So many of us do it: You get into bed, turn off the lights, and look at your phone to check Twitter one more time.
You see that coronavirus infections are up. Maybe your kids can’t go back to school. The economy is cratering.
Still, you incessantly scroll though bottomless doom-and-gloom news for hours as you sink into a pool of despair.
This self-destructive behavior has become so common that a new word for it has entered our lexicon: “doomscrolling.”
The recent onslaught of dystopian stories related to the coronavirus pandemic, combined with stay-at-home orders, have enabled our penchant for binging on bad news. But the habit is eroding our mental health, experts say.
Karen Ho, a finance reporter for Quartz, has been tweeting about doomscrolling every day over the past few months, often alongside a gentle nudge to stop and engage in healthier alternatives.
Ho first saw the term in a Twitter post from October 2018, although the word may very well have much earlier origins.
“The practice of doomscrolling is almost a normalized behavior for a lot of journalists, so once I saw the term I was like, ‘Oh, this is a behavior I’ve been doing for several years,’ ” she says.
If Ho’s daily reminders aren’t enough to break the habit, clinical psychologist Dr. Amelia Aldao warns that doomscrolling traps us in a “vicious cycle of negativity” that fuels our anxiety.
“Our minds are wired to look out for threats,” she says. “The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them, the more anxious we get.”
That grim content can then throw a dark filter how you see the world, says Aldao.
“Now you look around yourself, and everything feels gloomy, everything makes you anxious. So you go back to look for more information.”
The cycle continues.
Aldao, the director of Together CBT, a clinic that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, has worked with her patients to cut back on doomscrolling.
Here’s some of her advice on how to temper the doom:
Set a timer
I work mostly with clients who experience anxiety and part of what I’ve been doing with them now for weeks, for months, is actually setting limits to how much they’re scrolling. And I literally tell them, “Set up a timer.”
You do want to know what’s happening in the world, so the solution isn’t to never go online again, but it’s finding boundaries.
Going into it, opening up your phone, reminding yourself why you’re there, what are you looking for, what information are you trying to find. And then periodically checking in with yourself — have I found what I needed?
Swap ‘vicious cycles’ for ‘virtuous cycles’
Whether it’s ice cream, connecting with friends, sending something funny to a friend — those are the things we should spend more time doing just to build positive emotions in our lives.
Danny Hensel and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited the audio for this story. Emma Bowman produced it for the Web.