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COVID-19 “Doomscrolling”: Its Effects & How To Avoid It

Find yourself checking your social media, moreover Facebook and Twitter, in-and-around 10 times each day? You may be guilty of “doomscrolling”, a habit that has increased significantly since COVID-19 has hit. Explained by Ariane Ling, Ph.D., residing at NYU’s Langone Health, it entails endlessly scrolling down social media or news apps, simply reading really bad news, and according to the clinical assistant professor and psychologist, the pandemic has “exacerbated” this habit, especially since there is no limit to the “doomsday” news out there.

Does this sound like something you guilty of as of late? Don’t feel too ashamed about it, as you aren’t alone! Facebook use has increased by about 27% as of late, while daily use of Twitter has also gone up by 24%. 

With that said, “doomscrolling” can have its effects on a person. Past studies have revealed that social media has been linked to enhanced feelings around loneliness and depression; therefore, increased use of social media apps, especially during a pandemic where self-isolation and social distancing has also been needed, also up the chances around mental health issues. As noted by Dr. Carla Marie Manly, while many may feel it’s important to stay on top of current news, the over-consumption around bad news can lead to increased stress, fear, and anxiety. It can also become an unsatisfying addiction: while users are trying to seek security, certainty, safety, and being in “the know” through tracking information, overly dramatic news can offer the exact opposite feelings.

Experts also agree that the very act of doomscrolling can disrupt nightly sleep, which thus affects performance for the following day. Thus, the mental health link to doomscrolling can also affect the physical body. Sleep interruption can have a vicious cycle, which causes individuals to feel low energy and sluggish throughout the day and potentially cause the need (and craving) for comfort food, and then overeating. This can in turn cause weight gain. In fact, over the long term, doomscrolling can enhance adrenaline and cortisol levels (stress hormones), which are linked to health issues like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

With that said, not everyone who partakes in doomscrolling sees “doom and gloom”. In fact, some scroll through social media as a distraction from the stress in their lives, at recent events are no exception to this rule. Facebook and Twitter can offer a way to escape the stresses of work, or potentially forget about any major issues going on in your own day-to-day lives.

If you are guilty of heightened anxiety, and can’t sleep at nights, as well as other health effects due to your doomscrolling, what should you do? The last thing you want to do is cut it out cold turkey; however, learning to cut back and establishing boundaries with social media and news apps is a good first step. Set timers when you open up an app for updates – one that will let you know once your 10 to 15 minutes is up. Users can also set up time limits on apps via the general settings on their devices. That way, the app will simply “blackout” once you have gone past time, offering a healthy balance around doomscrolling, without it affecting physical and mental health too much. 

Additionally, be in tune with your body and its reaction after a doomscroll. You may be following appropriate time boundaries, but if you are feeling a bit stressed or anxious, it still may be time to close the app, set it aside, take a break, and do something else.

Last, but not least, refrain from device use for at least an hour before bed. The blue light that emits from laptops, tablets, and smartphones stimulates and makes it that much harder to get the shuteye you need to tackle all the activities and challenges the next day. 

Most of us partake in doomscrolling, but understanding about what it does to us, and making appropriate changes to limit doing it, is a must to maintain a healthy (mental and physical) lifestyle. Yes, we are going through a pandemic and things are uncertain, but staying as healthy as we can, both body and mind is one step to help do our part to fight it.