat doomscrolling is to set limits for yourself on social media and even news apps. A lot of phones have the option to implement these time limits or you can simply set yourself a timer of 15 minutes for example.

Another way to combat doomscrolling is to focus on any positives you experience throughout the day, especially if you start to feel bogged down by the negatives. And finally, know your limits, assign yourself a bedtime or a cutoff time where you will stop looking at your phone to curb that 1 am rabbit hole scroll. Being up to date and informed of worldly issues is important, as is forming an educated opinion but when this becomes all consuming it’s time to take a step back.

If you feel your mental health is truly being impacted by social media or other factors below are some resources in Ireland available:

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