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Can’t Stop Doomscrolling?

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What is “doomscrolling”? Have you found yourself scrolling through negative news or commentary such as political issues, climate change, COVID statistics, celebrity drama, etc? How do you feel during or afterward? Angry? Anxious? Irritated? Depressed? With the continued expansion of technology, this has become more and more common. Doomscrolling can take place on smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, and even channel surfing on TV. The more time spent doomscrolling, the higher risk of experiencing addictions, depression, anxiety, OCD, poor sleep, and more. 

POTENTIAL BRAIN EFFECTS

 

Scrolling through images and information online releases the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain. This makes it more difficult to stop once you start. Our brains are also wired to pay attention to frightening material. If we are in danger of being harmed by someone or something in our immediate environment, we need to be prepared and act fast. Watching negative news leads to increased anxiety and mood disturbance. Distracting your mind with other information such as lectures does not help, but engaging in stress relieving activities such as progressive muscle relaxation does (Szabo & Hopkinson, 2007). Chronic stress exposure can negatively impact the structure of your brain and may have neurotoxic effects. You may be at greater risk if you experienced early life stressors (Lupien, Juster, Raymond, & Marin 2018). Though interactive technologies may be beneficial in ways, extensive screen time can also lead to disruptions including attention-deficit symptoms, social isolation, impaired social and emotional intelligence, and disrupted sleep (Small, Lee, Kaufman, Jalil, Siddarth, Gaddipati, Moody & Bookheimer 2020).

 

RELATED UNHEALTHY BEHAVIORS 

 

  • Impaired Sleep: Searching through distressing information can raise your level of alertness and make it more difficult to go to sleep. Not getting enough sleep can lead to mood disturbance including irritability, depression, and anxiety.


  • Unhealthy Snacking: Increased stress often leads to unhealthy snacking behaviors such as reaching for sugary treats. Excess sugar has been linked to mood changes such as increased anxiety and depression.


  • Substance Use: People often turn to substances to help reduce anxiety and stress, though this may lead to more undesired issues. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can lead to more impulsive behavior. Marijuana can impair short-term memory, reduce concentration, and can increase the risk for psychosis. 


  • Relationship and Communication Problems: You may find that your friends and family may not want to hear about the negative information you are exposing yourself to or they may have a different perspective than you. Does doomscrolling take valuable time away that you could be spending with loved ones? Have you ever found yourself in an argument with someone based on something you read or saw while doomscrolling?


  • Aggression: If the information you are exposing yourself makes you feel angry or irritable, it is likely you may unintentionally take it out on others such as loved ones at home or strangers on social media platforms.  


  • Feelings of Isolation: Doomscrolling is often done on an individual basis. The more time you spend doing this, the less time you may be spending directly interacting with others. 


  • Reduced Interest in Other Activities: The more you engage in doomscrolling, you may notice decreased interest in other activities you used to enjoy. This is called anhedonia, and is often a symptom of depression.

 

Doomscrolling

7 TIPS TO REDUCE DOOMSCROLLING

1) Set time boundaries for scrolling. Try only one time during the day for only 10-15 minutes.

2) Go on with information fast. Maybe start with 1 whole day of no doomscrolling and increase from there if you find it beneficial.

3) Scroll for positive news too. Shift your algorithm by typing new, interesting, and positive topics into your searches.

4) Pause before posting. Impulsive posting can cause regret later. Count to 30 or 60 before following through with that post.

5) Turn off notifications and set up blocks or filters on your devices to reduce exposure.

6) Keep devices out of your bedroom. This will deter from impulsively scrolling in bed, which can lead to sleep disruptions.

7) Spend time in nature or engaging in physical world activities in person with other people.

 

References:

Szabo A, Hopkinson KL. Negative psychological effects of watching the news in the television: relaxation or another intervention may be needed to buffer them! Int J Behav Med. 2007;14(2):57-62. doi: 10.1007/BF03004169. PMID: 17926432. 

Small, G. W., Lee, J., Kaufman, A., Jalil, J., Siddarth, P., Gaddipati, H., Moody, T. D., & Bookheimer, S. Y. (2020). Brain health consequences of digital technology use. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 22(2), 179–187.

Lupien SJ, Juster RP, Raymond C, Marin MF. The effects of chronic stress on the human brain: From neurotoxicity, to vulnerability, to opportunity. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2018 Apr;49:91-105. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.02.001. Epub 2018 Feb 5. PMID: 29421159. 

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