How to stop doomscrolling

Is the news sucking you into a never-ending ‘doomscroll‘ at the moment? Kat Nicholls shares some advice to help you put your ‘phone down

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

In the few minutes before work started this morning I gave Twitter a courtesy scroll. I knew I was planning to write a piece this morning and wanted to see what was happening in the world – take its pulse, as it were.

The more shocking news I saw, the more I scrolled. Getting lost in threads, and seeing comments, I felt my mood slipping and yet I couldn’t stop. This activity, scrolling and searching for bad news even though it’s disheartening, is often referred to as ‘doomscrolling’ – an activity that has risen in popularity, alongside baking banana bread, as we seem to navigate disaster after disaster following the coronavirus outbreak.  

So why do we do it? At its core, doomscrolling is a totally human reaction to what we’re going through. When stressful things are happening in our livee (hello pandemic) our primitive brain takes over, and it’s concerned with keeping us alive above all else. This can lead to us scanning for danger, putting ourselves on high alert for anything that could be perceived as a threat.

And, of course, news outlets don’t help matters with constant coverage and sensationalist headlines. When people then take to social media, perhaps reporting inaccurate news, or making inflammatory comments, it adds fuel to the fire. So it’s no wonder that, when we go online, it feels like the world is burning sometimes.

How to stop doomscrolling

We know this response is a perfectly natural and human one, but that doesn’t mean we should feed into it. If you’re finding yourself getting sucked into this kind of behaviour, it’s time to get more intentional with your online habits – here’s how.

Make your mornings sacred

Scrolling on social media used to be the first thing I did when I woke up; with my ‘phone being my alarm, it just made sense to have a ‘quick’ check after it went off – but I quickly realised this wasn’t the best way to start my day. It either became a time-sap, and I’d end up running late and feeling rushed, or I’d lose myself in bad news and start my day feeling hopeless.

Now I have a separate alarm, one that wakes me up with light, and I use the ‘downtime’ function on my iPhone to lock certain apps and the internet before 9am. I now use my mornings to meditate and check in with myself before checking in with the rest of the world.

This can be a great first step to stop your doomscrolling habit. Make your mornings an internet-free zone. Utilise apps and blockers to make it harder for you to go online, and use this time to ask yourself what you need from your day.

Allocate time for ‘phone-checking

If you’re anything like me, ‘phone-checking is a habit – something that happens almost unconsciously. To help you break out of this habit, try allocating certain times of the day for ‘phone-checking; this could be on your lunch break, after putting the kids to bed or another time that suits you. My only advice would be to avoid early mornings, and before bed, if possible.

To take this a step further, you could try setting intentions with your ‘phone-checking. Perhaps at lunch you’ll check in with your favourite social media account and engage with people, and in the afternoon you’ll catch up with the day’s news. If you can put a ring around the time you spend doing this – allocating 30 minutes, for example – this can help you avoid a never-ending doomscroll.

Sharing her advice for protecting your mind when the media is overwhelming, psychologist Kimberley Wilson suggests the ‘two-by-two approach’. “While it’s important to be informed, there is a limit to the usefulness of this information for people who don’t have any power to intervene. Instead, it just increases a sense of powerlessness, fear and uncertainty.

“For people who are already anxious I recommend a two-by-two approach; limiting news viewing to two, good quality sources that are checked at only two points in the day.”

Check in with yourself more often

Doomscrolling is often a ‘mindless’ habit; we’re being led by fear when we’re doing it and, often, time and place just slips away as we’re sucked into whatever’s happening. Embracing mindfulness, then, and checking in with how we’re feeling more often, can only be a good thing.

As suggested, the morning may be a good time for this but, honestly, any time is good. You might want to meditate to help you practice mindfulness, or use a tool like journaling to process how you’re feeling. Whatever tool you use, use it often.

Use the ‘stop’ technique

Even with the best of intentions, we can still end up doomscrolling. If you find yourself doing this – as I did this morning – try saying out loud to yourself ‘Stop!’. Put your ‘phone down and move your body – go into another room, do some stretches, anything to change your physical state. This can pull you out of the state you’re in and bring you back to the here and now.

Find another activity to replace doomscrolling

Sometimes we end up doomscrolling simply to pass the time. It’s understandable – some of us have been faced with an expanse of time during the various lockdowns, and anything that makes the clock tick that little bit faster can be welcome.

Try to replace this with something more positive. Why not start reading that book you always said you never had time to read? Text or call a friend and see how they’re doing. Get some paper and doodle or write out how you’re feeling.

If you can start replacing doomscolling with something that leaves you feeling nourished, you’ll quickly find yourself with a new hobby and positive habit.

Visit uplifting sites

Where can you go online that will leave you feeling inspired and hopeful? Make a list of all the sites or social networks you can think of that help you feel more positive and make a promise to visit these more often.

This might be a website with helpful articles, or a social media site where you have a strong sense of community. Visits to these sites are like anti-doomscroll medication; take them whenever you feel hopeless and need a lift.

The world can be a scary place sometimes but there are ways we can help ourselves take control and feel more safe. Limiting your doomscrolling habits is one way to do just that – and remember, it’s okay to admit you need more help.

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