Artwork by Mina Jung/Talon

Falling into the virtual rabbit hole of doomscrolling

A pandemic of a different kind

By: Michelle Bi, guest writer, and Tess Leong, guest writer

It starts with one click. Safari, News, even Instagram; all are seemingly benign portals to an entirely different world. Nowadays, almost all online articles seem to include embedded links, an effective ploy to garner attention. Opening up one page can quickly mean hopping to another, then another, until you’re almost inundated with information.

If you’ve had to deal with this problem before, you’re not alone. In an ongoing poll by Health.com, 71% of their readers admitted to being a victim to the vicious spiral of doomscrolling.

So what exactly is doomscrolling? Also called doomsurfing, this term has been used to describe the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening or depressing, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Over time, it can become more than a habit; reaching for a phone and hitting a notification button can morph into an addiction far too easily. The hours blur into each other as you scroll through the news, seeing one horrifying article after another. As time passes, it becomes difficult — almost impossible — to pull away.

It may sound far-fetched, but science suggests that this behavior may have roots in evolutionary history.

“Humans may [be] neurologically or physiologically predisposed towards focusing on negative information because the potential costs of negative information far outweigh the potential benefits of positive information,” professor of communication and political science at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan Stuart Soroka said.

Early humans trained themselves to be hyper-aware of threats and other negative things in their area to avoid injury and maximize their chances of life. Over the years, that habit has bled through into modern-day society; instead of surveying the terrain for predators, we scan through our phones for potentially-dangerous news and headlines.

According to Dr. Amelia Aldao, a clinical psychologist, doomscrolling is a habit that is difficult to break.

"The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them, the more anxious we get," Aldao said in an interview with NPR. "Now you look around yourself, and everything feels gloomy, everything makes you anxious. So you go back to look for more information."

A survey taken by over 3,000 ParentsTogether members reports that their child’s screen time increased by an average of 500 percent from before the pandemic hit. The real question is, how much of that screen time is used as doomscrolling? Negative news and posts can influence the feelings and thoughts of one’s mind, taking a major toll on mental health.

Freshman Catherine Cheng expressed that she has fallen victim to doomscrolling.

“Currently, when I read news about [the] coronavirus, it makes me sad,” Cheng said. “It makes me feel like everything I read is negative news and that it makes me feel … that in the future, we have no good news and that there is no hope.”

When asked about how she has handled the effects of doomscrolling, Cheng described her methods of balancing consuming positive and negative stories.

“I still read negative news but I look at positive stories too,” Cheng said. “There have been improvements about vaccines regarding the coronavirus and these stories renew hope.”

About 20% of teens experience depression before reaching adulthood, according to the Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program. Social media is now a common aspect of a teen’s life and as teens proceed to scroll through the content on their devices, the discovery of saddening news allows their mental health to deteriorate.

It’s not just teens, either; it affects the entire population, young and old. Psychologist Susan Albers stated that the negativity of doomscrolling can “pull you under” and could “lead to panic attacks.”

“If you’re prone to anxiety, depression or sadness, doomscrolling can be like stepping into quicksand,” Albers said.

Most people can agree that the year 2020 has not gone as good as they had hoped for. With numerous tragedies, natural disasters and the infamous COVID-19, people have been forced to stay at home, with not much hope left. Staying at home for more than half the year can create some serious boredom. Most just turn to their televisions and phones to fill in these uneventful times. Facebook has reported that the amount of activity on the social media platform has increased by 27% from January to March in 2020, and Twitter activity has risen 24% ever since the pandemic started. To voluntarily give up electronics would be seemingly impossible.

Going back to the natural hyper-awareness of human behavior, reading all the negativity on the internet can create more stress, rather than preparedness. Some people tend to read negative news as a form of self-pity, but instead of making themselves feel better, anxiety, stress and fear may end up blooming in one’s mind.

It seems like the action of doomscrolling is inevitable. Is it though? Dr. Thea Gallagher, Clinic Director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perlman School of Medicine, gave a bit of advice so that people can stop doomscrolling. Gallagher advised people to first acknowledge the fact that they are doomscrolling.

The next step is limiting the amount of time spent on their device. Optional activities to help cease doomscrolling are to meditate to calm the mind and body and do the opposite of doomscrolling: looking at the good news. Uplifting articles increase serotonin levels, which improves your overall mood. The following are some great places to find positive news: ‘Some Good News’ is a YouTube Channel hosted by actor and filmmaker, John Krasinski, and The Good News Network is an organization filled with uplifting news.

This may seem difficult to achieve, but one advised practice is to set timers and put down boundaries to prevent doomscrolling. Give yourself a certain amount of time to flick through the headlines, then once your timer goes off, take a break. Also, try your best to stay aware of what you’re doing. Falling down a Google rabbit hole is a lot easier to stop if you occasionally ask yourself if you’ve already gotten what you originally needed.

Even though the world seems to be falling apart at the moment, there will always be joyful events. So next time you feel yourself gravitate towards your phone, don’t go straight to the bad news. Take a look at the hopeful headlines too.