Recently, I’ve been noticing that all my friends and I are basically dependent on bad news. And in 2020, we’ve gotten nothing short of that. Between checking the coronavirus numbers on a daily basis (still), and watching presidential debates that basically feel like episodes of a reality TV show, it is safe to say that the level of serotonin that I receive from the internet is negligent.
Cue in “doomscrolling:” a term referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. This has definitely peaked in the era of COVID-19 and bad politics where many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news without the ability to stop or step back. Turns out, I wasn’t the only person having this experience in 2020—endlessly scrolling down heaps of bad news and not being able to stop.
But here’s the catch, apparently, there’s a good scientific reason as to why we feel so inclined to keep up with tragic happenings. According to the media psychologist Pamela Rutledge,: “The tendency to doomscroll is a result of how the human brain is wired. Our brains instinctively pay attention to any potentially dangerous situation as part of the biological imperative of survival. Our brains are designed to constantly scan the horizon for potential threats. Since threats are more important to our survival than other information, we pay more attention to the negative things than the positive. When there are no answers or are conflicting answers, more information doesn’t increase our sense of safety, so we scroll in pursuit of better answers, and so on.”
Combine this with the tactics that social media platforms use to keep us on our toes, doomscrolling is almost inevitable. As you may have already figured out, this impacts us very negatively. After all, too much negative information biases our perceptions, and makes the world appear so much more dangerous, stressful and uncertain. This is why there are systems that we can put in place in order to not be all consumed by the news cycle and heaps of negative news.
First of all, being aware of our penchant for the negative is a first step towards dismantling it. Remember that there is always good news out there. But if you want to be more proactive, you can actively schedule breaks to step away: use your phone’s built-in system of locking apps after you’ve been on them for a certain time. Maybe even put your phone in another room and pick up a book, but generally speaking, try to spend less time online and don’t feed the machine that will in turn feed you negativity. Be smart, and be kind to yourself. We’ve had a tough year.