The Dangers of Doomscrolling

Studies find constantly reading bleak news on social media can affect health

By Kelsey DeClue

You pick up your phone or log on to your laptop … before you know it, you’re immersed in the world news of the day: shootings, inflation and political turmoil. Social media and mental health experts have coined a new term for being drawn to tragic stories online: doomscrolling. The experience can make you feel anxious, sad and uncertain about the future.
What makes us want to doomscroll?
Lots of us try to stay up-to-date on current events that concern or affect us, like the COVID-19 pandemic, weather-related disasters, mass shootings and tribal politics. But overdoing it can create problems.
One study  suggests that news viewing becomes a problem when you get absorbed in the content, you constantly check it and it interferes with your daily life.
Things that may lead to doomscrolling:
» You feel upset about something in the news, so you look for information that confirms how you feel. You may risk ignoring or dismissing relevant info that doesn’t back up how you feel.
» While searching for positive or upbeat news, you get caught up in a sea of negative stories.
» You try to stay on top of the news so much that your mind goes into autopilot mode, and you start scrolling out of habit.
» You feel down, so you spend more time online than usual to try to lift your mood. However, this may make you feel worse in the long term.
One expert says obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can also cause to people to doomscroll. If you have this mental health condition, your mind may fixate on a certain topic, and you might doomscroll to try to ease your anxiety about it. Treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help you break this cycle.
Who’s more likely to doomscroll?
Anyone can spend too much time getting lost down the rabbit hole of negative online news and social media. But one study  suggests that:
» Men are slightly more likely than women to doomscroll.
» Younger adults are more likely than older adults to doomscroll.
» People who closely follow or participate in politics are more likely to doomscroll.
Still, it can be hard to stop. Doomscrolling often kicks off a negative cycle. The intense emotions this behavior brings on make it more difficult to sleep, eat and focus on daily activities. You may then head back online, hoping to regain a sense of control and ease your anxieties.
If you’ve had mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, it’s also possible for doomscrolling to lead to panic attacks, one expert  said.
Here’s a closer look at how to nip it in the bud. The solution isn’t to ignore important news or disable your Wi-Fi. Instead, rein in the online negativity with these healthy tips.
» Track your time: Use an app or paper log to note exactly how long you’re on your screens and where you’re spending those hours. Ask yourself whether the results align with what you find most meaningful.
» Set a schedule: Don’t keep social media and news sites open all the time. Instead, designate specific times during the day to read the news or check your feeds.
» Avoid alerts: Turn off notifications and keep your apps on silent. Try reading news via traditional outlets, such as newspapers instead.
» Clean your feed: Notice which people and sites make you feel the most anxious or sad. Mute, unfollow or stay away from the site. Instead, seek out communities or causes that inspire joy and connection. This might be an online group related to a hobby or culture, or an app to communicate with faraway friends.
» Offset screen time: Balance the time you spend on social media with offline activities to reduce stress. Activities may include getting together with friends, walking on a trail or practicing deep-breathing exercises.
» Finally, give thanks: Gratitude has been shown to improve mood and increase resilience. Use your feeds to post daily lists of positive experiences. Or spread joy by, for instance, leaving positive, online, restaurant reviews.