We’re living in the era of the 24/7 news cycle, constant updates on happenings all around the world, and endless platforms from which to receive the news. The structure of media apps makes it so you can keep scrolling through headlines indefinitely, making it difficult to pull yourself away from the constant stream of eye-catching headlines.
The colloquial term for this endless scrolling for updates on the latest catastrophe has been coined “doomscrolling”, and not surprisingly, it appears to have serious mental health consequences. A study in the UK found an association between hours of media exposure and more reported symptoms of mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
So why do we doomscroll? It may be our attempt to confront threats head-on, similar to the “fight” of the fight-or-flight response. We feel like the more we know, the more prepared we will be during a crisis. Scrolling headlines may also be our way of seeking reassurance and certainty that we will be okay; we may feel like we can’t relax until we find some evidence that we’re safe. Unfortunately, this overconsumption of information often has the opposite effect of making us feel even more overwhelmed and out of control.
Because there are no boundaries built into media platforms, it’s up to us to create these boundaries for ourselves. Here’s how:
1. Know when to take a break
In order to know when it’s time to set boundaries, we need to first be aware of indicators that overconsumption of media may be affecting our mental health. Here are some basic indicators that your mental health is suffering:
- Often feeling angry or irritated
- Feeling tense, restless, or on edge
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or overall lack of enjoyment
- Feeling worried much of the time
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Loss of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
Changes in mood, thinking patterns and behavior can point to mental health problems in general. To determine whether these changes are related to news consumption, pay attention to your mood before and after consuming the news to learn when it’s time to take a break.
Take stock of how frequently you’re checking the news or receiving push notifications with headlines, and how much time overall you’re spending consuming the news. If you suspect your mental health is suffering because of overconsumption, it’s okay to set some boundaries around your consumption of the news.
2. Stay informed but not overinformed
Avoiding the news altogether may not be necessary to improve your mental health. Here are some ideas for how to set boundaries around news consumption while still remaining informed:
- Turn off push notifications for news apps so you can limit your consumption to a specific block of time, for example
- Choose one or two news platforms you’ll check to limit the overall intake of news
- Avoid checking the news too close to bedtime to prevent upsetting news from disrupting your sleep
- If you use apps for news, set daily time limits on the apps in your device’s settings
- To offset feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, choose a charitable organization or two and set up repeating donations for an amount you can afford
3. Reconnect to your immediate surroundings
When we get pulled in by upsetting headlines, we are pulled out of the present moment and our immediate surroundings. Finding time for mindful present-moment awareness can protect us against mental health struggles. Make a list of mindful activities you could do instead of checking the news. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Talk to a loved one
- Practice a hobby
- Play with a pet or a child
- Cook or bake something
- Take care of those tasks on your to-list
- Practice deep breathing
- Declutter your space
- Go for a mindful walk in nature
- Do something fun
A steady stream of depressing headlines can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. Talk therapy is an effective way to address feelings of anxiety and depression and learn strategies for altering thought patterns and behavior patterns in favor of mental health.
Great Lakes Psychology Group will match you with a licensed therapist who accepts your insurance and is available to see you either online or in person.
Click here to get started. We’ll guide you every step of the way.