Doom scrolling, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the tendency to keep surfing or scrolling through bad news, even if that news is distressing, discouraging, or depressing”. For many, it’s a habit born of the pandemic — and one that’s likely to continue.
Some health experts recommend limiting access to social media to mitigate the negative effects of doom scrolling, and popular magazines emphasize the risks of social media addiction. According to the BBC, the barrage of negative coverage of doom scrolling has led some people to ditch their smartphones altogether.
While research showing the negative effects of doom-scrolling is compelling and the recommendations clear, few of us seem to follow this well-intentioned advice. Here are a few reasons for this.
First, it might not be such a good idea to block news in times of crisis. Second, many of us do not respond well to the question of what we can and cannot do.
Finally, it can worsen if you are asked not to do something. It can push us into a negative frame of mind and make us less likely to change our behavior.
Instead of stopping doom-scrolling, what if we got better at managing it?
It is helpful to start by recognizing that seeking news and information in times of crisis is completely normal. This response is embedded in us humans.
Staying alert to danger is part of our survival mechanism. Collecting information and preparing for threats have been key to our survival for millennia.
We now face many threats: a war in Europe that could escalate into a nuclear conflict. This pandemic has already killed millions of people, and predictions of a climate catastrophe, among many other natural disasters and human conflicts worldwide.
In this context, it is unsurprising that we want to be alert to danger. Wanting to learn more about what’s happening and equip ourselves with the latest information is perfectly reasonable.
Rather than avoiding the news altogether, let’s ensure we get what we need from our interactions with the information. Here are five suggestions for achieving this.
1. Choose how much time you will invest in reading the news
Why not include all the ways you access the information? How much time per day do you think is reasonable? Once you have a time window, try to stick to it.
2. Be mindful of bias when choosing what to consume
Remember that you are the consumer and can choose what you want to learn. However, we must be aware of a tendency psychologists call ‘confirmation bias’. This is when we prefer information that supports our existing beliefs or points of view.
In other words, we sometimes look for news confirming our beliefs. This may have been one of the reasons why you clicked on this article. So be aware of this tendency and what you choose not to read.
3. Check the source
Every time you consume something, it is helpful to know the source. Who posted this information? Why are they sharing it with you? Are they trying to convince you of something? Are they trying to manipulate you into thinking or behaving a certain way?
Knowing the answers to these questions can help you control how you use the information collected.
4. Remember that things are not always black or white
We live in an increasingly polarized world. According to psychologists, ‘polarized thinking’ is a cognitive distortion (falling error) that can occur when we are under pressure. There is a tendency to see things as black or white rather than recognizing that we live in a world of many colors and shades of gray.
Find ways to hold strong points of view while remaining curious about other opinions. Selecting and consuming articles that represent different opinions can support this.
5. Be biased toward the positive
One reason doom scrolling can be so harmful is that many of us are attracted to negative information. Psychologists call this the “negativity bias.” From an evolutionary perspective, it has been important to prioritize negative stimuli (threats such as predators) over positive incentives (enjoying the warmth of a summer day).
To counter this tendency, we can assume a bias towards the positive when we consume news. Practically, this means we look for positive news stories to balance our experience with staying current.
Properly managed, you can stay updated with the latest news, feel more informed, and respond when needed. If we’re going to do doom scroll, let’s do it right.
Christian van Nieuwerburgh, professor of coaching and positive psychology, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.