The chaos of 2020 has forged a new word for our collective vocabulary: doomscrolling. This turn of phrase describes the endless scroll through social media posts in an era of COVID-19, political unrest, and social distancing. Today on the blog, we’ll explore the ways in which doomscrolling jeopardizes your mental health.
Smartphones by the Numbers
When we purchased our first smartphones, few of us ever believed that our dependence on them would become so total. Looking at the numbers, it’s hard to deny that most of us spend hours each day reading news stories and liking social posts. According to an article from Kommando Tech…
- Today, there are over 3 billion smartphone users worldwide,
- Americans spend around 5.4 hours on their phones each day, and
- People check their phones 58 times per day on average.
Since smartphone usage has become so prevalent in our society, it stands to reason that these devices would become our access point for breaking news during a time of global crisis. Unfortunately, this has created some unforeseen consequences.
Doomscrolling: A Familiar Routine
For many of us, scrolling through social media is an ingrained habit that has only worsened since the start of the pandemic. Once we entered lockdown in early March, people began searching for answers online. This instinct makes sense – we want more information about current events, and the internet is usually where we find it. However, for a great number of Americans, these late-night scrolling sessions produce nothing but anxiety, agitation, and discomfort.
While nights spent on social media are nothing new, they used to center around sporting events, season finales, and reality television. Today, the only thing to watch is the 24-hour news cycle: a daunting mixture of COVID-19, vote count chaos, protests for racial justice, rising unemployment… the list goes on.
It’s admirable to stay informed, but unfortunately, much of the information gleaned from a doomscrolling session just isn’t true or helpful. While platforms like Twitter have attempted to introduce fact-checking measures, they have since issued statements saying that they “are NOT attempting to address all misinformation.” This means that while some posts may be flagged, social networking sites still allow users to publish and share false findings, misleading data, and potentially harmful assumptions.
Put simply, while we’re all compulsively looking for answers online, we’re actually unlikely to find anything meaningful in our search. Instead, we are liable to fuel our anxiety and depression.
So how exactly does doomscrolling affect your mental health, and what can you do to break this cycle?
Mental Health Consequences of Heavy Phone Use
Heavy smartphone usage itself is associated with poor mental health. One literature review documented that increased phone use can increase mental distress, suicidality, and self-injurious behavior among youth. They also found evidence of association with chronic sleep deprivation, negative effects on cognitive control, worsened school performance, reduced self-esteem, and poor socioemotional functioning.
Social media, a key function of these devices, carries its own set of risks. Researchers have documented that social networking sites increase feelings of envy, anxiety, and depression in college-aged adults. When all of this information is considered, it makes perfect sense that 2020 would produce a weaponized form of smartphone usage. In an era of social distancing and rapidly developing news stories, we have all turned to our devices for updates and guidance. So, what can we do to combat the mental health effects of doomscrolling?
How to Stop Doomscrolling
Luckily, there are several steps you can take to break the seemingly endless cycle of problematic social media use. The next time you’re feeling anxious, try the following.
Set timers. iOS and Android both contain built-in features which can help you to limit your use of certain apps. We recommend restricting your use of social media platforms and news sites to 30 minutes per day: the amount of time recommended by experts. This way, you can stay informed without overwhelming yourself.
Find a distraction. If you can feel yourself getting worked up about what you’re reading, put down your phone and find something else to do. Distract yourself by striking up a conversation with your spouse, tidying up the room you’re in, making a gratitude list, going on a walk – whatever helps you to reset.
Reallocate that time. If the average American is spending hours on their phone each day, there’s no question that we could be using our time more wisely. The next time you feel compelled to scroll through socials, redirect that time to your recovery instead. Attend a virtual meeting, write about your journey, or read a blog post from someone you admire. Being mindful about your sobriety can help to protect your mental health.
Avoid scrolling at night. When you’re in bed, doomscrolling is at its worst. Not only does the blue light from your device throw off your circadian rhythm, but you’re essentially sitting in the dark with nothing to take your mind off of the words on your screen. Designate the mornings as your time for social media consumption and make your bed a phone-free zone. Trust us, you’ll sleep better.
Ongoing Support During COVID-19
We understand the stressors you’re facing during 2020. Lakeside-Milam is still open for those who require addiction and mental health counseling in the era of COVID-19. Our clinicians are taking every precaution to continue providing lifechanging care in Washington state. For more information about our services, contact Lakeside-Milam today.