Doomscrolling is when you constantly cycle through bad news on social media or the internet.
There’s a lot of negativity that you can absorb in just a few minutes of looking at your phone or laptop – especially with the economic, social and political turbulence in this country and abroad.
Research suggests that doomscrolling can lead to poor physical and mental health.
And the mental health impact of it is something of which our members are acutely aware.
Lou Baker, a therapist who manages a college mental health and wellbeing team, says doomscrolling is increasingly being brought into the therapy room.
She says it has a “significant impact” on young people. She believes that some of the increase in low mood, anxiety and depression that she’s seen through her service can be attributed to doomscrolling.
“We've seen young people get quickly consumed and traumatised by the information they see and hear. When a person is experiencing challenges to their mental health and wellbeing it can take considerable willpower to avoid doomscrolling, this in turn exacerbates their mental ill health. It's a vicious circle.“
She adds the type of language used by the media and on the internet focuses on doom and catastrophising.
“This is exacerbating the experiences and impact for the young people absorbed in doom scrolling, “ she says.
It’s not just young people affected by this.
Andrew Kidd, a Glasgow-based therapist, says that usually doomscrolling comes up in the therapy room when people feel out of control – sometimes around life events, such as a relationship breakdown, and sometimes around global events, such as the cost of living crisis, the war in Ukraine.
He adds: “The feeling of powerlessness and perception of threat feed off each other.”
Amanda Macdonald, a London-based therapist, agrees, and describes it as a solitary activity where people are trying to find some sort of control.
“The feeling that by continuing to scroll we will gain some aspect of control over what can feel so out of our control can lead people to feel the need to constantly consume whatever news or media they can.”
Tips to ease the impact of doom scrolling on your mental health
All the therapists we spoke to acknowledge that just spending less time on the internet and social media for many people is much easier said than done.
But they have some practical steps that might help mitigate the impact of doomscrolling.
Set a time limit
They all agree that setting a time limit and establishing boundaries about the time you spend online can help.
“Allow yourself some time to read online, so it isn’t forbidden. Always have a timer set,” says Amanda. “What is great is that our phones have timers built in to them. We can either have a reminder pop up every evening to stop scrolling, or set a timer for five or 10 minutes.”
Positive habit breaking apps
Lou agrees with having a time limit and recommends another tool which helps a lot of young people she sees.
“We've found the use of positive habit breaking apps are very helpful and popular.
“These apps allow the user to set timers based on doing a positive action such as growing an online tree or the user having to do a positive activity before the timer ends.”
Ask yourself why you’re doomscrolling
Reflect on what is motivating you to keep scrolling, recommends Andrew.
He says to ask yourself “when doomscrolling - what am I looking for?”
This isn’t about why you’re looking – but instead about what you hope to find from doomscrolling.
“This will reveal an unmet need that is much more helpful to focus on,” he says.
Focus on what you can control
Focus on things you can control and change in your life. Even if they seem small, they’re not insignificant, says Andrew.
And thinking about control can be helpful if you’re spending time online too.
He adds: “After five minutes of doomscrolling put the phone away and ask yourself ‘Can I control it?’ and ‘can I change it?’
“If the answer is ‘yes’ then come up with a plan of how to control and change what is causing you distress. This will help your anxiety.
“But if the answer is ‘no’ then realise that five minutes or five hours of scrolling will never turn that no into a yes.”
Use grounding techniques
“The idea of grounding is to get out of the ‘head’ which we occupy when doomscrolling, and into the physical body and your environment,” says Amanda.
She recommends trying different grounding techniques and seeing which work for you.
“One technique is ‘5,4,3,2,1’ which is about connecting with our senses and our immediate surroundings. Forming this connection with where we physically are can help to reconnect us with the here and now, and take us away from the draw of the doomscroll,” she adds.
Face to face discussions
Human contact and conversation can help as well, stresses Lou.
“For young people that time spent away from news and social media etc and physically talking to others or socialising face to face, can support their mental health and wellbeing,” she adds.
“This can give them a completely different perspective to any issues or information that may have become exacerbated by doomscrolling. We use the discussion of allowing time away to see another perspective.”
If you’re struggling with your mental health and wellbeing, find a counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you by searching our therapist directory.
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