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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Explained: What is Doomsday Scrolling and why to avoid it?

Many people are finding themselves continuously reading bad news about Covid-19 without being able to stop, even sacrificing their crucial sleep time or working hours in the process.

Written by Divya A , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
May 15, 2021 2:53:52 pm
Behavioural experts say while it may keep us updated and also help us mobilise resources, it also nudges us towards an exaggerated sense of gloom and doom. (Representational Photo)

As Covid-19 has struck back to ravage our surroundings, most of us find ourselves continuously scrolling through pandemic-related news and social media feed — almost compulsively. That is what is called “doomscrolling” or “doomsday scrolling”. But behavioural experts also warn that it’s a double-edged sword — while it may keep us updated and also help us mobilise resources, it also nudges us towards an exaggerated sense of gloom and doom.

What is Doomsday Surfing?

It refers to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening or depressing. Many people are finding themselves continuously reading bad news about Covid-19 without being able to stop, even sacrificing their crucial sleep time or working hours in the process. The term has been gaining momentum lately; the Los Angeles Times has included it in a recent article about how coronavirus has introduced a new lexicon of words into our daily lives.

Who is doing it?

It’s a worldwide phenomenon and we are all doing it, says Dr Siddharth Chowdhury, Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at Delhi’s VIMHANS (Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health, Neuro & Allied Sciences), adding that different people may be doing it for different reasons. According to Chowdhury, while those in the age-group of 15-30 are scrolling to seek help, mobilise action and share resources, 30-45-year-olds are mostly blaming everyone on social media, while those in the senior ages are trying to spread spirituality and positivity.

Why are we doing it?

Dr Nimesh Desai, Director, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, Delhi, says, “It becomes a behavioural addiction — not only positive news gives you a dopamine-high, negative news also does something similar. So it becomes a self-sustaining activity, on the lines of any chemical addiction. Even voyeurism is addictive.” Chowdhury says as human beings, we have a tendency to catastrophize. While it becomes addictive to consume more information, on the other hand, social media algorithms may serve up feed as per our peak interest. So it becomes a vicious circle.

Does it help?

Desai says doomsday surfing has become real lately, even as social media serves us an exaggerated version of the reality. We have not yet approached doomsday, but Twitter or Facebook may make us believe it. He says that doomscrolling can reinforce negative thoughts and a negative mindset, something that can greatly impact your mental health. Consuming negative news has been linked in research with greater fear, stress, anxiety and sadness. If you engage with pandemic-related feed on social media, verify before you trust.

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How to keep off?

Switch off, shut off the apps — that’s the only way, says Chowdhury, even as it is practically very difficult for most of us. He adds, “At least, we can make a start with switching off notifications on all social media accounts.” However, he cites the examples of some of his patients who find it tough to switch off; a couple of them have even sought therapy.

Desai strongly recommends self-control. “Psycho-biologically speaking, one can easily become habituated to this phenomenon owing to its addictive nature. A deliberate effort is required to step back from excessive social media exposure in these troubled times.”

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