Pop quiz: When was the last time you paid any attention to cute, cuddly pets on Instagram or looked for new recipes to try, instead of reading the news, which is kind of looking more and more like a countdown to the End of Days? If your answer is, “I don’t remember,” you’re not alone. There are plenty of people doing exactly what you’re doing — trying to stay on top of the news and then feeling down as you begin to think there’s no exit from the downward spiral. In fact, it’s so common there are words for it: doomscrolling or doomsurfing.
The New York Times says that, by nature, humans love information. And having it on our devices on an endless, 24-hour loop means we can binge on it in excessive amounts, which is bad to do with pretty much anything, but particularly something that upsets us. As a result, we get on what neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley describes as “hamster wheel of complete news consumption.” That sounds about right, since those of us who doomscroll tend to pick up our phones every few hours — regardless of whether it is day or night.
Humans are hot-wired to seek out bad news
There’s another reason our psyches tend to support our compulsive need to doomscroll, and it has plenty to do with our instinct to seek out potential threats. As humans, we are more prone to watch out for negative things, because “we’re scanning for danger. There’s this sense that we have to be watching all the time in order to protect our families,” Mary McNaughton-Cassill, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, tells The Wall Street Journal.
Unfortunately, our social media habits are doing little to protect us from ourselves. That’s because when we seek out bad news regularly, we “train” our social media algorithms to show us similar things over and over again. These algorithms work by revealing information in our feeds that a computer thinks is most relevant to us. Basically, these algorithms end up deciding what content you’re looking at based on your behavior (via Sprout Social). This might explain why your social media feed is full of mayhem, while some of your friends might still be spending time scrolling through Dogs of Instagram.
How to break the doomscrolling cycle
The best way to break the cycle of doomscrolling is to pause the next time you’re mid-scroll and ask yourself if being in-the-know is making you feel better. Chances are, it’s actually making you feel horrible. And if that’s the case, Ohio State University psychiatrist Ken Yeager says that the best thing to do at this stage is to limit the time you stay on your electronic devices (via Health).
One way to do this is to give yourself just 15 minutes a day to go through your social media feeds. And when time is up, you put your devices away and ignore them for the rest of the day. And then you start looking for the good in everything, which Yeager admits is not easy, and is something you have to work on. But it’s also important to remember that focusing on bad news isn’t helping anyone at the moment — least of all yourself and your loved ones. So try to distract yourself with exercise, a phone call to a friend, or even just reading some fiction, anything to get your mind off the news.
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