Doomscrolling Is Ruining Your Mood—Here's What It Is and How to Stop It
You don't need any more feeds filled with bad news. Stop doomscrolling with these tips.
It's not necessarily a new phenomenon to scroll through social media for so long that you lose track of time, keeping you up at night or stopping any real work from happening during the day. But what's different about doing so in the current climate: You get an influx of depressing info invading all your feeds, whether because of COVID-19 updates or images of racial injustices.
This habit of viewing a constant stream of negativity now has an official name, and it's aptly dubbed "doomscrolling."
Consider doomscrolling like having lactose intolerance and still eating lots of cheese—you know it's not a good idea, but you just can't help yourself. Except instead of leading to physical discomfort, doomscrolling can take a real toll on your mental health.
"It puts your mind in a downward spiral of anxiety and negativity, and this cycle is hard to break," says Nina Vasan, M.D., founder and executive director of Brainstorm: The Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation at Stanford University School of Medicine and chief medical officer at Real, a digital therapy platform.
Our collective stress levels certainly don't need rising right now, so how can you break the habit? Here's what to know about doomscrolling so you can make it stop.
Why Are People Doomscrolling So Much?
Dr. Vasan believes people doomscroll because currently, they're home so much without the regular activities that tend to keep them away from phones and computers. "We've lost our usual means of social support and connection, and being on social media feels like the only way to be connected with the rest of the world," she says.
Plus, many simply want to stay informed about the pandemic, and social media can provide a seemingly real-time update on the happenings of the world. "We're looking for more certainty and control at a time that, for many people, is the most chaotic of their lives," explains Dr. Vasan. "There's a sense that something positive is just one click away and maybe it will make you feel better or give you a sense of control, so you're constantly looking to find it. But instead, you get barraged with more and more negative information."
And in the end, that can leave you feeling even more out of control and sad.
What's So Bad About Doomscrolling?
A big problem with this social media habit: It can trick your brain into thinking that everything is negative, says Dr. Vasan. That could ring especially true if you're switching from platform to platform, hoping for exciting, uplifting info only to be fed more and more bad news. And this, in turn, can also leave angry and unproductive.
While it can bring anyone down, those who have depression or anxiety are most vulnerable to the negative mental effects of doomscrolling, says Dr. Vasan. Paging through bad news (whether it's on your social feed or a news site) can be especially harmful if you're doing it first thing in the morning or before bed.
"The morning hours, especially right after you wake up, set the tone for the rest of your day, so if you start doomscrolling, you're setting your brain up to catch more negativity," explains Dr. Vasan. "Doomscrolling before going to bed is harmful [too] because your mind gets preoccupied with the negative content, and it's then harder to fall asleep." Instead, she recommends that you aim to stop checking social accounts at least 30 minutes before your head hits the pillow.
5 Ways to Stop Doomscrolling
If you find yourself constantly surfing the web and feeling pretty crappy after, try these strategies to ditch the doomscroll:
1. Put time limits on social media.
Dr. Vasan suggests setting up a 10- or 15-minute timer on your phone when you're taking a deep dive into social media. Before you press "start", be sure to choose your favorite song as the tone or alarm for when time is up, and let that motivate you to get off Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. (Or take advantage of the screen time functions built into Apple and Google devices.)
It's also a good idea to skip social media altogether at least one day of the week. See how it feels, noticing if your mood or productivity picks up, says Dr. Vasan. If it does, maybe you'll want to ditch your device even more.
2. Find positive sites to read.
Want to catch up on news? Opt for some uplifting stories. Bookmark sites and accounts that bring you joy, and head to those pages when you catch yourself doomscrolling, she suggests. For a few positive options, check out Some Good News (with John Krasinski) on YouTube or Upworthy on Instagram. Another smart strategy is to mute, block, or unfollow accounts that constantly knock down your mood, says Dr. Vasan. Stopping push notifications on those sites will also eliminate some of the temptation to read them.
Jamming out to an upbeat playlist, listening to a humorous audiobook, or watching a rom-com on Netflix can switch your mindset to something more positive, too. And if you keep a gratitude journal, that's a good thing to read over when you're feeling down. Dr. Vasan suggests making a list of all the things that bring you joy—be it (finally) binge-watching The Goop Lab on Netflix or keeping up with your ~cool~ new puzzle hobby—and then planning them into your day. "Just making the list helps many people by being thoughtful and intentional," she says.
3. Don't underestimate the power of mindfulness.
Doomscrolling is a mindless task. To avoid falling into that trance-like state, make it a goal to be more mindful in your daily routine. Dr. Vasan recommends even just a few minutes of daily mediation with the Calm or Headspace apps or using the 7-minute workout app to bring your mind into your movement. Arrange those apps next to the social media ones on your phone, and you're more likely to click on them, according to Dr. Vasan. You can also practice mindfulness while you're doing other activities, like washing dishes or going for a walk.
4. Replace doomscrolling with another activity.
"Just trying to stop is hard but adding in something positive can increase the likelihood of success," says Dr. Vasan. For suggestions, Dr. Vasan's Brainstorm lab created a list of activities, each of which lasts anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes. They include gratitude, mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy techniques to enhance your mood and help squash stress and anxiety. But feel free to choose any activity that picks you up (jumping jacks, walking, listening to a podcast, coloring, having a solo dance party, you name it), and do that task whenever you feel the draw to your device.
5. Check-in with yourself more often.
It's a tough time for many reasons, so don't forget to ask yourself how you're doing every now and then. This might help you recognize that doomscrolling is seriously crushing your optimistic outlook and then help you make a change. You can make your daily check-in official by chronicling your feelings in (free!) apps such as How We Feel or Moodnotes—plus, tracking your mood may help you notice patterns and changes over time, based on your behaviors, says Dr. Vasan. The behaviors that bring you down? Those are the ones to ditch. And doomscrolling is very likely one of them.