How To Prevent Yourself From Being Destroyed By Doomscrolling
Avoid one of the greatest mental health threats
You’ve just opened your eyes. It’s still dark because you haven’t opened the curtains. Owing to the darkness, you can’t figure out what time it is. You hunt for your phone with half-open eyes and check the time.
6 AM it is. “Ah, I got up a few minutes early today. I wonder what’s up with the news. I could be missing some important update…” you think.
Then begins the soul-sucking thumb action to feed yourself information about how the world is going to end, your money will vanish, and how people in jumpsuits can knock on your door anytime to see if you have ‘The Virus.’
The more you read, the more you can feel doomsday breathing down your neck. It’s safe to say that all plans of a reflective, calm morning are thrown out of the window at this point.
But don’t worry, it isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s so prevalent that it’s earned its own name — Doomscrolling. And if this sounds a bit familiar, then you, my friend, could be a ‘Doomscroller.’
(To be honest, I prefer the name ‘Doomsurfing’.)
In any case, it’s the act of endless scrolling to bombard yourself with one bad news after the other.
A lot of people I know subscribe to or bookmark websites that show real-time cases and death tolls. And how can I forget the ultimate elephant in the room — social media.
Doomscrolling has come up as a major problem in 2020. Before this, addictive scrolling wasn’t as bad. Yes, you ruined your mental health by seeing the photos of Instagram influencers, but at least it wasn’t as bad it is now.
With the pandemic on our heads, the only thing we could binge-watch is coronavirus news, death tolls, and active cases in different parts of the world.
Binging on celebrity gossip is one thing. But binging on stressful, and life-threatening news is a whole another game. The algorithms behind all the platforms are quite similar — they push trending news to the top.
And during such times of civil unrest, they can’t help but show the stress that the world is going through. This puts us in constant fight-or-flight mode to the point where you can’t operate. If you get too sucked into it, you can be paralyzed with fear thinking the world is coming to an end.
Fortunately, I took control of my social media habits a couple of years ago. Yet, the firehose of news during these times was a lot for me to bear.
But after controlling my impulsive attitudes again I know this for sure — no matter how much the world is pushing negative news on you, you can decide to not be a part of it.
Why We Get Sucked Into It in the First Place
When the coronavirus pandemic started, I was hooked to the news. I knew when our Prime Minister is going to give his live address, how many cases are in the states, which states rank the highest, what’s the status of the vaccine, and so on.
Apart from trying to make sense of the world, I was also trying to figure out my investment strategy. I thought I needed good ‘research’ and ‘stay updated’ with everything to make an ‘informed’ decision.
I couldn’t make millions out of the crash, but I did put my emotions on a rollercoaster.
News after news reminded me of how I can’t see my friends, go for meditation retreats I’d planned, visit the gym, and most of all, can’t meet new clients to close business deals.
Once I realized that keeping tabs on every piece of information wasn’t helping, I stopped caring about the news. As I left the negative news apps and websites, I found myself looking at the positive aspects of our predicament.
That’s when it hit me — contrary to what people think, there are still positive things happening all around us if we choose to pay attention.
And with this thought, I started wondering why we all get sucked into the negative spiral in the first place.
The fact of the matter is this — as humans, we’re primed to look out for bad news.
This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. If you’re a caveman, you need to always be looking for dangers. You couldn’t sleep well without having someone from your family watch out. If you don’t, a mammoth can uproot your house and bounce you around like sponge balls.
But in 2020, I’m glad we’re far from that. Yet, our brains still have the need to seek out dangers in life and avoid them with all our strength.
The Blue Dot Effect
…Or Prevalence-Induced Concept Change, if you’re a psychology-nerd.
A few researchers once took a few participants and showed them a few dots. A thousand to be precise.
All the participants had to do was to sit, stare at the screen and press the button “Blue” when a blue dot flashed on the screen. If a purple dot flashes, they had to press a button that said “Not Blue.”
Now, here’s the deal with all those dots. Most of them were blue, some were purple and others were mixed shades.
The researchers first showed a lot of blue dots. In this case, the participants were great at identifying the color of the dots. But things started to turn around when they showed a lot less blue dots.
When they showed more shades of purple, the participants mistook the dots as blue, still. It’s as if they were color blinded by the whole experience.
So how does it explain the vanity of pursuing happiness? The answer lies in what the researchers decided to do next, and then after that.
They replaced the dots with faces of people — threatening, friendly, or neutral. Then the same process repeated itself. They showed more threatening faces at that start than in the end. Participants were getting them right.
As time went on, they showed fewer threatening faces. But the participants again mistook the friendly or neutral faces as threatening. Just like the participants “expected” to see a certain number of blue dots, they also expected a certain number of threatening faces even if there were none.
Then they replaced the faces with resumes of people. Participants had to decide which ones looked ethical and which were unethical. The same pattern revealed itself. The more unethical resumes were shown, the more they expected people to be unethical, even if they were not.
To make it more personal, whenever we see someone being kind and generous, we immediately doubt them. We think there must be an ulterior motive behind the person’s actions or they’re trying to manipulate us. Just because we’ve seen a lot of bad guys, we start to look for bad guys even if there are none.
