Doomscrolling hurts people more than they know

by Zoe Harris, Ben Davis High School

I’m sitting frozen in bed, staring at my phone’s harsh blue light as if I’m possessed. My mind plays a loop of tragedies and catastrophes as my heart beats wildly. Against my best efforts, I’ve scrolled myself into a hole. 

I just wanted to check what was trending on Twitter. 

Today, what begins as curiosity can end in disaster. Doomscrolling, a term first coined in 2017, is the habit of continuously absorbing negative news despite the consequences. Doomscrolling is a type of self-inflicted harm that is normalized. Consuming news threads help people feel like “informed citizens,” but at what cost? 

In times when most news is tense and negative, doomscrolling is likely. Social media plays a big part in this habit. Infographic by Zoe Harris.

Social media is often a black hole that sucks up all of my energy and joy. After viewing distressing news, I feel depressed and anxious and confused. I, like many other people, follow this up by reading even more distressing news. It is an unreasonable cycle that has only become more common.

 A study by the National Library of Medicine in April of 2021 found that, “the consumption of news by social media mediums has increased by nearly 47% during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic left people with many what-ifs and feelings of hopelessness. It worsened people’s anxieties and fueled overthinking and spiraling. I can remember spending hours on Twitter and other platforms desperately refreshing, looking for answers to questions that I would never find. People would be much better off if they found ways to combat the habit of doomscrolling.

Doomscrolling is not a new behavior by any means. According to BBC journalist Jessica Klein, “…the public has long held the can’t-look-away-from-a-car-crash mentality.” A version of doom scrolling can be traced back to the 1930s. 

On Oct. 30, 1938 millions of people sat around their radios listening as the arrival of Martians on earth was announced. They would tune in at all hours of the day, disregarding their sanity and well-being. In reality, they were hearing an excerpt from the science fiction novel “The War of the Worlds” by H.G Wells. Their anxiety kept them glued to their seats, much like when people dwell on upsetting information on their cell phones. It is important for people to be aware of how the media they engage with impacts them. 

People should find healthier ways to use social media. Community Reach Center advises that in order to create healthy internet habits, people can track the amount of time they are online, take breaks to unplug, and not use their phones while in bed. Something that has helped me limit my doomscrolling and create healthier internet habits has been to set app timers. 

When bad news makes me feel sad or anxious, I assure myself that some things are out of my control. Instead of focusing on the helpless feeling, people could think of ways to inform others about the issues that cause them distress. Communicating intense feelings is a much more helpful solution. 

If I could go back in time to that night in January of 2020, I’d make sure to tell myself the coping mechanisms I have created, and remind myself that doomscrolling is not an inevitable habit. It is important for people to know that being informed should not come at the expense of their mental health.