Strategies to end the doomscrolling spiral

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    AI-generated image for illustration purpose only.

    17th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) In an age where information is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, our proclivity for engaging with the digital deluge can sometimes lead us down a shadowy path known as doomscrolling. This term, conceived amidst the throes of a global pandemic, encapsulates our tendency to consume a relentless stream of disheartening news. As we grapple with an ever-changing world, it is imperative that we discuss not only the nature of this phenomenon but also the means by which we can extricate ourselves from its grip.

    Doomscrolling is the act of immersing oneself in a seemingly endless exploration of negative news. Originally coined in the whirlwind of 2020, it has since become a mainstay in our lexicon, a testament to its pervasiveness in our daily lives. The inclination to fixate on distressing content is not merely a habit; it is woven into our very fabric, a remnant of a primal instinct that compels us to remain vigilant against potential threats.

    Studies suggest that certain personality traits, specifically those aligned with a higher degree of neuroticism, may predispose individuals to engage more frequently in doomscrolling. This trait is intertwined with emotional reactivity and a propensity for psychological stress, creating a fertile ground for the roots of doomscrolling to take hold. Those with elevated levels of neuroticism may find themselves ensnared in a loop of negative emotional responses, fuelled by a combination of low self-esteem and a heightened susceptibility to sadness.

    The addictive nature of this behaviour can be attributed to the brain’s inherent bias towards negative information — a sort of evolutionary hangover that once served to protect us from harm. Experts like Ken Yeager, PhD, from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, articulate that this negativity bias was crucial for our ancestors’ survival. However, in the digital age, this instinctual drive can backfire, leading to a perpetual state of unease and distress.

    The repercussions of doomscrolling extend beyond mere habit; they encroach upon our mental health, sowing seeds of anxiety, apprehension, and a pervasive sense of dread about the future. The act reinforces a skewed worldview where negativity reigns supreme, chipping away at our sense of control and contributing to a malaise that clouds our day-to-day existence.

    Recognising the signs of doomscrolling is the first step in breaking free from its clutches. Psychotherapist Tess Brigham, MFT, highlights that this behaviour often manifests as mindless consumption of distressing content, a phenomenon that can spiral out of control if left unchecked. But how does one initiate the journey towards a more mindful interaction with the digital world?

    One must first engage in introspection, assessing how this activity affects one’s emotional state. Does the absorption of such news render you more informed and empowered, or does it leave you feeling increasingly anxious and despondent? The answer often points to the necessity of breaking the cycle.

    Limiting screen time is a practical approach — allocating specific time slots for online engagement and adhering to them can mitigate the risks associated with overexposure to negativity. The implementation of a digital curfew can foster healthier habits and encourage the pursuit of alternative, more fulfilling activities.

    Another strategy involves channelling one’s concerns into action. Rather than passively consuming distressing content, one could actively contribute to solutions, such as participating in community support initiatives. This not only diverts attention away from the negative but also reinstills a sense of agency and purpose.

    Tess Brigham emphasises the significance of seeking out news from reputable sources that report objectively, steering clear of sensationalism. Limiting one’s intake to concise summaries or trusted bulletins can keep one informed without the accompanying emotional toll of doomscrolling.

    As we navigate through the relentless tide of information, it is crucial to maintain a vigilant guard against the siren call of doomscrolling. By cultivating self-awareness, imposing digital boundaries, and seeking positive engagement, we can preserve our mental health and remain grounded in the present moment.