These are times of uncertainty. When we’re uncertain, we lookout for more information to feel better. We have a deep need to make sense of what’s going around us.
But what happens if most information is negative? Let me tell you. You feel more out of control. You feel even more uncertain. And it becomes a self-perpetuating feedback loop that you can’t get out of.
Blue Dot Effect + The Endless Barrage of Negative news = Stress, anxiety, and every other primal, negative emotion you can think of
It’s funny because most of us hop on the Internet to distract ourselves from what’s going around us. But the same platforms we use to escape are rubbing an even grosser outlook of reality in our faces.
It’s Time to Grab the Steering Wheel
To overcome your habit of Doomscrolling, it’s important to understand the issue here. More importantly, you need to understand what’s in your control.
The news stories themselves aren’t the issue. The issue is the internal narratives that you’re building after reading these stories — a recession is upon us, everyone will be infected, there’s no vaccine, there’s no end to this, some country has spread this virus intentionally, getting a job is so hard, and so on.
Getting sucked into such narratives leads to anxiety spirals that are completely normal. Media companies are supposed to do this if they want their stories to be read.
When we do get sucked into them, we lose touch with reality and with ourselves.
Here are different ways to avoid getting sucked into it
The first step to stop these thoughts is to be aware of them. Awareness precedes progress.
And there’s no better tool at hand than meditation. Meditation, more than anything else, brings your attention to the present moment.
When you’re in the present you realize that things are not as bad as the Internet says they are.
You can look outside at the trees, the roads, and the people walking. Life is going on well. Times are tough. But the world isn’t coming to an end.
When you find yourself on the brink of another doomscrolling session, do this:
Perform a forceful action such as throwing the phone on your bed or shutting down your laptop. This states your mind your strong intention to not get caught up in cycles of doom.
Then sit with your spine straight in a relaxed, yet focused or aware posture. Your posture matters a lot. For one, a straight spine allows energy to flow freely. Second, it’s a subconscious trigger, a kind of power pose, that tricks your mind into positive thinking.
Take a few deep breaths. Follow a simple exercise of ‘even-count breathing’ — Breathe in for 6 seconds, hold for 6 seconds, and breathe out for 6 seconds. Once you’re done exhaling, breathe in again immediately. This helps you to calm your mind and get some energy flowing to your brain
Breath naturally and watch your thoughts floating in your mind. Let all the anxieties come at the top. Think of a hollow seed when put in water — it automatically floats on the surface. So just observe the thoughts on the surface of your mind for a few moments.
Now visualize yourself letting these anxieties go one by one. Once you’ve let them go, bring your attention to the breath. If your attention drifts away, gently bring it back. Continue this for a few minutes.
Now, look at the situation as it is. Forget what the Internet guys said. Forget what you think about the situation. Just see how it actually is. Maintain an attitude of acceptance and curiosity.
Ask yourself — “Is there anything I can do about this right now?” Oftentimes you can’t do anything which is all the more a reason to let it go. Let’s say you were ruminating about your career then think about how you can develop the right skills or reach out to the right people in these difficult times. Worrying will not help, but taking action will.
Once you’ve identified your immediate action, sit in silence to enjoy the calmness you’re feeling and open your eyes.
If you do this every time you feel the shackles of negative news approaching you, you’ll train yourself to not get caught up in the false narratives of the world
One of the best things you can do is connect with others. When you spend time with people you care about, you subconsciously affirm that things are okay. It’s uplifting and joyful which is exactly what you need to battle the news-induced negative emotions.
Further, you can form a support group with your friends and relatives to keep each other accountable for avoiding doomscrolling.
In a world where most of us are trapped in our homes, blurring the boundaries between day and night, it’s all the more important to connect with the people we love.
Limit Or Block Certain Apps From Your Phone
The best way is to use software that can help you schedule moments of your day to check the news. This gives the control back in your hands rather than the hands of the media companies.
I use a couple of such apps and other tricks to keep my laptop, phone, and tablet clean from such news and drama. You can read all about it here: How To Ruthlessly Clean Your Devices To Focus Better Willpower won’t workmedium.com
Some Other Tips
Reduce the number of accounts you follow: If you can’t block these apps, the first step would be to unfollow these accounts. One of the prime reasons we get addicted to news is the sheer novelty of it. The fewer profiles you follow, the fewer novelty you’ll experience. Soon, you’ll reach the same post you saw yesterday. This is a great hack to reduce the dopamine hit you get.
Get outside: Nature can heal everything. A short walk can change your mental state instantly.
Make time for creativity: Shift your focus from consumption to creation. Pick any creative pursuits like writing, painting, etc, and get started. If you don’t find anything, just generate ideas.
Avoid using screens 1–2 hours before and after sleep: Keep your phone in another room so you don’t reach out for it when you wake up.
Doomscrolling is a terrible habit to fall into. But there’s a lot of hope at the end of the tunnel.
Even though the media companies are promoting negative news and even though you’re wired to pay attention to them, it’s easier to withdraw your attention than you think.
Combined with meditation as well as a few habit-changing tricks, you can get out of it in no time.
The time to rein in your doomscrolling habit is today.
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