Are you consuming too much negative news and social media at night? Your lack of restorative sleep, mood triggers, and ramped up anxiety are good reasons to take back control!
This year, I feel as if, collectively, we are glued to our screens even more than usual. From Zoom calls to social media scrolling, many of us spend hours per day on our computer, phone, and/or television screens. Given the amount of time we spend engrossed in the virtual world, how we spend this time can have a significant impact on our mental health. In many ways, certain online habits can be detrimental to our well-being, leading to an increase in depressive, obsessive, and anxious thinking patterns.
Are You Doom Scrolling Again?
“Doom scrolling” is a term that has gained popularity this year, but what exactly is it? The L.A.Times’ Mark Barabak defined it as “an excessive amount of screen time devoted to the absorption of dystopian news.” You may have also heard the related concept of “doomsurfing,” a term that seems to describe exposing oneself to an excess of negative news content related to the world health crisis, “falling into deep, morbid rabbit holes … agitating myself to the point of physical discomfort, erasing any hope of a good night’s sleep.” Whether it’s “surfing” or “scrolling,” such behaviors have a way of sucking us into a vortex of negativity, essentially acting as “emotional quicksand.”
Effects of Doom Scrolling
Many of us—including myself—currently are exhibiting such behaviors, which can quickly take a toll on our well-being. As with other behaviors, a lack of boundaries can be pretty damaging to one’s physical and mental health.
When we excessively consume such negative content at night, it isn’t hard to determine what might be interfering with our ability to get restorative sleep. Who can rest and wind down with a mind racing, full of alarming headlines? As with many others with mood disorders, I know from personal experience that sleep disturbances can trigger mood episodes. Therefore, those of us with bipolar disorder may need to be even more mindful when it comes to the impact that doom scrolling has on our routines, sleep, anxiety levels, mood symptoms, and other aspects of our lives.
Although there have yet to be clinical studies on doom scrolling specifically, clinical psychologist Dr. Kari Stephens of UW Neighborhood Northgate Clinic states that it can lead to rumination. And rumination is linked to anxiety and to depressive symptomatology. Dr. Stephens says that being a doom scroller doesn’t necessarily cause clinical depression or anxiety disorders, but there may be a noticeable shift in one’s mood and/or anxiety. Ironically, for many, doom scrolling stems from anxiety about the uncertainty of what will come, yet it leads to even more anxiety, creating an anxiety downward spiral. According to Dr. Stephens, “With doom scrolling, a lot of it can come from anxiety about what will happen next. It’s attempting to control the uncontrollable.”
Tips for Setting Boundaries with Doom Scrolling
Especially since many of our usual activities and daily routines either are on pause or have shifted online, it is easy to get sucked into pervasive negativity. Even more so if we are in the midst of a depressive episode or are struggling with the anxiety that can complicate bipolar disorder. To avoid the downward mood spiral created by doom scrolling, it’s important to examine and create your boundaries:
First, recognize your patterns: What are your triggers when it comes to doom scrolling and getting stuck in the negative-news cycle?
Limit your exposure to negative news media and/or social media. You can do this in two ways: (a) Schedule short “news update” time slots in your daily or weekly calendar (helpful hint: to reduce possible negative effects on your sleep, restrict those update time slots to mornings or afternoons). (b) Take a complete break—or “digital detox”—from the news and/or social media for a set period of time (helpful hint: continue to track your mood and bipolar symptoms throughout the break).
Last, instead of drowning in negative news, replace this behavior with enjoyable activities. It is important to also relax after reading the news and to focus on the positive.
Is There a Shift Ahead?
A brand-new term related to this phenomenon has gotten my attention: “gleefreshing.” According to Mashable, “gleefreshing” is one of the new words used to describe the opposite of doom scrolling, and many people are a fan of the word. Many people are glued to their screens, yet “the doom scrolling clouds have suddenly parted. I’m constantly refreshing my timeline, but it doesn’t feel anxiety-provoking and soul-crushing like usual,” writes Heather Schwedel of Slate. She continues, “Gleefreshing has no real chance of edging out doom scrolling as the definitive experience of 2020,” but she notes that we should enjoy this positive change while it lasts.
Taking Back Control
I’ve recognized that it is time to embrace more healthy behaviors when it comes to my on-screen time. This includes setting clear boundaries with reading news coverage and scrolling through social media. Instead of constantly clicking the refresh button, it is time to engage in my favorite activities and hobbies—perhaps a Zoom party or an outdoor stroll.
Other suggestions that I’ve found to be helpful include the following:
Use the block/unfollow buttons as needed.
“Mute” sensitive or triggering keywords.
Purposefully create a timeline or newsfeed of positivity (rather than allowing unseen algorithms to populate your feed with negative content that makes you feel worse about yourself or the world at large).
In a year during which a lot feels out of our control, remember that we are in control of how we choose to consume the news and social media. And, as we move closer to the end of this calendar year, let’s try to leave doom scrolling behind and enter 2021 with a more positive mindset supported by healthy, life-affirming habits.
Anja Burcak is a freelance journalist and blogger with a passion for mental health advocacy. She often writes about mania, depression, and anxiety, from a first-person perspective. Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (Type 1) in 2016, she has insight into the struggles many face with finding the right diagnosis, treatment, and providers. Anja often uses creative approaches for psychoeducational purposes, including forms such as social media posts, drawings, infographics, and photography. She hopes that sharing her story on her The Calculating Mind WordPress blog will create more open, honest conversations about mental illnesses, fighting the stigma one post at a time. She plans to expand to new mediums and platforms, including vlogging, podcasts, mental wellness apps, and blog collaborations. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.
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