For many of us this year – and especially this week – it’s hard to look away from the news. Endlessly reloading your feed while teetering on the edge of the abyss, feeling unable to step back or look away, is known as doomscrolling. Its television counterpart is doomsurfing, or the switching endlessly between channels that leaves you feeling agitated, helpless, and hopeless. Is this impact real? And what can you do about it? Let’s dive in.
What Impact Does Doomscrolling Have on Mental Health?
Both doomscrolling and doomsurfing in this age of no easy solutions can heighten the demands on our cognitive processing, according to Nicole Ellison of the University of Michigan’s School of Information in Wired. It can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression and harmful rumination.
What Impact Does Doomscrolling Have on Relationships?
Put all that anxiety and hopelessness together and multiply it by the number of people in your relationship and what you get is a whole lot of anxiety and hopelessness. Plus, in a 2017 study of married couples, spending time on your phone instead of with a partner lowered overall relationship satisfaction.
Okay, So How Do I Stop Doomscrolling?
Just putting the phone down is easier said than done, but it’s also the number one move that will make a difference. If you normally live with your phone inches away at all times – or worse, attached to you as a smartwatch – the idea of getting some distance can feel impossible. Figure out what to you is so prohibitive and take steps to address that.
When you wake up in the morning, avoid checking your phone first thing. Use another device – no, not your smartwatch – as your alarm, and do your morning routine without your phone or the news. Even an hour breather at the start of the day can help you start to feel more centered.
During the day, experiment with leaving your phone plugged in and face down in another room, and setting a timer on a device that isn’t your phone for three hours. (If you’re worried about missing calls, or missing texts from certain people, turn up the notification volume for those calls or contacts only in your settings. Turn off or mute notifications for all other apps.) Try to resist the siren song of news sites or desktop social apps in the meantime. Jot down how you feel in those three hours. If all you can think about is what you might be missing on your phone, it might be time to make stepping away from your phone a regular part of your day. If you find yourself feeling calmer, less anxious, or more focused, that’s also a sign that disconnecting might be helpful.
Are you worried about missing the news? Unless you work in a field where your career could hinge on second-by-second updates, receiving those updates are likely not helping you move forward with your day or life. If three hours is too intimidating, experiment with turning your phone off for forty-five minutes during a day where you know you won’t be receiving any calls. Trust that if something major happens in the world, you will find out. Remind yourself to breathe.
Then, make the (now rarer) times when you are on your phone better by muting, blocking, or unfollowing: accounts you follow out of spite, accounts that post reactionary takes on breaking news that are later debunked or otherwise are poorly sourced, keywords that send you down anxious spirals, accounts belonging to exes you are not friends with, accounts you feel like you “should” follow but do not like, and any other dead weight. Do you really need to follow 26 national news sources, or will the three you actually read be sufficient? Do you really need to follow the six verticals of that website, or just your few favorite writers? Cutting down will look different for everyone, but can both lessen the temptation to doomscroll and make it easier to step back when you do.
I Don’t Doomscroll But My Partner Does. What Can I Do?
You can’t control or take responsibility for anyone else’s actions or behaviors, period. But if your partner is up until 3 a.m. endlessly refreshing Twitter, is constantly interrupting your time together to share political memes or links, or can’t relax with you without the news on in the background, it might be worth gently sharing how stepping away from your own doomscrolling has positively impacted your life, and to suggest small moments where you might disconnect together. Try “I had a really draining day today and I’d really like to connect, just us, over dinner. Can we leave our phones face down on the counter while we eat?” “It’s really overwhelming for me to hear about the news constantly, especially in bed. Can we experiment with leaving our phones facedown on our nightstands for a week?” “I know you love watching the news, but it makes me feel really anxious right now. Can we listen to music/watch a movie/watch Netflix/read quietly from books tonight instead?” Become co-conspirators in cutting down on doomscrolling together.