While I was going through chemotherapy, there were many nights I would lie awake praying for sleep that never came. The illness, the fear, but most of all the steroids kept me up. So in these eternal hours of the night, I would sometimes pray and listen to meditation videos, but – almost always – I would turn to my phone.
Reading through articles, posts and comments at 3 a.m. seemed like a good idea at the time. I desperately needed the distraction, and I longed to numb the idle thoughts that ran rampant at that hour. My mind, like a toddler on sugar right before bedtime, was hyper and unable to quiet down. So I would scroll and scroll and scroll some more, always finding yet another rabbit hole of endless information.
I found myself instinctually grabbing my phone when that first glimmer of consciousness would settle in. But before I knew it, the sun would be rising and I realized I had just spent hours reading material that was usually grim in nature.
I was, in essence, doomscrolling. And while I was momentarily detaching my psyche from my personal trials, I was also damaging it.
The term “doomscrolling,” which describes when someone spends a large amount of time on their devices reading bad news, has attracted more attention these past few months. From the pandemic to the social injustices that have monopolized all news-related platforms, and everything in between, people can’t seem to stop absorbing terrible news. And, in turn, it’s negatively affecting their life.
According to the Observatory of Educational Innovation, too much information about a negative situation can have adverse psychological effects. Professor Emeritus in Psychology at the University of Sussex, Graham Davey, says their studies show it exacerbates the person’s own worries, even though they’re not directly relevant to the story they’re reading.
Davey further explains the brain is designed to pay attention to news that frightens us. So while individuals who read this type of news can be doing so as a form of diversion or entertainment, it can trigger intense feelings of stress, insomnia, depression, anxiety and social media addiction.
Loretta Breuning, former professor of Administration at California State University and author of the book, “Habits of a Happy Brain,” explains the concept is called negative bias. She argues the human brain is instinctively attracted to problematic information because it’s programmed to detect threats, rather than ignore them. Therefore, our brains are predisposed to what we’re drawn to in terms of news content.
So how do you stop from doomscrolling?
Aside from shutting off all devices, there isn’t a single solution that can completely prevent you from being exposed to bad news. But you can certainly establish a set of habits that can help diminish the time spent on it.
- Be cognizant of the hours spent online. Smart phones and tablets log how much screen time is being used. So set some daily, weekly and monthly goals on reducing that time.
- Limit your news intake to certain hours of the day: morning, afternoon or evening. Disable notifications, so you’re not constantly tempted by pop-up messages and “click bait” posts.
- Initiate and maintain conversations that externalize concerns and positive topics online.
Keeping yourself informed is a biological and understandable need, but it should never be at the expense of your mental health.
Personally, I am off those infernal steroids now, but from time to time, those sleepless nights still rear their ugly head. And when they do, I have to make a conscious effort to leave my phone where it is.