Addicted to bad news: How ‘doomscrolling’ is affecting your mental health

Addicted to bad news: How ‘doomscrolling’ is affecting your mental health

Often find yourself ‘down the rabbithole’, scrolling through negative stories, articles and posts for hours on end? If the news is making you feel anxious, it might be time to unplug from your phone for a while.

What is doomscrolling?

Doomscrolling is when you do exactly what we described above: sit on your device for long periods of time, consuming bad news. The term has gained popularity in recent years relating to significant events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 US election, natural disasters, and conflicts in the Middle East and Europe.

Because social media platforms serve content using algorithms, you’re more likely to see content that’s similar to content you’ve engaged with before, or that people who share interests or a location with you have engaged with. This means it’s more likely if you’ve looked at ‘bad news’ content before and you’ve spent time engaging with it, you’ll be served more – and before you know it, you’re doomscrolling.

News anxiety is nothing new – but it’s on the rise  

Fear and anxiety around the state of the world and possible future scenarios are not limited to the 21st century (even ancient texts tell tales of the end of the world or invaders from faraway places). The difference today is that our constant access to information, particularly news and opinions, means we can ‘confirm’ our fears with a quick online search or by opening our social media apps. In fact, negative content gets twice as much engagement on social media than positive content.

The psychological effects of excessive consumption of negative or threatening content can be serious, especially if you have preexisting mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety. Feelings of fear, hopelessness, sadness and isolation are all associated with doomscrolling and news anxiety and, in extreme cases, the symptoms can mirror PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Consuming happy or calming content on the other hand can improve a person’s outlook and make them more likely to perceive their own personal challenges in a more positive way. 

The best way to reduce news anxiety sounds simple, but it can be tough to do in practice: stop reading bad news.

Unplug and recharge

More than ever we are relying on our phones to provide information about every aspect of life, including weather, navigation, and even what everyone is doing at any given moment in time. Do you rely on your phone for constant connection and information and find yourself feeling anxious or concerned if you aren’t able

to check your phone for an extended period of time – or even for 15 minutes?

Smartphone addiction is a real problem in today’s society and as part of recovering your mind and wellbeing ‘unplugging’ may be useful. A Kent State University study showed that higher mobile phone usage correlates to higher anxiety levels.

Aside from the obvious productivity benefits, there are health benefits also: without your smart phone to provide hours of distraction you may find yourself heading outside, doing some exercise, playing with your children or pets or just doing another activity that may have otherwise been forgotten. If you just come home and sit on the couch with your smart phone in hand and scroll for hours upon hours you deny yourself these other opportunities.

Apps to help you spend less time on your phone

Apps can be a great help when reducing the time you spend on your smartphone. One to try is Forest by Seektech. This is a fun app where you grow your own tree by not leaving the app to check news or other apps. If you leave the Forest app screen, your tree dies and you have to start all over again.

Another useful app that goes into more depth and helps you understand the time you spend on your phone and how you spend most of this time is SPACE. This app will track your phone usage and report back. Available for iPhone and Android.

Try a 24-hour tech cleanse

“Spending just one day away from social media can be one of the best things you can do for your mental health.” - Rare Thoughts

Could you stay off your phone for 24 hours? Can your text messages and social media wait until tomorrow? If 24 hours is too much of a challenge, start with a two-hour challenge and work your way up each day by an hour or so.

You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve when you aren’t falling into the social media rabbit hole. Host an ‘Unplugged’ dinner party: ask guests to leave their phones in a box by the door and set a fun challenge for anyone who can’t resist checking their phone, e.g. whoever checks their phone first has to do the dishes tonight!

Reach out for support

As the largest private provider of mental health care in Australia, Ramsay Mental Health is dedicated to making a real difference in the lives of those we treat.

Our clinics offer a range of services designed to support people experiencing  anxiety. If you have been affected by news anxiety or doomscrolling, our expert team can assist you in creating a plan to help get your mental health back on track.