Your phone alarm goes off at 6am. You check some news sites and Facebook. It’s bad news after bad news. Coronavirus cases keep climbing, and so do deaths. Children can’t go back to school. Your favourite restaurant and barbershop are still closed. People are losing their jobs.
Everything is awful. You haven’t climbed out of your pit of despair to even shower. You repeat this masochistic exercise during your lunch break — and again while getting ready for bed.
This experience of sinking into emotional quicksand while bingeing on doom-and-gloom news is so common that there’s now Internet lingo for it: “doomscrolling”. By some measures, our screen time has jumped at least 50 per cent. Fret not: we aren’t doomed just yet, and there are approaches to modifying our behaviour.
Plan to control time
To resist information bingeing, we can create a plan to control how much we consume, similar to how people can create a dieting plan to lose weight, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist and co-author of the book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.
Step One is to acknowledge the burden that doomscrolling creates for our health, Gazzaley said. Step Two is to create a realistic plan that you can stick with and repeat until it forms a habit.
Creating a schedule is an effective approach. Start by making calendar appointments for everything from mundane activities, like taking a walk outside, to business matters, like videoconferencing meetings.
Set aside certain times of the day to read the news, if you must — and set a 10-minute timer to remind you to stop scrolling. Another trick is to wear a rubber band around your hand while you are reading the news. When you believe you are succumbing to doomscrolling, snap the rubber band against your wrist.
It’s also important to rethink breaks. Before the pandemic, one of our typical lunch breaks involved browsing Facebook. With nowhere to go out for lunch under shelter-in-place orders, browsing the web has become the default work break, an obvious trap that could lead to doomscrolling.
Instead of staying glued to a screen, take a stroll around the block, hop on the exercise bike, prepare your favourite snack.
Exercises in mindfulness can help us break the cycle of information bingeing or prevent us from sinking into a dark place altogether.
Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher and author of the book Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World, recommended this exercise to feel connected with others at a time when we can’t see many people:
Take some breaths and think about the people who have helped you in the past. This could be your friends, colleagues and even the restaurant workers bagging your takeout food.
“It’s a different way of relating and not feeling isolation,” Salzberg said.
Connect with others
Spend at least 15 minutes a day connecting with the people we care about most. That can help us feel less alone and resist doomscrolling.
But how can we connect with people when we can’t easily see them? In the beginning of the pandemic, many of us turned to videoconferencing apps to connect with friends, colleagues and loved ones. Now, more than four months into the pandemic, many are experiencing “Zoom fatigue”.
Some experts recommend people try to form a moai, a Japanese word for a social support group. This could be a small group of friends who regularly convene — on the phone, in video chat or in person at a safe distance — and agree to look out for one another. You, along with two others, can form a moai, and, once a month, spend two hours catching up in a frank conversation about personal issues related to health, relationships and finances.
In short, we can create a new structure in our lives to survive the doom-and-gloom news cycle.