Doomscrolling: What it is and how to stop
Reviewed by Theresa Fry
There’s nothing quite like stumbling across a terrible news story online and wanting to absorb every aspect of it for seemingly no good reason. Some people do it because they’re bored, some as an escape from reality, and others because they’re genuinely curious.
It’s called doomscrolling—or sometimes doomsurfing. And as the name suggests, it’s a phenomenon specific to browsing the internet.
What is doomscrolling?
Imagine yourself scrolling through your social media news feeds or your favorite news sites, only to find nothing but negative news. You continue to scroll or read through them anyway. This is exactly what doomscrolling is.
Even though these news stories can trigger strong negative thoughts and feelings, the pull to keep scrolling is stronger than the desire to stop. You’re “scrolling into doom,” so to speak.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a good example of a worldwide event that led to an increase in doomscrolling1 as news about the virus broke. There was a lot happening in the world and fewer options for distractions, so doomscrolling quickly became a common and convenient habit for many.1
Other doomscrolling examples
Most people doomscroll without even realizing it. Here’s what it can look like:
On Facebook, you find yourself interested in clicking on news stories related to climate change. The algorithm picks up on this, and soon every article you scroll through is another story about how climate change will cause wars or famine, or how it will increase the number of natural disasters. You can’t stop scrolling, clicking, scrolling, and clicking.
On Twitter, you notice a news story about a missing person’s case and begin replying to tweets about it. Soon after, you start seeing tweets about missing people’s cases all over the country. The more you scroll, the more depressing and violent stories you come across.
On a local news website, you click on a story and scroll down to the comments section, where you see people complaining about the municipal government. The more you read through the comments, the more negative people’s responses get.
Why do we doomscroll?
Believe it or not, our brains are hardwired to pay attention to and absorb negative news—and we have evolution to thank.
Since the dawn of humankind, our brains have learned to give more weight to negative information than positive information. This used to help us predict the future so we could try to avoid danger.
Unfortunately, we now regularly see and hear bad news everywhere we go, and our brains haven’t evolved enough to tell the difference between what’s a real threat to our survival and what isn’t. As a result, it takes a higher level of awareness to overcome the human instinct to see perceived threats for what they really are.
When we’re most likely to doomscroll
Doomscrollers are typically more likely to scroll through new stories in the evening hours or late at night because this is when most of us are tired and looking for a way to relax with minimal effort. Decision fatigue also contributes to doomscrolling. This psychological phenomenon involves making worse decisions as the day goes on because your mind is tired from having to make so many decisions all day.
How doomscrolling negatively impacts mental health
It’s completely normal to pay attention to some negative news, but too much doomscrolling can be bad for your mental and emotional health. It can contribute to:
- Anger or aggressive behavior
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Relationship problems
People who struggle with anxiety may be especially drawn to doomscrolling because it can give them a false sense of control. In the long run, however, it can also make them feel worse.
Negative news can also transcend time and location. It’s not uncommon for doomscrollers to ruminate on negative news when they go to sleep and first thing in the morning. Sometimes they experience sudden urges to check the news, then worry that they’re not getting enough information. These feelings can lead doomscrollers to think about the news even when they don’t want to.
If doomscrolling is making you feel very anxious or depressed—or is impacting your ability to function in everyday life—you may want to seek professional help from a therapist.
How to stop doomscrolling
You can’t control the news, but you can control how you consume it. Here are some practical tips:
Notice when something you see online makes you feel bad. Staying aware of your emotional responses to news can help you pinpoint the urge to doomscroll before it takes hold. This mindfulness skill can help you in more ways than just this one.
Keep another activity on hand to replace doomscrolling easily. Journaling, doodling, or even playing an online game are healthier activities to try instead when you feel the urge to doomscroll.
Know when you’re most likely to doomscroll. Is it when you get home from work? When you’re sitting on your couch after dinner? You’ll be better prepared to resist giving into the urge to doomscroll when you understand which environments, times of day, and emotional states are most likely to trigger this behavior for you.
Follow reputable news sources only. You can’t trust rumors or sensationalized headlines to provide you with an accurate picture of what’s happening in the world. Stick to established news outlets—especially those that fact-check their content.
Avoid reading negative comments on social media from other users. While it’s natural to feel curious about what others think about a particular news story, many people can take their opinions too far, leaving you with a false or negative impression about what’s actually happening.
Take advantage of social networking “mute” and “hide” buttons. You don’t necessarily need to unfollow or unfriend someone if you don’t want to see their content. Once the person has cooled down a bit, or after a news story has run its course, you can unmute or unhide them from your news feeds.
Be aware of the media’s intentions. Bad news sells, plain and simple. Don’t let yourself believe that you’re being completely objective when reading the news—or that the news itself is necessarily objective. This is especially true when you choose to read something with a noticeably negative slant. Put the media’s motivations into perspective whenever possible, remembering that they can be biased regardless of their intentions.
Read positive news stories, too. It’s not all bad news. Uplifting stories can help bring clarity to the negative ones. Of course, even positive headlines don’t always tell the whole story, but they can provide you with an opportunity to look on the bright side every once in a while.
It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom
Becoming more conscious of how you spend your time and energy is the key to breaking your doomscrolling habit. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at resisting the temptation to get lost in a sea of negativity online.
Start small. Apply one idea from the list of suggested tips above at a time. You don’t need to be perfect—you just need to get on the right track. And remember, the world may seem terrible at times, but perspective changes everything.
Elise Burley is a member of the therapist.com editorial team. She has more than a decade of professional experience writing and editing on a variety of health topics, including for several health-related e-commerce businesses, media publications, and licensed professionals. When she’s not working, she’s usually practicing yoga or off the grid somewhere on her latest canoe camping adventure.
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