How to Stop Doomscrolling News and News and Social Media Searches

Scrolling through their social media feeds, Americans are likely to encounter anguished tales of political unrest, the coronavirus pandemic and the continued fallout from cyberattacks, among other bleak topics. And yet, many can’t stop scrolling even more, perhaps hoping to distract themselves from overthinking one of these lingering issues. The practice has earned a suitably apocalyptic nickname: doomscrolling.

In the spring of 2020, at the start of the global pandemic, Karen K. Ho, a global financial and economics reporter at the Quartz news site, began tweeting regular reminders to step away from the screen and do something that will actually feeling better about a doomscroller – like drinking a glass of water, stretching, or just going to bed on time. “For the first two months, I was basically talking to myself out loud,” she says. But his alerts caught the attention of mainstream media as well as other social media users, and within a year Ho’s Twitter account doubled to over 44,000. feel less alone about a practice they knew was harmful, and I was trying to offer a solution in a way that wasn’t antagonistic or judgmental,” she explains. “I think what really surprised people was how consistent I was because right now nothing is really consistent. Everything is really chaotic. And they felt like somebody one watched over them.

American Scientist asked Ho what his project taught him about why people march and how they can stop. “What doomscrolling does is rob you of the energy you need to really focus on important things,” she says, “and also take better care of yourself.”

[An edited and condensed transcript of the interview follows.]

Doomscrolling makes us feel bad, so why do we do it?

It’s a combination of several things. There is the very nature of the design of these applications. It’s the slot machine effect: old-fashioned, you found something really fun, educational, or informative, and the surprise was not knowing when that moment of dopamine or pleasure would hit you. Then there is the compulsion for many people to be better informed about the chaotic situation that many of us currently find ourselves in due to the pandemic, the uncertainty regarding the economic recession, as well as the situation of social justice affecting many minorities, women and vulnerable groups in the United States and around the world. Then I think ultimately it’s a very limited act of free will that people still have. You and I can’t go to our favorite restaurants, entertainment venues, gyms; we cannot interact with our friends and loved ones due to physical distancing measures. People can’t perform many other normal behaviors, so they’re able to exercise their agency in this limited way, even if it interferes with their ability to get a good night’s sleep or reduce stress.

What can we do to keep ourselves from scrolling endlessly?

I am a strong proponent of using technology. Newer phones allow you to concentrate better: you can manually set time limits and times when you can’t open the apps themselves. I’ve also used apps like the “Stay Focused” Chrome extension several times, where you can set different verification timeouts. [social media] on your computer. I also manually log out of my work computer and cell phone; I am trying to increase the friction required to log in and read the website. Then there’s the emergency feature: you literally change the account password and give it to someone else so you can’t log in.

I use a lot of operations management methods and scientific methods to stop myself from looking at my phone. If you’re gonna pick up your phone anymore [at night], you need to put a book in place of your phone when you are not at work, to read it before going to bed. One of the best tips is that I watch a lot of TV and movies with subtitles, like in foreign languages. Because you can’t look at your phone, you have to read what’s on the screen to understand what’s going on. When it’s warmer, do things outside where you can’t look at your phone. (When spring comes, I go cycling so much!) Also, I find other tactile hobbies, like puzzles or Lego, to be really helpful. Many people have turned to writing cards and letters as an alternative activity during the pandemic. Some people like to cook, some people like to cook, it’s really a matter of personal psychology. For example, if you’re fidgeting, you’re just feeling anxious about something. That’s why you check Twitter, so you don’t think about anxiety. Can you call a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while instead of looking at your phone?

It’s also about constantly reminding myself of things that seem really hokey and witty. What I really remember, over and over, is that when I die, Twitter means nothing. No one will say, “I went viral a lot.” They will say, “Did I have enough energy to do my job well? Do the people we love know we love them? I think those are the things you really have to put energy into.

Is there a way to get you out of a scrolling session once you’ve started?

Prevention is always better than [trying to stop] while you’re in the middle of it. But if you’re in the middle of that, that’s why I’m sending the reminders. I try to meet people where they already are. There are several other Twitter accounts, like @tinycarebot, that are designed to catch you doing this. And then there are the alarms. I set the alarms on my phone to be loud and obnoxious and say, “Hey, it’s late. You should probably go to bed. It’s just a matter of setting yourself up, before you even start – ask “What are the processes to improve your success rates?” Even if you take the wrong path, how can you correct your course?

What else should you know about doomscrolling?

The thing to remember is that there are limits to individual responsibility and reminders to be careful. Basically, it’s an irrational response to reasonable emotion, like how frustrating it is to see the vaccine rollout screwed up or the lack of mask mandates. There are a lot of doctors who follow me because of the recalls, a lot of science journalists and health journalists, and they march because of the repeated systemic failures of those in power. Doomscrolling existed for the black community long before everyone found out about it in 2020: when black Americans are killed or injured by police, there’s a hashtag for their name.

A lot of doomscrolling is this feeling of lack of direction and helplessness. Doing something, having a series of steps for people to follow, I find reduces their stress. That’s why you see me recommending drinking water or stretching, because subconsciously people let those things slip. When in doubt, I also find that giving money makes you feel less helpless. It’s not fair that people should [only] think of all these huge, global issues; this little thing you can do is go to bed right away, instead of going to bed late.