Have you ever found yourself endlessly scrolling through your social media feeds seeking out the latest depressing news stories, despite how hopeless they make you feel? This phenomenon, known as “doomscrolling,” has become increasingly common in today’s digital age.
But this habit is far from harmless. Psychological research suggests that this use of media could potentially be a form of self-sabotage that, if left unaddressed, could have serious consequences for our mental well-being. Here’s how to tell if you have a doomscrolling problem, and whether it’s time to give it up.
What Is Doomscrolling?
Research reveals that doomscrolling is more than just a casual browse through social media. Rather, it’s a compulsive behavior driven by an insatiable appetite for negative information. In a world inundated with alarming headlines and distressing updates, it’s easy to fall into the trap of endless scrolling, seeking out the next piece of bad news.
Some individuals may be drawn to doomscrolling out of a morbid curiosity or a subconscious need to stay informed about potential threats in their environment. This desire for negative information stems from our evolutionary instinct to protect ourselves from danger and maintain a sense of control over our surroundings. However, this constant exposure to distressing news can have detrimental effects on our mental well-being, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression and helplessness.
Others may find themselves doomscrolling due to a loss of self-control, unable to resist the urge to constantly check their social media feeds for updates, even when they know it’s not healthy. The addictive nature of social media, with its algorithmic systems designed to keep users engaged, makes it easy to get caught in a cycle of compulsive scrolling.
Additionally, the endless stream of news and information available online can contribute to the compulsive nature of doomscrolling. With 24/7 unrestricted access to news updates and social media feeds, there’s always something new to scroll through, keeping us hooked and unable to break free from the cycle.
Regardless of the underlying motivation—whether a desire for negative information, loss of self-control or the endless stream of news—doomscrolling ultimately leads to a harmful pattern of behavior that can take a toll on our mental health.
The Psychological Harms Of Doomscrolling
Research published in Technology, Mind, and Behavior emphasizes the necessity of addressing doomscrolling habits. Due to the harmful potential consequences the habit may have on mental health, the authors developed the Doomscrolling Scale–a reliable instrument for identifying doomscrolling behaviors. To use the scale, respondents read the 15 statements below and rate their level of agreement to each, on a scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”:
- I feel an urge to seek bad news on social media, more and more often.
- I lose track of time when I read bad news on social media.
- I constantly refresh my newsfeeds to see if something bad happened.
- I stay up late at night trying to find more negative news.
- Reading negative news on social media is more of a habit now.
- When I am online, I feel tense as if something bad is going to happen soon.
- I constantly feel panicked while scrolling on my device.
- I unconsciously check my newsfeeds for bad news.
- Even if my newsfeed says I am all caught up, I just keep scrolling for negative news.
- I find myself continuously browsing negative news.
- I check social media in the morning to see what bad things have happened.
- I feel like I am addicted to negative news.
- My social media searches probably make my newsfeeds more negative.
- I am terrified by what I see on social media but I cannot look away.
- It’s difficult to stop reading negative news on social media.
Through the use of this scale, the researchers identified the average profile of a doomscroller:
- Conscientiousness, associated with organization and self-discipline, tends to be lacking in doomscrollers—suggesting a struggle with impulse control.
- Extraversion, reflecting sociability and a preference for external stimulation, is also diminished in those who frequently engage in doomscrolling. This may indicate a reliance on online interactions for social fulfillment.
- Likewise, agreeableness, encompassing empathy and cooperation, also falls short in doomscrollers—indicating a reduced capacity for emotional regulation.
- Conversely, high levels of neuroticism, characterized by emotional instability and anxiety, are common among doomscrollers. This suggests that doomscrolling may serve as a coping mechanism for managing distress.
It may be difficult to understand why anyone would engage in behaviors that only lead to sadness or pain. In the moment, doomscrolling may feel like an attempt to arm ourselves with knowledge—in the hopes of feeling safer, protected or prepared. However, as we continue to scroll through an endless stream of negative news, we only perpetuate a cycle of rumination and guilt. We scroll helplessly, armed with the knowledge of every awful thing happening in the world. At the same time, we bear the sobering guilt that there is nothing we can do to stop these events.
Doomscrolling may provide a false sense of control and safety in an uncertain world. In reality, the habit only makes the world seem more dangerous and sad than it actually is. When caught in such a cycle of self-sabotage, the most important awareness to have is to know when to put your phone down, and when to embrace good news for a change.
Worried that you may have a penchant for doomscrolling? Take this test to find out: Doomscrolling Scale