Why Doomscrolling Affects Your Mental Health and How to Stop

As we battle a deadly wave of coronavirus, an influx of alarming news pours in constantly via our devices. Cosmo India speaks to a mental well-being expert to find out how we can stop this negative cycle. 

As a second, deadly wave of the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across India, it is quite natural to feel, stressed, anxious even alarmed. All you need to do is pick up your phone or switch on the television, and you are assaulted by an influx of scary, distressing and agitating news, flowing in seamlessly via Whatsapp forwards, Instagram posts, Twitter alerts and news telecasts. While it is important to stay correctly informed in these uncertain times, at what point does this endless diatribe of negativity (not all of it verified or true) start eroding our mental well-being, and how and when is it time to step away from our phones? Cosmo India spoke to Mumbai based counsellor and well-being coach Kanchan Wadi, to understand more about the phenomena of doomscrolling and its negative impact on our mental health. 


“From a psychological perspective, human beings have a tendency to doom scroll due to what we call ‘incident hunger’,” explains Kanchan. “This is the reason we like to watch shocking or breaking news, and gravitate towards voyeuristic reporting. At a time like this, it’s not that we are trying to derive entertainment out of the news, it’s more of a subconscious psychological need we are trying to satisfy," she adds.

“While this tendency to constantly stay hooked to the news does give us a temporary sense of certainty and security, it can prove detrimental in the long run. In reality, there are many sides to a story, so it’s difficult for us to have a clear and complete idea of all the facts.”

Kanchan strongly suggests that we become aware of this habit and try to check ourselves. There might be an immediate impact of watching the news or scrolling on social media for hours. Some of us are emotionally sensitive and will experience elevated levels of anxiety, fear and confusion. And then, there is the subconscious impact. “ Not only does your heart rate, quality of sleep and mental health get impacted over a period of time,” she explains, “doomscrolling also reduces your stamina and productivity. Moreover, it will waste your time and keep you away from having a more valuable day."

smarthphone addiction

This cycle of negativity not only affects us, it can also impact those around us. We develop a tendency to widely share the content we come across, and most of the times, these forwards are unverified. “I’m sure you’ve seen how people send bulk forwards on WhatsApp to hundreds of people on their contact list,” says Kanchan. “This again is highly detrimental, because we must understand that one size doesn't fit all. For all you know, the people who are receiving these messages about grim situations in hospitals ICUs are already feeling anxious or scared, and this might make them feel even more vulnerable. You have to understand that it’s neither having a positive impact on you nor on the other person," she summarises. 


So how do we stop this negative cycle of doom scrolling and despair, especially when we find ourselves addicted to it? Here are a few key points Kanchan suggests:

1. Avoid checking your phone first thing in the morning and right before you sleep. Reserve that time for more positive activities like reading, meditation, journaling etc. 

2. Create structure and discipline and limit your consumption of content. For example, If you decide on15 minutes in the morning and evening, do that and then make a hard stop.

3. Stick to discerning and credible sources. Avoid news that is sensationalised and over the top. Follow those who give you the ground reality and facts.

4. Practice some form of mindfulness. It could be meditation, breathwork, a certain form of prayer, or any way of grounding yourself. This helps us become aware of our choices, rather than being driven by our automatic impulses and allowing ourselves to stay addicted to something. 

5.Do what you love. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty about the way you are spending your day due to all the suffering that’s happening around you. Stay as joyful as possible and help your loved ones do the same.

6. Remind yourself that your negativity and fear will rub off on your family, especially those more vunlnerable like young children and the elderly. For their sake and your own, stay joyful, productive and upbeat, and do the best that you can for your health.

7. Channelise your concern into more effective ways of helping out. Make individual calls to check on people, and offer to help in any way you can.

" In the end, we have to ask ourselves if we want to be part of the problem or the solution," she concludes. "Let's all strive to be conscious of our choices at this crucial time."

Kanchan Wadi is a Mumbai-based consulting counsellor, relationship and wellness coach.