Most people who spend a significant amount of time on social media experience the compulsion to stay updated with what’s happening around the world – no matter how disturbing or triggering. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the word ‘doomscrolling’ surfaced into our vocabularies to describe an extreme form of this compulsion. While it is important to keep abreast of the events that influence us in both big and small ways, the sense of helplessness and anxiety that accompanies it can take a toll on one’s mental and emotional health.
We asked psychologist Riddhi Khandhar how one can better equip themselves to deal with the mental health impacts of distressing news and escape the cycle of doomscrolling.
1. Practice acceptance
First of all, it’s important to bear in mind that these are only natural human emotions and experiences. There’s no quick-fix solution and you certainly can’t snap out of it. One of the best ways to deal with it would be to constantly practice acceptance. Not just when feeling helpless, but for any sort of negative emotion that one experiences in life. Through that, you learn to become comfortable with that emotion instead of trying to fight it. Helplessness is an unpleasant state to be in, but it is there and it’ll take time to go. Be kind enough to yourself, give that emotion the time and space it needs so you can process it at your own pace. It also helps to take a step back, take stock of the situation and understand for ourselves what is realistically within our control and what isn’t. When you think about what is within your control, you actually have answers to how you can be of help. It could be in ways such as reaching out to people, amplifying posts on social media or contributing to funds and donation drives.
2. Look out for warning signs
Pay attention to your own body. Warning signs can be aches or pains, feeling excessively tired, feelings of sickness or changes in your sleeping or eating patterns. These bodily signs are unique to each one of us and everyone displays these in some or the other capacity because usually, our body is the first place where we manifest distress. Once we recognize them, we can start to work on them. You might also experience feelings of demotivation, thinking that everything feels pointless or a lack of interest in things. Not wanting to engage in my daily tasks and withdrawing from social contact or situations are also warning signs of distress that can happen through exposure to this kind of news. Another important thing to remember is that if someone has experienced these distressing situations before, reading or consuming news about them would become even more triggering.
3. Reach out for help
For those of us who are privileged enough to have supportive friends and family, they become the most accessible sources of help. It is natural to turn to them first. But if you want a little more anonymity, a little less judgment, or you simply don’t want to burden them, it helps to turn to professionals. Sometimes, you only need someone to listen to you, and you don’t need prolonged therapy or mental health support. There are a lot of chat, call or email-based helplines that are run by professionals for free where you can find people to listen to you and get the kind of support you need. When you feel very stuck in those feelings, reaching out to a therapist would be important, because they give you more constant, focused and directed support. If you feel extreme, debilitating distress that is affecting you to a severe level, reaching out to a psychiatrist would also help.
4. Limit social media use
One of the surest and the most effective ways to stop doomscrolling is to restrict your social media use. You can do this by setting timers, by tracking the hours you spend on each app or by turning off your social media notifications. Give yourself a time window of 30 or 45 minutes every day during which you consume news so you can stay updated without falling into the rabbit hole of constantly reading distressing content.
5. Balance out your feed
Balance out your social media feed. For every heavy news page that you follow, make sure that you also follow lighthearted pages that post positive news or content that makes you laugh. You do not want to be constantly bombarded with only triggering news. Remove any person or page whose stories, posts and comments you find triggering, angering or frustrating. Being that kind to yourself is important. Having an hour or two in a day where you are only sitting with yourself and processing how you feel also helps you check in with yourself regarding where you are emotionally.
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