Joyscrolling, and other Doomscrolling Antidotes

Joyscrolling, and other Doomscrolling Antidotes

It is official, Doomscrolling has been added to the dictionary. For those who are not familiar, this term describes the practice of obsessively checking online news for updates, especially on social media feeds, with the expectation that the news will be bad, such that the feeling of dread from this negative expectation fuels a compulsion to continue looking for updates in a self-perpetuating cycle. This behavior has been associated with poor sleep, increased depression and anxiety, as well as increased substance use.  

Dr. Ariane Ling of the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine says that we engage in this behavior because we as humans are hardwired to constantly assess for risk as a survival mechanism. The problem is that when this hardwire connection was made in the human brain early in our evolution there was no such thing as social media, and so our risk assessments did not take very long since the amount of data was small and did not change that often. What we are seeing today is maladaptive belief that is understood well through basic behaviorism: “I consumed all the information possible about the plethora of terrible things out there, I did not die, thus I must continue to consume all the information possible to be sure nothing catches me off guard and thus will not die.” Sadly, this logic will not stand the test of time for any of us.

So what do we do to combat Doomscrolling? Dr. Ling has some practical advice:

  • Be Informed, Not Inundated: We do need to stay informed, so choose some trustworthy sources and check in only at regular intervals. For example, you can commit to checking in with the CDC and WHO websites once per day or even only once per week if your focus remains on gathering COVID-related information.

  • Joyscroll, too! If you are going to be online, balance your exposure to distressing content with some Joyscrolling, or intentional exposure to positive content. This can help combat the impact of its more negatively focused counterpart, Doomscrolling. While John Krasinski is no longer producing his “Some Good News” series, other websites continue to curate more inspiring content.

  • Build Awareness, Set Limits: Set a limit and be intentional about how much news you are consuming. Ask yourself if you were not on your phone, what would you be doing? Build awareness is usually the first step in any behavior change. Once you are more aware you can set a reasonable, specific time limit and set a firm boundary for yourself on how much news you are consuming. Once you have reached that limit, and found your good news balance, log off and find a way to re-engage with the world around you. Need help re-engaging? Check out this article from Positive Psychology.