It will be needless to say that the world around us seems to not be at its best. At least not in my relatively short, living memory. From the political climate of the past few years to the COVID pandemic and the tragic events in Ukraine, we are constantly being bombarded with news. Today I want to raise awareness on the issue of "doomscrolling" and the negative impact of unpleasant news on our digital lifestyle.
Modern technology and especially smartphones are helping us connect in ways that were until very recently unimaginable. The amount of information that can be accessed from the convenience of our palm is unprecedented in human history. So when a major event happens somewhere, information spreads like wildfire.
But wanting to know what is going on is something natural. We simply need to know what is happening in the world to make more informed decisions. Unfortunately, the technological environment in which we look for news can be very harmful to our mental health and makes it easy to experience burnout.
Doomscrolling and headline stress disorder: A mental virus
I am not going to rant about how detrimental social media can be to our mental health in the conventional sense, but the dangers that come from the ability to access such amounts of information.
We spend several hours of our day reading the news. It is so easy after all; Google Feed is one swipe away, Facebook is the perfect place for long arguments, and Twitter is a treasure trove of raw, non-curated content. The amount of information a modern user can access via the internet is limitless. And this information requires our brains to work very hard to categorize and put it into context.
But when the information we receive is negative, then it can wear you down even further. In a recent 2017 survey, 56% of Americans reported that they feel stressed from the news that media platforms reproduce.
Content creators know this very well and focus on presenting the latest news over fact-checking, with clickbait titles that trigger the anticipation mechanisms that even though it stresses us more, make us want to consume even more information on a topic. And even when, according to the same study, 72% of users recognize that media may be inflating the news, the problem persists.
This brings us to "doomscrolling" which can be described as the continuous search for negative news on the internet. Users can spend countless hours scrolling through their feed in search of the latest negative developments. The result is something called headline stress disorder or more commonly, headline anxiety, which outlines a series of fatigue and anxiety symptoms that occur to users who keep reading negative news.
The problem is then magnified even further when there is a war going on. Another study demonstrated that news watching increases for around 76% of people during times of uncertainty, like a conflict. In the same survey, people who constantly watched newscasts were 1.6 times more likely to report at least one anxiety symptom. So, with how things are today, it is important to be vigilant for signs of anxiety that are caused by the ongoing news cycles.
Tech as a solution: How to protect yourself
If you want to protect yourself from the negative impact of news there are several things you can do. Since NextPit is a tech website we are going to start with a series of "technological fixes." Smartphones have implemented tools to help you combat the itch to scroll further. Digital wellbeing tools are adequately implemented in both ecosystems, Android and iOS, and now is a good time to start using them.
First, being aware of the issue and keeping track of your stress levels can be the most effective tool for combating the negative effects of news. Several smartwatches provide "stress monitoring" metrics. If you notice a bump in stress levels without any apparent explanation, you may want to pay closer attention to the content you consume.
Monitoring your habits through digital wellbeing dashboards is the easiest way to find out where that stress originates from: Look at how many hours you have on different platforms like TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube and try to set personal limits. If you find it difficult to stop reading the news before bed, this may also be a sign that should raise your awareness.
- Also read: Digital detoxing tricks
But these technological solutions are by no means enough. There are some news reading best practices that you can follow, like being aware of the content that you consume, avoiding news reading before sleep and balancing the positive and negative articles, and reading a wide variety of subjects. If you want to learn more, please visit the CDC website.
Now NextPit is not an expert on these subjects, so we do not want to delve deeper into the topic, but I hope that at least you became more aware of the problem and caught your attention enough to be a little more aware of the problem of doomscrolling and its impact on mental health.
But now I toss it to you, our readers! Have you experienced stress from reading the news? What do you think should be done about the problem? The comments are yours.