A Psychiatrist Shares 6 Ways to Stop Doomscrolling

What Doomscrolling Does to Your Brain

C’mon, admit it. Have you been diving headfirst into bottomless rabbit holes of depressing COVID statistics? Thumbing endless hateful political threads on Twitter that make you irritated and angry? Compulsively scanning your social media pages for posts that drive your anxiety?

Sounds like you’ve been “doomscrolling.”

The act of scrolling through your phone or computer for content that causes physical and mental distress is becoming more and more common these days. It’s so widespread now that the word doomscrolling has been recognized by Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com.

Spending hours doomscrolling for stress-provoking content causes changes in your brain that drive anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive behavior, and addictions.

Spending hours doomscrolling for stress-provoking content causes changes in your brain that drive anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive behavior, and addictions. Click To Tweet

WHAT DOOMSCROLLING DOES TO YOUR BRAIN

Think of doomscrolling like pouring toxic doom-and-gloom thoughts into your brain. The constant frightening images activate the brain’s fear circuits (amygdala), making you feel chronically anxious and afraid. Information is like crack. Brain-imaging research in a 2019 issue of PNAS found that information triggers the dopamine-fueled reward system in the same way as food, money, or even drugs. The authors suggest this neural mechanism explains why we are susceptible to clickbait.

Doomscrolling is like clickbait on steroids.

Neuroscience shows us that the human brain is wired for negativity and pays extra attention to anything that might harm us. That’s why all those scare-inducing headlines about spiking COVID cases, outrageous political maneuvers, looting, and rioting keep you glued.

In a survey from the American Psychological Association, 56% of people said that regularly following the news causes stress. That’s just “following” the news, not even close to the obsessive clicking and consumption that comes with doomscrolling. Over time, elevated stress hormones shrink the major memory centers in your brain, increase inflammation, and put excessive fat around your waist

With each click, you feel more anxious, more hopeless, more stressed. That fuels unhealthy behaviors.

HOW DOOMSCROLLING DRIVES UNHEALTHY BEHAVIOR

When you’re stressed to the max, you’re more likely to stay up late and skimp on sleep, more inclined to indulge in sugary treats that increase anxiousness and bad moods, and more apt to reach for an alcoholic drink or marijuana to calm your nerves. But these behaviors backfire.

  • Lack of sleep: A night of staring at the ceiling can make you wake up feeling angry, irritable, sad, or stressed the next day; lower your ability to concentrate; and impair your judgment. For example, research shows that teenagers who on average get an hour less sleep at night were 38% more likely to feel sad and hopeless, 42% more likely to consider suicide, 58% more likely to attempt suicide, and 23% more likely to engage in substance abuse.
  • Not-so-sweet treats: Giving in to cravings for sugar or refined carbs causes blood sugar levels to spike and, subsequently, causes them to crash. This rollercoaster effect can impact your moods and mental wellbeing. Research shows that high-sugar diets and blood sugar issues are associated with anxiety, depression, irritability, anger, and trouble concentrating.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol lowers activity in the prefrontal cortex, which increases impulsivity, making you more likely to get caught up in a nasty Twitter debate, ignore your significant other while you continue doomscrolling, or to stay up until the wee hours of the morning even though you have a big presentation due at work the next day.
  • Marijuana: Research shows marijuana impairs short-term memory, contributes to learning and attention problems, reduces focus and coordination, and increases the risk for psychosis. In fact, a 2019 study in The Lancet Psychiatry found that potent cannabis may be associated with 10% of new cases of psychosis. That can make doomscrolling even more frightening.
  • Relationship problems: For every person who is addicted to doomscrolling and blurting out all the scary info they discover, there is likely a significant other who doesn’t want to hear it. Or your dysfunctional love affair with your devices may be keeping you from paying attention to your spouse or partner and causing marital conflict.

6 STEPS TO STOP DOOMSCROLLING

If you want to kick your doomscrolling habit, follow these steps.

  1. Set time limits for scrolling. No more than 15 minutes at any one time.
  2. Add good news to your daily scrolling. Make it a rule to start and end your day with some positivity, such as the inspiring stories you can find at the Good News Network.
  3. Go on an intermittent information fast. Mentally unplug from your news sources on a regular basis.
  4. If you’re tempted to send a snarky reply to a post, say “STOP” and count to 10 before hitting the send button.
  5. Set up blocks and filters on your devices. If certain news sites or social media sites are particularly distressing, block them.
  6. Make your bedroom a technology-free zone and don’t use any devices right before bedtime, or it may make it hard to sleep.

Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mood swings, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

10 Comments

  1. A lot of people will be in denial about this (i’m one of them)….but at least quietly, maybe they’ll start changing their situation for their own good once awareness takes hold. excellent article by the way

    Comment by Nadine Parkes — December 21, 2020 @ 1:42 AM

  2. Excellent! This is an awesome piece, I have shared it and hope others do as well!!!

    Comment by Daniel j Callahan — December 23, 2020 @ 4:15 AM

  3. I can agree with this concept…I have unsubscribed from emails from certain websites due to their “negative” views on various things. I typically have been interested in alternative viewpoints…but not to the point of idiocy.

    Simple reality for myself is that I need to avoid the corona virus and COVID-19…and I need to avoid the considerable numbers of people who don’t “beleive” in it….some apparently even after ending up in an ICU and on the verge of dying.

    I more or less self-isolate most of the time and try to avoid excuses for going out for this and that. I always wear a mask. Use hand cleaner. I need to watch and discipline myself…since for the most part I only READ about COVID-19…but I’d only need to “catch” it once to know all about it…then it’s a bit late?

    I will take the vaccine when it’s available…though I avoid the flu shot and try to strengthen my immune system instead.

    Trying to accent the positive as it were….

    Comment by bob — December 23, 2020 @ 5:21 AM

  4. Thank you for this article. We also have to be cognizant of the domino effects of doomscrolling on our families: spouse, children and parents. So we don’t become “toxic parrots “ sharing all of the negativity we hear and see with our loved ones. I am a teacher, and students often repeat what they hear from home to their classmates and to their teachers. Let’s spread good news going into the New Year. Worthy men bring good news 1 Kings 1:42

    Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains /Are the feet of him who brings good news, / Of him who announces peace, who brings news of good things, / Who announces salvation; / Of him who says to Zion, Your God reigns!

    Comment by Maisha Parkar — December 23, 2020 @ 5:28 AM

  5. I found this article very interesting.

    Comment by Brittaney Martin — December 23, 2020 @ 5:45 AM

  6. This is so true! I was getting too caught up in all the hate and negativity and I was feeling the anxiety. I am blocking those people now. A couple friends post positive things and I appreciate it !

    Comment by judi schwandt — December 23, 2020 @ 7:14 AM

  7. Good article. Good points and thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — December 23, 2020 @ 7:37 AM

  8. I applaud Dr. Amen and his staff for the encouraging words and wisdom.

    Comment by Raymond — December 23, 2020 @ 9:42 AM

  9. Good advice, I did not realize it but I am a doomscroller, thank you for the wake up call🙏

    Comment by Kate — December 26, 2020 @ 12:33 AM

  10. I am the significant other you speak of! I’m going to ask my husband to read this, and hope he gives this consideration! Thank you for sharing this.

    Comment by Kim — December 29, 2020 @ 2:37 PM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Have a Question?