What to Do When You Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop DoomscrollingAlas! Yet another late-night doomscroll.
It’s 10 p.m. (more like 1 a.m!), and you’ve been mindlessly scrolling through articles about scary news, opinions about said news, and—oh, wait!—there’s another sort of related video about something else terrible. You’ve seen about 15 of the same stomach-dropping headlines. And even though you’re pretty sure you’re having heart palpitations and your feet are absolutely sweating, you can’t look away. You’ve done it again. You’ve doomscrolled. (And there’s a 75% chance for a repeat tomorrow.)
We can’t blame you for doing what Merriam-Webster defines as spending “excessive time online scrolling through news or other content that makes one feel sad, anxious, angry, etc.” It’s something that we’ve all done at one point or another—and though doomscrolling can be a direct route to existential dread, it’s not like we want to torture ourselves! Most of the time we can’t help it.
It’s kind of in our nature because, survival-wise, we’re wired to pay attention to things that may threaten us, says clinical psychologist Abra Havens, PsyD. And, of course, now we get endless amounts of that delivered via our little screens. Plus, even when what we’re reading or watching is negative at best and horrifying at worst, the shock factor can keep us stuck there wanting more, like a scary movie, says clinical psychologist and certified grief professional Cynthia Shaw, PsyD.
Obviously, this can happen to anyone, but in Dr. Shaw’s experience, it’s even more likely among people who have a lot of anxiety or feel depressed. Why? Sometimes reading sad and horrible things validate what depressed people are thinking, like, I’m struggling so much, and now I know other people are too. Or, Look! Everything sucks around me, she explains. For people with anxiety, watching, reading, and listening to bad news can give them a sense of control they’re craving in effed-up situations, Dr. Shaw says. (Remember social media during the height of Covid? Yeah.)
Those feelings of control or validation are temporary though. No matter how much you read about bad things happening, they’re unfortunately still going to happen, says Dr. Shaw. Also, we haven’t done a poll or anything, but it’s safe to say that no one leaves doomscrolling actually feeling better, she notes. “Quite the opposite. We’re left feeling sad, hopeless, and emotionally charged after being bombarded with negative content and traumatizing news.”
Doomscrolling can also keep us up at night, making us feel physically shitty, Dr. Shaw says. Ever had a hardcore headache or stomachache after a doomscroll? It happens, she says.
Still, there are plenty of ways you can do less doomscrolling and deal with the emotions that come up when you do. Ahead, check out expert-back tips for what to do when it’s happening to you and how to navigate the news when you want to stay in the know but don’t want to lose yourself in Doomsville.
Slow your scroll.
When you’re wrapped up in #content, it’s hard for you to tell what’s happening to your mental and emotional health. So the first step is to pay more attention when you’re flipping through negative stuff online, Dr. Shaw notes. Slowing down how fast you watch or read (literally go through the words at a slower pace, don’t scroll or click as fast, or take breaks between articles) can give you time to check in with yourself about how the content’s making you feel and if doing something else would make you feel better (probably!), she says.
Think about your doomscroll triggers.
There’s usually this WTF moment where you snap out of a scrolling frenzy and realize that 25, 35, or (dare I say) 75 minutes have passed. When that happens, rewind and ask yourself what triggered your spiral in the first place. Once you figure that out, it’s easier to know what to do next, says Dr. Havens. You might notice that you tend to doomscroll when you’ve had a crappy day, so maybe you stay off social media when you’re feeling blah, she notes. If you notice that a particular sensationalized headline roped you in, you could decide to not click on those things from now on or unfollow certain accounts.
“If we're aware that it's happening and we know how we typically respond to some of this content, we can come up with tools to interrupt it or turn to something else,” Dr. Shaw says. Which brings us to…
Step away, literally.
As we mentioned, the tricky thing about doomscrolling is that you often can’t look away even when what you’re looking at is upsetting. So sometimes the only thing that can break the cycle is doing something else completely. First, put your phone down or step away from your laptop, suggests Dr. Shaw. Then, maybe go on a walk, make yourself lunch, or do some jumping jacks. Anything sans doomscrolling!
Before you say it, we know you might feel guilty for turning your attention to said walk, lunch, or jumping jacks while tragedy occurs. But Dr. Shaw emphasizes that it is OK to balance being informed with taking care of yourself. You’re not a terrible citizen of the world for taking a beat.
