Since the pandemic, many more of us have got into the habit of doomscrolling – compulsively scrolling through endless social media feeds about bad news. Sometimes we can do it for literally hours, losing track of time as we seek out ever more negative stories. It can be habit-forming, and frequent doomscrolling can increase anxiety, depression and fear.
At the root of doomscrolling is the human urge to scope out potential danger in order to feel safer for having informed ourselves about the risks, and any precautions we need to take. However, the way social media algorithms work means we are constantly fed ever more negative news. So instead of feeling we’ve taken all the steps we can, we feel there’s always more we need to know. We always think we’re close to an answer if we just keep scrolling…
Lots of feeds have infinite scrolling so you just don’t realise how long you’ve been following a thread. This makes it even harder to get out of the rabbit holes. Any of us can fall prey to the habit, and some people are particularly prone. It’s often a problem if you have a condition such as OCD, autism or ADHD which can include hyperfocus, fixations and blindness to time.
So here are 10 useful strategies for avoiding the doomscrolling spiral. It takes conscious effort to break out of the pattern, but it can be done and you’ll feel the better for it as the anxiety reduces.
Turn off notifications from news and social media apps. That immediately puts you in control of when you do and don’t look at news feeds.
Limit your sources. Pick just two or three good, reputable sources of news and resist the temptation to go looking for news elsewhere. Make sure those you do pick don’t have infinite scrolling, and don’t pick any sources that you know are particularly prone to make you feel stressed.
Find positive online stories. Follow accounts that make you smile. From positive news to comedians and funny memes, make sure you’re counterbalancing the negative news. Some people set a rule to read one positive story for every negative one.
Do all your browsing in one go. Rather than check in and out throughout the day, give yourself just one session when you look at news online, or perhaps two shorter ones. Avoid making this the first thing you do when you wake, or the last thing you do at night. Not only can this interfere with sleep, it also gives news an unhelpful sense of importance in your day.
Set time limits. Before you sit down with a cuppa to check out the news, decide how long you want to spend doing it. Then set an alarm if necessary in case you lose track of time. You might find this works better if the alarm is across the room. If it’s on the device you’re using, it’s all too easy to turn it off without really noticing it. When you stop, put the device down and do something else entirely, don’t just go on a different app.
Tell yourself to stop. If you sense that you’re doomscrolling and it’s making you feel anxious or depressed, telling yourself out loud to ‘Stop!’ can help bring you back to the room. That can make it easier to put the device down and do something else.
Track your screen time. It can help to get back in control if you monitor your time on screen, and on specific apps, so you can assess the scale of the problem, and also see yourself making progress getting it back under control. There are apps that will do this for you.
Determine what you’re looking for. Doomscrolling is typified by a constant search for more information, or related information. So before you start looking, set yourself parameters. Decide what information will be enough, or what specific aspect of the story you want to know about. That will help you to stop looking when you have those answers, rather than keep searching for more answers to questions you haven’t even thought of.
Talk to real people. If a particular news story is making you anxious, have real-life conversations about it with people. Choose friends or family who will help you see things more positively, not ones who are going to feed your sense of doom.
Find positive ways not to be online. If you’re actively trying to reduce the time you spend doomscrolling, it will be much easier if you have something else to fill that time. Ideally find offline activities that excite you – reading, exercise, socialising or whatever. But unrelated online activities can work if your notifications are turned off. For example social gaming online, or puzzle apps.
Richard Templar is the author of the global best-selling “The Rules of… ” series. The Rules of Thinking and The Rules of Living Well are published by Pearson.