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A Therapist’s Experience with “Doomscrolling”

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

Doomscrolling is a term that references how we can scroll through our social media and news outlets rapidly, often absentmindedly, looking for the newest opinions and information about difficult things going on in the world. It is something that can easily become maladaptive and unhealthy if left unchecked and is also difficult to avoid in our current environment. I have experienced the draws and negative effects of this phenomenon myself. Let’s talk about doomscrolling and how to manage it if you fall into this trap. 

We are experiencing an unprecedented combination of health, environmental, and social issues at the moment, and it is important to pay attention to them and stay informed. However, as is often the case with the internet, it is a slippery slope and can become problematic for our mental health. When we engage in this behavior, we stop paying attention to knowledgeable and respected sources and start paying attention to rumor, opinion, and speculation. Not only that, but we start actively and aggressively searching for it to stay informed and stay ahead of the bad things that may be coming our way. However, it starts to weigh us down more and more, it becomes a preoccupation and often an unhealthy part of our lives.

I first noticed I was struggling with Doomscrolling when my partner commented on how much I seemed to be reaching for my phone to get the latest information and having to tell her all about it. We all have different levels of healthy engagement with these things and my partner had a better handle on theirs than I did on mine. My partner gently told me that they didn’t find it helpful to hear my exasperated comments, diatribes, and asides about all that is difficult in the world-” “Did you see that person do that thing ignoring other’s safety and health due to COVID?” “Looks like more people are dying in detention facilities,” “I read on a message board this theory about COVID that is really scary, “So, turns out that family member of mine couldn’t handle discussing why their posts on social media are examples of their white privilege and racist. I am not going to see them at Thanksgiving!” 

It was immediately apparent to my partner that this was too much doom and gloom too fast, and not done in a healthy or helpful way. It wasn’t until they asked me to be mindful of their self-care needs that I realized what I had been doing. Not only was what I was doing unhealthy for me, but it was unhealthy for them too. Once they brought my attention to this rather obvious occurrence it became clear that I had been in an increasingly bad mood from it for a good week or so. So, I knew I had to take action. I took a social media hiatus from some platforms and adjusted with how I engaged with others. It immediately felt better, I was no longer trying to outrun the bad out there by knowing it all as soon as possible. I was no longer taking in information that was wrong, skewed, or twisted. I was focusing on useful information in amounts that were not unhealthy.

It’s important to recognize that it is good to stay informed and engaged. However, there may be healthier ways to do it. Instead of arguing with your family members who have deeply held racist opinions for the 10th time this week, maybe make your opinions and boundaries clear and move away from those conversations. Maybe that’s the time to donate to organizations that help address racial inequality. It’s good to read the news at times, but it’s not as healthy to search out speculation and keep looking for more. Reading message board posts from Karen in Kansas that she heard from her neighbor that her cousin knows that COVID can only be spread via bee’s, and restricting movement is unnecessary is not helping you be more prepared. Of course, we all want more information and answers but when there isn’t much to know our search for it can become problematic and unhealthy.

It can be incredibly challenging and overwhelming to carry all the bad out there with us. It does not help to seek out more information from bad sources or in unhealthy ways. Stay informed and engaged but be mindful about how you get this information. Also, know when it is time to put the phone down and engage in ways that are actively helpful. You can strike the right balance of being informed and engaged and not hurting your mental and emotional wellbeing and one way is to stop the Doomscrolling.

If you struggle with “doomscrolling,” it might be worth talking to a dedicated therapist. Get in touch with Symmetry Counseling for online counseling in Chicago or to meet with a counselor in person.

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