Doomscrolling and its effects on mental health

September 2022

Guest blogger, James, reflects on his own experience of doomscrolling, how to recognise it and how to ensure that it doesn't adversely impact your mental health

I've often spent too much time consuming news media, particularly negative news, online. And I've often thought that this habit has a negative impact on my mental wellbeing.

For a long time, however, I was unsure what to label this - nor did I have any concrete evidence to support my feeling that it was negatively impacting my mental health.

This is until I came across an article recently published by The Guardian. The article, called ‘Doomscrolling linked to poor physical and mental health, study finds’, explained the term, the tendency to scroll through bad news, even thought it is depressing, and reported that a study linked the tendency to poor physical and mental health.

This study was published in the academic journal, Health Communication, last month. It found that out of 1,100 Americans, 27.3 per cent suffered from “moderately problematic” levels of news consumption and a further 16.5 per cent suffered from “severely problematic” levels. Of those with “severely problematic” levels of news consumption, 74 per cent reported having experienced problems with their mental health and 61 per cent reported having experienced issues with their physical health, compared to eight per cent and 6.1 per cent respectively for those who did not have “severely problematic” levels.

We are living in troubled times of international conflict, the rising cost of living, environmental worries and the continuing effects of a global pandemic - so there's plenty of negative news to cover for sure. And we are constantly barraged with stories of such events on television, radio, computers and our smart phones - in this time of "always-on" communication.

Negative news stories sometimes grab our attention more than positive ones - and the old saying “if it bleeds it leads” expresses this very well.. I often find myself reading more negative stories than positive ones, scrolling through negative news item after negative news item. This then contributes to my low mood, but I also find that I read such stories when I am already in a low mood.

The authors of the study listed five news consumption habits of those with “severely problematic” levels: becoming absorbed in news content; being preoccupied with thoughts about the news; attempting to reduce anxiety by consuming more news; finding it difficult to avoid the news; and having news consumption interfere in their daily life.

These habits can leave people feeling worried, down and as if the world is a dark and dangerous place. I certainly find myself exhibiting many of these habits and thinking of the world as a dark place after periods of doomscrolling.

However, there are some strategies we can use to avoid these habits:

  • The moment you find yourself being tempted to look at the news, distract and occupy yourself with doing something else, or even by walking away from the television, phone or computer
  • Limit your news consumption, only read or watch news at limited and specific times of the day. For instance, try only watching the news at 6pm
  • Try reading more positive news stories, rather than reading the top stories. Search out some positive ones instead
  • Have certain days in the week off from consuming news stories. Though we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to current events, it is healthy to take a good break
  • After reading the news, remind yourself of the positives in life and the things you have to be grateful for
  • Take a break from social media. Though we might not think of social media as news, much of the news we read or hear about it is filtered through to us via social media.

I personally find taking a break from social media a great way of dealing with doomscrolling.

I also find limiting the days and time I spend reading news another great way of managing my doomscrolling tendency. It means that I have less time to waste, meaning that I spend my time efficiently reading up on the most important stories and then moving on with my day.

In a world of ubiquitous communication, it can be difficult to avoid bad news and it probably isn't healthy to avoid it completely. However, we can be more aware of our daily habits to ensure that bad news doesn't consume us and impact our mood and well-being.