Have you heard the term ‘doomscrolling?’ It’s the newest catchy phrase doing the rounds online and I can’t think of a word which so aptly sums up the habit it’s describing. Doomscrolling or doomsurfing is “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.”
It seems that we’ve all been doing a lot more of this during the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, and I can definitely count myself in. I love nothing more than curling up in bed with my phone in my hand, absorbing that sleep-averting blue light and scrolling endlessly through news and social media apps.
I know my doomscrolling habit might not be good for me and could adversely affect my mental health, which is already on shaky ground. But it’s hard to resist and so easy to do when you’re tucked up in bed and worried that you’re going to start thinking too much about different things and not be able to sleep. Maybe the answer isn’t to overstimulate your brain by absorbing all the day’s bad news, but I have to be honest – I enjoy it.
Why do we doomscroll and why is it bad for us?
When the World Health Organisation warns against excessive consumption of negative news and social media content during the pandemic, you know you should listen. Doomscrolling can result in increased feelings of anger, fear and sadness, particularly at this point in time when feelings are already heightened. It’s easy to see why it might hinder one’s sleep if your mind is racing with everything you’ve just read.
So, why do we doomscroll? I’ve read that we do it in part to feel more connected to others at a time when we’re being denied a lot of human contact. The circumference of our lives has reduced greatly, and so we try to cast our nets out a little wider by absorbing online content, particularly other people’s opinions about what we’re going through.
We can then feel that we really are all in this together, instead of sitting on our own within the confines of our homes.
My late night doomscrolling habit
Personally, I think I am yearning for connection when doomscrolling, but it’s also about control and trying to prepare myself for what could happen. I just seem to crave information like an alcoholic craves a drink, and after two hours of glugging I’m satisfied.
However, I haven’t found that it hinders my sleep. In my case it actually helps me drift off, perhaps because it exhausts my brain or maybe because I feel on top of things once I’ve consumed the entire contents of several news apps. I know theoretically I’m supposed to feel a heightened sense of anxiety after getting my fix, but I don’t. Instead I feel calmer and, conversely, often reassured.
I think this is because I’ve always just loved reading, or rather inhaling, words and the thoughts of others; I love the way writers play with language in the articles I read, amping up the drama in clickbait fashion or offering a more nuanced and thoughtful evaluation of world events. My favourite things to read are feature articles and opinion pieces, which is probably a hangover from my enduring love of glossy magazines.
The reassured feeling comes from knowing that most of the time others think and feel the same as I do about things. I guess I tend to avoid the more clickbait headlines, unless it’s on a topic which is relevant to my life. Coronavirus hasn’t really changed anything for me though in the sense that I’ve always wanted to keep my horizons broad and know what’s going on in the world.
I’m not a great fan of watching silly videos late at night though (although I do have a good sense of humour, I promise!) – it’s always been about the headlines and reading in-depth articles on topics I’m interested in, like work, health and relationships.
Seeking positive news
Yes, I acknowledge that there’s a lot of bad news out there at the moment, but at the same time all the other big issues of our time are still pertinent and, in my opinion, we should still write and read about them. Right now there’s a coronavirus backdrop to everything, but, for me, that doesn’t diminish or detract from these ongoing societal issues.
I can understand how indulging in the doomscrolling habit could lead one to think that the world is shot to shit and we’re all doomed (hence the name), but that’s where it’s important to keep a sense of perspective and remember that negative news is more likely to be reported and make the headlines. Positive news is there if you seek it out – there’s even a whole publication dedicated to it.
I’ve been wanting to reduce my late night scrolling for some time, but not because it affects my sleep or makes me feel anxious – it doesn’t. I just need to go to bed earlier now that my kids are back at school and we’re having to get up early again.
Are you guilty of doomscrolling and, if so, how does it make you feel?