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If you thought that your doomscrolling habit peaked in the early days of the pandemic, enter 2022. With a war and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine, ongoing political and social turmoil in the U.S., and endless commentary and updates on COVID-19, many of us still find ourselves mindlessly scrolling our social media and news feeds more often than we would like. And it can have real consequences on our mental health.
According to a recent study on doomsrolling published in Technology, Mind, and Behavior, this compulsive phenomenon may start as an innocent, information-seeking tool, but can quickly spiral into a habitual, self-reinforcing pattern that steals not only our time, but also our joy. The study shows that anxiety, uncertainty, neuroticism, and a loss of self-control can all drive individuals to partake in this behavior. However, doomscrolling also reinforces itself—the more you do it, the more it fuels the apprehension and anxiety you feel, creating a cycle that makes the habit hard to break.
It doesn’t help that social media is an abyss that offers no natural end to a feed. In many ways, you’re at the mercy of the algorithm you helped create. “Doomscrolling has a way of narrowing your focus and enhances the feeling of being trapped,” says Courtney Hans, an RYT-500 yoga teacher based in Austin, Texas. “Remind yourself that you are, in fact, not held against your will by scrolling through articles and pictures.”
4 ways to avoid falling into a doomscrolling trap
Remember, you are in charge.
If a loss of self-control is linked to doomscrolling, perhaps the easiest way to off-ramp from the spiral is to “establish expectations.” Hans acknowledges that doomscrolling is particularly tricky because your intention is to navigate something relevant and important. “You’re not wrong to be concerned with the world around you,” she says. “The inflection point is: When are you informed enough that you can take your newfound knowledge and apply it?”
The easiest doomscoll hard stop is to set a timer before embarking on a social media app. Hans goes a step further by setting an affirmation pre-scroll, such as: “I take in what I need and leave when I am done.” By naming your intention, you’re cultivating awareness that creates boundaries. This line of thinking reflects aparigraha, the philosophy of non-possessiveness. Tend to your curiosity and then let it go.
Aim to establish a sense of control throughout the day by creating sadhana, a daily spiritual practice. “This small shift changes your focus, creating a feeling of accomplishment and building momentum in other practices,” says Melissa Green, owner of Aligned Wellness NYC, a therapeutic movement and holistic wellness practice in New York City. The practice can range from listening to kirtan while walking the dog to gratitude journaling. Even 5 to 10 minutes can have a profound effect as it teaches your mind to break down larger tasks into more manageable steps, extending this empowerment in other areas of your life.
If your newsfeed starts to take over anyway, Julie Weiss, lead instructor at Chopra Mind-Body Zone at the Lake Nona Performance Club in Orlando, Florida, recommends the following meditation to regain power within: Start by saying “I am (first name/last name). Repeat a few times. Then say, “I am (first name). Repeat as necessary. Finally embrace, “I am,” allowing it to transform into AHUM, the vibration of the phrase.
Consider your browsing history
“Doomscrolling combined with primitive AI is like living in a box that increasingly reduces choice by streaming more of the same thing,” says Noriko Roy, co-founder and CEO of NK Agency, a digital and creative marketing agency in Los Angeles. Think of doomscrolling as a funnel. “When you enter into a new social stream, it’s wide open,” Roy continues. “Then you begin defining this experience, which over time becomes the stem of the funnel.” Every time you share a news article or comment on a post, you’re telling the algorithm to send you more of the same. Break up the homogeny by unfollowing accounts that make you irritable and replacing them with positive hashtags like #breathwork, #powerofpositivity, #successmindset. In doing so, you’ll be re-educating the negative feed with the Yoga Sutra concept of pratipaksha bhavana—“cultivating the opposite.” “Interrupt the negative, obsessive thoughts that could lead to doomscrolling with the opposite: unclenching, softness, ease,” says Hans. Clearing search history and reverting to chronological feed options will also give you more variety, Roy suggests.
Engage with the real world.
You might think that compulsively checking your feed is a way to stay up-to-date, but the pull to scroll for information actually triggers your neural reward system, according to a 2019 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) study. “Doomscrolling likely relates to some perverse form of FOMO (missing out on disaster),” the Technology, Mind, and Behavior study states, so you continue to ingest the feed because it feels like you’re filling up on something vital. “When you have too much idle time, your mind tends to highlight negative things and insecurities that spiral into a very ‘self’ focused thought pattern,” says Green. That’s why it may seem that you’re doing something important by doomscrolling.
To counteract that nagging feeling of FOMO, engage with something that has real purpose and a sense of accomplishment, says Green, who recommends helping a neighbor or even decluttering your home. “When we do something that makes us feel good or valued, our mind craves more of that feeling and will attract more opportunities to feel that way,” adds Green. Just like counting during pranayama steers the mind from distraction, focusing on rewarding thoughts is likely to save you from the social media black hole that causes FOMO.
Alternatively, when you’re feeling helpless and want to engage, but perhaps can’t jump into a volunteering project, concentrate on finding drishti. “When we are so focused on the external, we are drawn further away from our home, our center, ourselves,” says Hans. To further overcome that feeling of missing out, do something in the now, like this grounding flow that Weiss implements to move from outer to inner focus:
- Start in Child’s Pose for a few breaths, as you visualize unwanted thoughts emptying out of your third eye.
- Move to Cow Pose as you inhale and open the chest, visualizing fresh positive energy entering your body. Flow between Child’s Pose and Cow Pose to create a new rhythm.
- Move into Downward-Facing Dog, allowing the remaining negativity to pour out as your head hangs heavy.
- Come back to Child’s Pose for a few breaths. Slide onto your belly, then into Sphinx Pose, allowing your heart to open as your shoulder blades squeeze together.
- Finally rest onto your belly in a prostration, or “pranam,” with the arms outstretched with palms in prayer. Release any remaining negative thoughts with several rounds of belly breathing.
- Complete the flow by sliding back into Sphinx or Cobra Pose for a few breaths, visualizing the renewed energy.
Ease daily anxiety.
Angst is at the root of doomscrolling. The habit is likely motivated by anxiety that further exacerbates anxiety. As worry creeps up, Weiss suggests using Deepak Chopra’s STOP technique:
- Stop what you’re doing.
- Take some deep breaths.
- Observe how the body feels and where you’re feeling those feelings.
- Proceed with kindness and compassion.
“You can choose to hold on to the thoughts you just digested, or to let them go,” Weiss adds, pointing to the Law of Karma—a cause-and-effect state where each action creates an energy force that boomerangs back. As the technology-driven claustrophobia starts closing in, pull yourself out of the tunnel by looking up from the screen and tuning into all your other senses. Notice your physicality—your posture, the clenching of your jaw—tightness is a sign that you need to recalibrate, says Hans. A yoga and meditation app can facilitate this, especially in the evening. “End-of-day anxiety can be heightened by exhaustion and overwhelm,” says Green. “It is not the time to try to do something that feels like it takes effort, you want to do enjoyable things that distract you from being on your phone.” To keep the digital lure at bay, Green charges her phone in the bathroom to keep from scrolling on impulse. Hans hides her device in her makeup basket.
In the words of Björk, “There is more to life than this.”