If you have a love-hate relationship with your phone, we see you.
Young woman reading bad news on her mobile device
Credit: Getty Images / Brothers91

We've all been there: You open your phone and start scrolling through the latest memes or newest recipes… Then, all of a sudden, you look up and half an hour has passed (or more!) and you're deep into a rabbit hole of less-than-uplifting news. You're not alone. Actually, there's a word for this type of cyber time warp: doomscrolling. Don't get us wrong, regular social media and internet usage isn't an inherently bad thing. But as with many aspects of our online lives, it's important to have guardrails. So, how exactly do we define doomscrolling and why do we fall prey to it? And should we feel ashamed when we do? What does science say about doomscrolling? Here, we will explain all and offer tips to help you avoid it or at least cut back. 

What Is Doomscrolling?

Merriam-Webster defines doomscrolling (or doomsurfing) as "the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening or depressing. Many people are finding themselves continuously reading bad news about COVID-19 without the ability to stop or step back." In times of crisis (like, say, a global pandemic), it is natural to want to stay in the know. But when it turns repetitive, upsetting and unproductive, you're doomscrolling. 

Negative Effects of Doomscrolling

Not only is endlessly scrolling through negative news unpleasant, but it can have negative repercussions for your health, mental and physical. Recent research has found that excessive media consumption can lead to heightened anxiety, fearfulness and increased stress and sadness. Sure, some stress is inevitable, but chronic stress can lead to increased inflammation, weight gain and an increased risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease. 

Additionally, some studies have found that blue light exposure (the type of light emitted by LED screens in most phones, computers, TVs and tablets) alters metabolism, which can lead to weight gain. Also, excessive time in front of a screen can leave less time for healthier activities like exercise, socializing or cooking. 

Ways to Cut Back 

Now that we have covered the doom and gloom that overusing social media can lead to, let's cover what you can do about it. These four tips make it easy to cut back on doomscrolling.   

1. Set a Time Limit 

Doomscrolling can be so disorienting because it's difficult to gauge how much time has passed. To help keep your screen time in check, set time limits on apps you use frequently, like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. You can also set a general timer for 15 or 20 minutes on your phone to alert you when you've been scrolling for longer than you'd like. This can help prevent a five-minute break from turning into an hour break. 

2. Get a Screen Time Report 

To help get a sense of exactly how much time you're spending on your phone, consider setting up a screen time report notification. This allows you to view, and therefore augment, your average daily screen time each. Go to "Settings" then "Screen Time" on your device; there, you can set limits and see how much time you're spending in individual apps.   

3. Walk Away 

If your timer has gone off and you're still feeling tempted to keep searching for more information (or worse: read the comments), set your phone down and walk away. Maybe do some dishes or brew a pot of tea. Go for an unplugged walk around the block or do some light stretching. Anything that allows you to physically get away from your phone can help you break the doomscrolling cycle. 

4. Practice Gratitude 

Beyond "walk-away" strategies, practicing gratitude can help you get ahead of doomscrolling before it starts. Taking some time each day to think about things that you appreciate in your life can foster feelings of contentment and happiness rather than worry or frustration. This might sound abstract, but it can be as easy as jotting down three things in a journal or sharing one with a family member each day (bonus points for accountability), instead of going for your phone.

Bottom Line

It's no secret that these are trying times. Especially because of the coronavirus pandemic, it can be tempting to constantly search for answers online. Though this might seem like a way to help control what's going on around you, it can actually have some negative consequences. Instead of doomscrolling, step away from your phone if you start to feel stressed or anxious. Take a walk or talk with a trusted family member or friend. Shift your focus to the positive things in your life, to help balance out the negative things in the news. And, as always, know that you are not alone in feeling this way and all we can do is take it day by day. If your stress or anxiety is becoming too much to manage, don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider to see if therapy is right for you.