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Doomscrolling is Toxic, Here's How You Can Stop It

The gloom doesn't have to keep you up at night.
by Clara Rosales
Oct 15, 2021
Photo/s: shutterstock

It’s 8 p.m. and you’re on your phone to check the news. After a seemingly endless scroll through bad news onFacebook, you jump to Twitter, then TikTok. Just like that it’s 12:51 a.m. and you wake up hours later to doomscroll through your feed all over again.

Doomscrolling is sinking to the depths of your social media feeds for bad news, thirst traps and witching hour musings. It keeps you informed but it easily gets out of control.

“It's already too much when your physical health is already affected as well as your mental health. It's taking away time that's supposed to be spent with more important things like work or school, or your relationships,” said Agnes R. Agbayani, a clinical psychologist.

Bad news has been around before COVID-19, but situations of pandemic's magnitude make doomscrolling all the more appealing. At the onset of lockdowns, the public was scrambling for information on the virus and quarantine protocols. For many plunged into deep uncertainty, knowing meant control.

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“People would find safety in finding what is wrong, they would find safety in knowing how to respond to it. People would find security in knowing how to protect themselves,” she said.

“Then you want to check out all the news outfits. Not just the news, but you also want to know what are people saying about it, what's the general public's view about this,” she added.

Elections on top of a pandemic

In 2022, the Philippines will have its first election during a pandemic, and one where the propaganda wars will be largely waged on social media due to virus protocols and as the country's largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, remains off-air.

Pandemic response is expected to be top of mind for voters, as people throng Comelec registration sites.

“The pandemic has also unearthed a lot of corruption. Pandemic response has revealed the kind of leadership our government has. It has produced more discontent, more anger in people,” Agbayani said.

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According to Agbayani, the 2020 U.S. elections after President Donald Trump was impeached resulted in studies linking stress to polling. It’s called Election Stress Disorder, and it’s fueled by a desire for better governance.

“People want change, people want a better life. People want a better response to this pandemic. People want answers,” Agbayani said.


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It’s not all bad

Constantly changing lockdowns since March 2020 have plunged the Philippine economy into its worst recession since World War II. Millions of jobs were lost as businesses were forced to restrict operations.

Some people turned to doomscrolling to worry about other issues instead of facing personal problems they couldn’t solve yet.

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“It's a form of distraction, parang misery loves company. Maghahanap pa ako ng isa pang miserable dito online,” Agabayani said.

“There's also someone else like you, and somehow that in a way that is comforting. You feel that may mas grabe sayo, and then somehow with that comparison, you feel like your problem is small,” she added.

For some, all the bad news can be the spark to effect change in their lives or environment, such as through calamity donations or community pantries. “They’re moved, they are touched, they are moved to action,” Agbayani said.

How to get out of doomscrolling

Check your sources

Before you limit your news channels, determine which ones can be unfollowed for fake news or questionable articles. Stick to credible news, those backed by interviews, data, and research.

ALSO READ: Social media has made it easier for fake news to slip through. Be critical online.

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Set boundaries

You don’t have to unfollow every single news site or delete social media apps. Staying informed is important as it could dictate the direction the country takes during a global health crisis.

Agbayani recommends limiting the time you spend scrolling through the news. Going from countless hours to just one is a good place to start. If you’re a fan of reading from five to ten news outfits or sites, try trimming it down to half, or to two per day.

And stick to them

Alarms and apps can help you time your daily news scroll. If you live with someone, tell them you’re trying to cut back on excessive scrolling to get you on track. Regardless of which method you choose, these can remind you to stop and focus on other things.

Diversify your feed

Breaking your usual news scroll with a funny video or two can take your mind off the doom for a few seconds or minutes. There’s still some good in this world, be it in the form of dogs swimming or quick, easy recipes to try.

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Yes, there might still be a virus tomorrow, but it doesn’t hurt to laugh for a few minutes in the day.

Tell someone

“The mind doesn’t really censor, it just picks up. Some people are more inclined to pick up the negative, and this is what we call the cognitive distortion of catastrophizing. So when we pick up something that's negative, we tend to overrate it. You make it into something bigger than it is,” Agbayani said.

Heated debates online can also heighten emotions. “When we're emotional, the tendency is we are not objective,” she said.

“Have somebody help you distinguish what is factual and what is exaggerated. What is also based on feelings and what is based on facts,” she added.

If needed, seek help

“When the stress hormone is activated, the tendency is nagkakaroon tayo ng physical reactions. So baka nag-papalpitate tayo, you know, we sweat, nangingig, or we become restless,” Agbayani said.

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“If you are already aware that you have the signs and symptoms, it’s better to get professional help,” she said.

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