Why do we all keep doomscrolling?

Binging on bad news for two hours a day will not keep the apocalypse away - but it could keep you from being mentally prepared for it
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Why do we all keep doomscrolling?

We’ve all been there, right? In a semicomatose state, 3 hours into a late-night social media scroll that was only meant to last 2 minutes, making lofty promises that tomorrow would be different (often to no avail).

Trawling social media is nothing new. But while it once involved blithely making mental notes of holiday destinations from Instagrammers who never seem to be more than 2 metres from the ocean, or shaking down Twitter for hot takes on the latest Netflix series, now, the only thing many of us seem to be binge-watching is the world’s state of crisis. And yes, there's a name for this proclivity— 'doomscrolling'.

Doomscrolling, or 'doomsurfing', is the act of endlessly scrolling through newsfeeds and social media while being fixated on grim headlines. And rather fittingly, the word entered our everyday lexicon in the wake of COVID-19, along with other equally joyful portmanteaus like ‘covidiot’ and ‘quaranqueen’. If you’re no stranger to a spot of Saturday night doomscrolling, you’re not alone. Everybody’s doing it, and it makes sense why.

The irresistible lure of doomscrolling, according to psychoanalysts, stems from the innate desire for knowledge hardwired into our biology. During times of stress and turmoil, it’s completely natural to experience a heightened desire for information that may help alleviate feelings of helplessness. This, when combined with our natural fixation with negative information (yes, really), makes doomscrolling almost second nature to us.

But as disconcerting as the word itself is, the act of moderate doomscrolling (keyword: moderate) has shown to be beneficial in some ways. It can provide clarity in uncertain times, boost camaraderie, and start difficult conversations that were long overdue. And while many current issues have no easy fix, it can be comforting for many to just know they have made an effort to educate themselves and others.

That said, engaging mindfully and moderately with social media has never been our forte (most of us are spending close to a month every year just trawling it), and the negative effects of uncontrolled doomscrolling on mental health are becoming more and more concerning.

Considering the nature of social media, where information is often not given in its entirety or with context, and outrage-driven algorithms drive what you’re exposed to, it can be difficult to piece together a clear narrative. This, along with the growing pressure to stay informed and online, can lead to more scrolling, overconsumption, and to subsequent feelings of fear, frustration, and hopelessness.

In extreme cases, doomscrolling can create symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as being exposed to graphic images and harrowing information on a daily basis can elicit trauma, which can be detrimental to mental health.

So, what should you do if not doomscroll?

Contrary to what your FOMO tells you, it is very much possible to remain present, connected with and mindful of global issues without spending your nights doomscrolling. Here are some strategies you can implement to contribute in your own way:

  • Talk! Yes, it really is that simple (sometimes). Engaging with like-minded friends to discuss what’s happening in the world will allow you to share information and help you feel more connected than reading arguments on Facebook ever will.
  • Instead of getting your daily info fix from the outrage-driven algorithms of social media, try switching to newsletters or newspapers. Once you’ve built a good bank of sources to receive news from, cut down on the time you spend on other websites.
  • Take some time away from social media entirely, and instead, incorporate listening to podcasts and reading books on social and racial injustice into your day-to-day life.
  • Seek out and volunteer at organisations that support and fight for social and racial justice, and assist charities striving for the economic empowerment of the Black community. 
  • Support Black-owned businesses, and BIPOC creators, whether they’re artists, musicians, authors, etc. This means more than sharing a post on social media; it’s important to make conscious and ongoing efforts.

Photos: Unsplash, Instagram and supplied