Ask your patients about their online behaviors. Doomscrolling—consuming large quantities of negative news online—is an often underrecognized cause of anxiety.
Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | April 7, 2022 | 3 min read
By Crystal Favorito, pre-med, Johns Hopkins Medicine
Doomscrolling: the act of consuming large quantities of negative news online. Sound familiar? If you’re active on any social media networks, you’ve probably come across scary or disturbing news online that has, in turn, led you to more scary, disturbing news. Although you may probably intended to become more informed, if you’re like most people, you’ve likely experienced the spiral of negativity that often comes with those efforts. By nature, we want to be prepared for bad things; we feel safer when we know more.
Not only is this self-perpetuating cycle a huge time-sink, it’s has been linked to increased feelings of stress and anxiety. But it can be hard to stop. Here are a few techniques that may help you and your patients doomscroll less frequently:
Choose platforms wisely.
Doomscrolling capitalizes on negativity bias: the phenomenon that negative information has a more significant impact than positive information on your psyche. However, not all social media platforms are created equal. Some tend to reward doomscrolling more than others. A study done by the Pew Research Center found Twitter to be the most negative social media platform by a long shot. Avoid platforms like Twitter, where you may be more vulnerable to doomscrolling.
If you’re getting online solely for the purpose of keeping yourself updated on current events, social media may not be the best way to do it. Most major traditional news outlets offer a reasonably priced online subscription, and many are free. Pick the sources you trust the most, and save social media for the memes.
You’re the maker of all the content you see online. Social media platforms run on algorithms designed to feed you personalized content. If you aren’t enjoying your online experience, say so! Most platforms have a “see less often” or “not interested” option to select when you are, well, not interested. You have agency here. Give your algorithms something to work with!
Also be sure to give your algorithms positive feedback by liking, sharing, or commenting on content that you do enjoy. If you have no idea where to start, “The Guardian” provides a list of 50 cheery social media accounts to follow, sorted by categories like animals, nature, travel, and positivity.
Reflect: how much time will you spend doing this?
When I catch myself opening Instagram or Twitter, I’ve recently started asking, “How much time am I going to spend on this app?” Don’t worry, this isn’t a lecture to get off your phone, but a reminder to ask yourself if social media will give you the gratification you are looking for.
Truthfully, social media doesn’t make me very happy. I don’t giggle about the memes I’ve seen after I close the app, I’m not awestruck for the rest of the day over the beautiful mountain vistas I scrolled through. Whatever gratification I get from social media is gone the second I close the app. However, if I’ve been doomscrolling, negativity bias often dictates that the negative feelings stay with me.
To paraphrase Marie Kondo, “What would spark more joy?” If I know I’m only killing five minutes before work, I may decide to keep scrolling. But when I realize I’ll likely spend more than 10 minutes scrolling (and not feel great afterwards), I do something else. I watch an 11-minute-episode of my favorite cartoon, “Adventure Time,” or I listen to my current favorite song another four times. TV and music may not be your idea of a good time, but do something you can count on to brighten your day a little: hit your daily Duolingo goal, go for a walk, play Merge Mansion, Facetime your dog. You know yourself better than an algorithm; do what’s best for you.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.