Thanks to social media and our 24-hour news cycle, it’s become easier than ever to get information and updates about everything that’s happening at home and around the world. Unfortunately, this has also given rise to doom-scrolling – the act of spending an excessive amount of screen time on the consumption of negative news.
But why do we keep doom-scrolling if what we’re reading makes us angry, anxious or scared? Why are so many of us addicted to bad news, and how can this overload of information impact our mental health? To get the answers, we spoke to psychiatrist Dr Lim Boon Leng from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness.
Q: Why is it so difficult to stop doom-scrolling?
Dr Lim: It’s unnerving to read and hear about war, the pandemic, plane crashes and other tragedies. It’s not easy seeing others suffer or die, or to confront the reality that life is full of uncertainties.
Our brains have evolved to identify and be alerted to danger in order to avoid harm. We think that by reading about, and understanding these dangers, we’ll be better able to protect ourselves or find a solution. This is largely why so many of us can’t stop doom-scrolling.
Q: Can bad news be addictive?
Dr Lim: Yes. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay updated with what’s going on in the world, but that leads us to doom-scroll, albeit unwittingly.
We might read or hear about something bad that’s happened, but if we’re told the next day that the situation has improved, we feel relieved, and that reinforces us to continue checking the news to get more updates. For example, when the Covid-19 pandemic first began, we were all terrified and worried, but as the number of infections started to decrease, we felt less anxious. As a result, many of us continued to look for more such positive news to relieve our anxiety. Over time, however, this searching for news and updates got to be addictive for some.
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Q: How can excessive doom-scrolling affect our mental health?
Dr Lim: The more we doom-scroll, the more we find ourselves mired in negativity and feeling more anxious, worried and afraid. Unfortunately, many people get caught up with bad news to the point that they neglect all the good things that are happening around them. This may result in a learned helplessness and a pessimistic outlook. The stress from reading and listening to bad news may also trigger or exacerbate an anxiety disorder or depression.
Q: How can we stay up-to-date with world events without allowing the bad news to affect our mental wellbeing?
Dr Lim: Mainstream media is less likely to sensationalise the news and is often more mindful when it comes to showing distressing videos and images.
Ultimately, it’s important to monitor your news consumption, especially if you know that you’ve been spending too much time doom-scrolling. There are apps you can download that will restrict your screen time or set limits for your social media usage. These can help you limit your news consumption to a specific duration, time of day and locality, for instance.
If you’re overwhelmed by what you’re seeing on the news, go on a digital detox. And remember to keep things balanced by getting your news from different sources to get a better understanding of the topic, and by speaking to people who have different viewpoints.
Read this for more tips to protect your mental wellness.
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Q: How can we clear our mind after doom-scrolling, so that we’re not carrying that emotional burden around for the rest of the day?
Dr Lim: If you tend to be easily affected by bad news, avoid watching the news right before work or bedtime. That way, you won’t go to work or bed feeling anxious and afraid.
If you’re highly anxious, do relaxation exercises, such as abdominal breathing, for several minutes every day. Or distract yourself with other activities like work or a hobby, or by watching a funny TV show.
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You can also convert the negative energy into something positive. For instance, if you’re creative, you may wish to write a song or poem about the bad news you’ve been reading about. Or, you could start a donation drive for a specific cause that’s related to the tragic event.
And finally, remind yourself that continuing to doom-scroll and ruminate over bad news helps no one, including the victims.
Learn how to spot the signs of anxiety and manage them.
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