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Are you aware that DoomScrolling is affecting your mental health?

Life has changed a lot since the pandemic hit the world. We acclimatised to circumstances we wouldn’t have thought of in our wildest dreams. And gradually the restricting circumstances became the ‘new normal’ and we sort of gave up to it, provided with no other option but to adhere. And our social interaction became social media interaction, our morning news capsule slowly stretched to the entire day. Balancing office life and personal life gets blurred and knowingly or unknowingly, we are stuck up to the ‘rectangular box’ in our hands literally all the time.

The second wave has somewhat pushed the already dire circumstance off the cliff and now the stress is multi-folded because of the overconsumption of news. As much as it keeps us informed the scrolling seems to have no end whatsoever. 

How many times you wished to just switch it off and keep it aside but that one news, one story led to another hour and two? So, let us discuss Doomscrolling and whether or not you are doing it too.

What Is DoomScrolling?

DoomScrolling is the habit of constantly scrolling through negative news, even at the cost of one’s mental health and cognitive peace. Earlier the daily source of news used to be the prime time bulletin or going through the newspapers, but now the ubiquity of social media and scrolling has led to the every minute notification on your phone. The news channel targeting their audience makes it ‘clickbaity’ and you can’t resist but click on the overwhelming headlines. And in no time you would find yourself in the vicious loop of news with provocative headlines, and articles to apparently “aware you” or I would rather say to evoke fear in you clubbed with toxic comments from online trolls. This toxic cocktail leads to stress, leading to greater anxiety, loss of appetite and disruption in the sleep cycle.

How do you hamper your mental health unknowingly?

While our subconscious mind dictates that we are just consuming news and keeping up to date, something deeper at work when we find ourselves constantly scrolling through social media and bad news headlines.

Our mind swerves to unravel the mystery and gather knowledge about negative things. In the world of online reputation management, this translates into clicking on things that are negative. This drives traffic, causing the negative to rise in search results. The higher the negative rises in search results, the more people click — reinforcing the negative. It’s a fiendish cycle coupling human behaviour with Google to make search results seem more negative than they may need to be.

Bad News Sell

Sensational stories form 95% of media headlines

(The Guardian)

Sensational news seems to be a pervasive element of modern-day news. In fact, it seems to be a requirement that most media outlets demand from their journalists!

Nielsen ratings are at fault for 50% of negative news statistics

(The Balance Careers)

Most journalists cite the Nielsen ratings as the biggest reason that news reports are either sensationalized or simply inaccurate.

The ratings boost viewership, which in turn attracts advertising dollars and investments. As a result, many media outlets stress the importance of delivering negative and emotionally jarring news reports.

38% of Americans believe the media exaggerated the COVID-19 coverage

(Pew Research Center)

Speaking of news coverage blown out of proportion, more than a third (38%) of Americans believe the media did just that while reporting on the global pandemic in 2020.

Approximately 1 in 10 American adults checks the news every hour

(Time)

Recent studies reveal that an alarming number of Americans check the news hourly. So we shouldn’t underrate the psychological effects of bad news.

A website lost 66% of its readers when it published positive stories for a day

(Quartz)

Russian news website, The City Reporter, decided to publish only positive stories for a day. The social experiment was undertaken to see the effect negative vs. positive news stories have on people

Studies show that headlines with bad news catch 30% more attention

(Kinder)

Negative media coverage reports show that negative words such as “bad,” “worst,” and “never” are 30% more effective at catching people’s attention than positive words.

Around 26.7% of people that are exposed to negative news go on to develop anxiety

(NCBI)

A staggering 87% of the COVID-19 coverage in 2020 was negative

(The New York Times)

At a time when most people needed to hear something positive, the US media chose to focus on the negative instead. About 87% of the pandemic reporting in national and 53% in regional media outlets was predominantly negative, media statistics show.

People are 49% more likely to read something negative than positive

(NCBI)

Most of those aged 17 and over have a tendency to gravitate toward negative information while disregarding positive one.

Reports show that 49% of people will rather read something negative, which lends weight to negative articles statistics.

63% of kids aged 12-18 say that watching the news makes them feel bad

(Common Sense)

In a recent nationwide survey, almost two-thirds (63%) of US kids said that watching the news makes them feel depressed, angry, or even afraid.

According to negative news stats, tweens (aged 10–12) are more susceptible to this adverse effect. Namely, 45% of them report feeling bad after watching the news compared to 31% of teenagers (aged 13–18).

What is bad news bias?

Bad news bias is a notion that even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature have a stronger effect on a person’s psyche. It is also known as negativity bias or the negativity effect.

Broadly, when people hear good news, it will leave a far less significant impression than any piece of negative news they hear.

Does bad news travel faster than good news?

The good news is a turtle and in comparison to bad news, it runs like a rabbit. I would like to believe that in the end turtle wins, like in the popular story of Turtle and Rabbit but I will leave it to your own discretion. 

The reactions of people are often more loud and clear upon hearing bad news. They tend to have a heightened state of perception of such news. You must have noticed this around you as well. Whereas, most people treat good news with a very insipid response, with little or no emotions involved.


How to Step Away?

It is not all gloomy though. It’s the overuse and consumption that adds up to doom. 

Mindfulness: 

Stop the overexposure. Understand how a particular article makes you feel as you are scrolling by it. Avoid phone and social media and switch to other means of information like a magazine, newspaper and don’t enter the loop of fake sensational news.  

Practice thought-stopping

Thought stopping is a cognitive-behavioural technique typically used for ending obsessive or anxious thoughts. Take a break if it is overwhelming.

Disconnect and Go offline

Disconnect yourself from the online world and connect to the real world. Exercise and deep breaths help to reconnect you with your body and give your mind a rest while exercising your muscles.

What do Experts believe? 

This is a digital age and to say that we can restrict our device usage would be unreal. Moreover, with the pandemic affecting the world, it has further pushed everyone onto the internet. Information is available in tons, most of us are aware that what we are scrolling is fathomless. 

Now talking about the phenomena Doom Scrolling. One of the psychological explanations of that is the innate human nature, since the time when we have arrived on the earth.. anxiety has helped us to survive..our innate scanners kept looking for potential threats, to keep us safe, and anxiety did help us survive. To put it simply, in order to survive, we paid more attention to tigers than butterflies.  With time this mechanism became hard-wired.

However, as the world evolved, our potential threats also changed; earlier it could have been a gigantic tiger in the jungle.. Now it’s a microscopic virus..but our brain and its scanner see no big difference.. “a threat is a threat”.

Similar to our jungle days, whenever we are in a situation which is uncertain, ambiguous or unfamiliar (like covid-19) our scanner gets activated, it tells our body and mind that we are losing control over the situation and less control more the threat.

So in order to gain back control, our brain starts gulping more and more information (in this case from the news and media).

Hence we end up in a vicious loop of scanning the environment and paying extra attention to the stimulus which in general is “negative” and that in-turns keep our anxiety persistent.

I know this may sound complex but so is our brain’s wiring.

Ayush Chandra

Clinical Psychologist, Punah Santulan

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