Doom Scrolling: What It Is and Why It’s So Dangerous

I think it was at the height of the George Floyd riots (not protests, riots, and I do mean those two differently) that it really hit me. Dozens of cities were burning across the nation, the fire started by the murder of George Floyd. The kids were in bed, and I could not stop looking at Twitter, loading new tweets, reporting whatever horrendously depressing piece of information I learned to my wife, and then letting the cycle repeat itself over and over and over again.

I slept like crap that night. And for the next three.

Finally, at some point, it hit me: What the hell was I doing? Yes, staying informed is important, but this was insane. No good came of me cycling over and over through the battlefield that our news had become. Twitter was horrendous. Facebook was toxic. I needed to put down the damn phone.

I was Doom Scrolling.

Doom Scrolling is when you are staring at your phone, refreshing a social media feed, consciously or subconsciously looking for more bad news. It usually happens late at night, when you turn on your phone to unwind and relax…and instead become convinced that the world is on fire and that you will never get a peaceful night’s sleep again.

Looking at your iPhone late at night is bad enough for your ability to get some sleep, but Doom Scrolling is pretty much the worst thing you can do with your phone before bed, short of trying to eat the damn thing. But the problem with Doom Scrolling is what it does to your mind: It excites it, it terrifies it, it makes you feel sad and afraid. It also revs up your mind at a time you are trying to slow it down and get some rest.

All of these emotions are obviously not conducive to getting a decent night of sleep, and in turn, you wake up feeling sad, anxious, and depressed. This can turn into a bitter cycle.

Stopping Doom Scrolling is important to your mental health. It is difficult, but we have to find a way to do it.

How? Some thoughts.

  • Physically separate from your phone: Yes, that. It can be hard. It may make you twitch. But put your phone somewhere else. Charge it on the other side of the room. Give it to a supportive partner (who probably hates how much time you spend on it, anyway). Set a hard stop: No more phone use after Xpm. Just…go away from it.
  • Monitor your social media habits otherwise: Doom Scrolling happens because we have developed habits that push us towards using our phones anyway. Doom Scrolling is easier to stop when we monitor our social habits to begin with, then avoid staring at our phones at a moment where our minds are already primed to look for the bad news. We all know what it’s like – disappearing down the Scroll Hole. Looking at your phone for so long that you forgot why you started to begin with. Don’t be that person. Develop the habits to stop looking at your phone so much to begin with.
  • Set a time limit: Say you really do want to look at your phone and watch for the news. Maybe you, like me, enjoy being plugged into society and find value in it. That is a totally understandable reflex, and our phones have been unquestionably helpful at building a more connected world…indeed, many of us never would have become as a way of the problems people of color face at the hands of elements of law enforcement, to begin with, were it not for our phones. So, allow yourself ten minutes. Physically set a timer. Scroll for ten. And when your phone rings, be done.

You’ll notice a theme: Some of the pieces of advice that I give are more physical than psychological. That’s because Doom Scrolling is a reaction to the terror around us. I’ve repeatedly tried to note that individual psychology cannot be separated from the real world, and at moments of terror or anxiety, we all become depressed. Our phones just give that an outlet, hence the Doom Scrolling.

And one more thing. Don’t berate yourself for Doom Scrolling. It happens, and it’s okay. You’re not weak. You’re human and normal. We all want to feel connected, even to a world that feels broken. For better or for worse, our phones give us that opportunity.

How much is Doom Scrolling an issue for you? Have you found any tricks that can help you stop it? Let us know in the comments!

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