Turn off your app notifications.
A lot of the time, we get pulled into a doomscroll after clicking on a notification from a news or social app. Turning off those reminders can help you avoid a doomscrolling spiral because you’re less tempted to take a gander and proceed to scroll away, says Dr. Shaw. Before you scoff at the idea of not being aware of the news the second it drops, remember that the news will still be there, and you’ll probably hear about it in your group chat—just saying!
Give yourself a scroll time limit.
Obviously, you want to check your apps for life updates, clumsy puppy videos (have you SEEN them try to go downstairs?!), and important news. But you also don’t always know what you’re going to find when you’re just scrolling your feeds. So, set a limit for how long you’re on social media or looking at the news specifically, suggests Dr. Shaw. Maybe you only check the news with your morning coffee or you set an alarm for 30 minutes, she suggests. You can even delete certain apps after you’ve scrolled or lock yourself out of them in your phone settings, adds Dr. Havens.
Try self-soothing when things get too real.
Sometimes the anxiety, sadness, or whatever you’re feeling from doomscrolling can make you lose your appetite, make your heart and mind race, and make your stomach ache, says Dr. Shaw. So, it’s a good idea to help your nervous system out and soothe both your body and mind, she says. Easy exercises she suggests: Snap yourself out of your stressful news trance by focusing on your senses. (Are you sitting down? Do you feel the seat against your butt? Do you feel the floor under your feet?) Box breathing, where you inhale for four counts, hold for four, and exhale for four, works too. You can also stretch a bit, she says. Check out even more self-soothing exercises here.
Think about what you’re grateful for.
When a doomscroll puts you in a dark mood, it can be helpful to take a step back and balance out the horribleness with some not-so-horrible thoughts, says Dr. Shaw. Obviously, you don’t want to dismiss the news impacting you, people you know, or people who deserve your attention—that stuff is real and toxic positivity isn’t helping anyone. But shifting your focus to things you’re grateful for when feeling overwhelmed by bad news can change the narrative in your head, she says. You might be thankful for your health or your support system or the fact that you actually can go back to your workday, she notes. Try it out!
Actively look for good news.
You might just need to cut the doomscrolling short by looking specifically for the opposite, says Dr. Shaw. It sounds simple, but try changing up the negativity with some scroll-worthy articles or videos that aren’t so dark. Dr. Shaw suggests starting with news from your own community (maybe there’s a really cool shop opening next month or some kid got an award!). If you want to take the guesswork out of it, here are a few feel-good places to start: The Uplift from CBS News, Some Good News on Instagram, CNN’s The Good Stuff newsletter, The Goodnewsletter, and Good News Movement on Instagram .
Read news in print. (Yes, like paper.)
The problem with doomscrolling is that it’s endless. With news apps, newsletters, 24/7 cable news, social media, the internet…the limit for doomscrolling does not exist. So limiting yourself to getting news from a newspaper or magazine—like, a literal print copy—can help you stay up to date on what’s happening without falling into a doomscroll trap, says Dr. Havens. You can only read what’s there, and you literally can’t, by definition, doomscroll.
Figure out what you might be avoiding.
Sometimes people get sucked into watching or reading all of these horrible things because it takes their minds off something that they’re stressed about in their own lives—like a bad day or relationship problems, explains Dr. Havens. (Yes, even if what you’re reading sucks, it can be a distraction.) But addressing whatever that problem is might actually mean that you don’t doomscroll as much since you have less of a reason to, she says. So the first thing to do, Dr. Havens says, is ask yourself: What would I be thinking about if I wasn’t scrolling these stories?
Then, if you’re up for it, decide how you want to address what comes up in a healthier way. It could be as simple as journaling about what you are avoiding, Dr. Havens says. Or you might decide to do more than process with paper and pen. For example, if you realize that you’re doomscrolling to escape the guilt you feel after a bad fight with a friend, you could be better off apologizing, she says. If you know you’re avoiding issues, but you’re not totally sure what they are or how to handle them, then it might be worth talking to a therapist, she adds.
If doomscrolling leaves you feeling helpless about what’s going on in the world, both therapists say that it might make you feel better to get involved in some way. Instead of scrolling, maybe you want to actually post about something you’re reading, share your two cents with a friend, or donate to or volunteer with certain orgs. Anything that isn’t you swiping away for hours…again.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.