✎ Written by: Lily Yuan ✓ Fact-checked by: Kaija Sander, Ph.D.
Imagine this: You get home after a long day, you grab a few snacks from the cupboard, and plop down on the couch. And then, you whip out your phone. Time to open Twitter. Oodles of news about the economy collapsing, another unjust law enforcement, local robberies, hit and runs, overseas wars, and natural disasters flood your feed. It’s a digital bag of chaos and negativity, but you keep on scrolling despite your better judgment telling you to stop; despite your knowing it’s not going to help your day in any way. Why?
This bad habit of the never-ending scroll through negative (and usually shocking) news of tragedy or crises is referred to as doomscrolling. We are hardwired to scan for risks in our environments (known as the negativity bias), and reading negative news is a convenient way to scratch that itch. Doomscrolling alleviates your curiosity for unknown potential threats, while also reassuring you that you are “safe” from them. According to Cecill Ahrens, director of Transcend Therapy, a therapy practice in California, “We are evolutionarily wired to screen for and anticipate danger, which is why keeping our fingers on the pulse of bad news may trick us into feeling more prepared.”
Consuming negative news may seem harmless in the moment, but can become a destructive habit to kick later on. Doomscrolling can occur during any point in the day, with minutes or even hours going by before you realize what’s happening. Sometimes, even before bed, you may feel inclined to look through the news one last time. This may cause you to become stressed and lose out on healthy sleep.
Closely related to internet addiction, doomscrolling affects people of all ages. And while the motivations behind such behavior – to constantly be updated and aware of dangers that may affect you at some point – are valid, they can have a negative impact on various things including your sleep and the time you waste doomscrolling.
Let’s investigate why this happens and strategies to help prevent this pesky cycle of doom. We will look at:
1. The Attention Economy and Understanding Dopamine
2. The Dangers of News Addiction
3. How Doomscrolling Steals Your Sleep
4. How to Plan a Social Media Sabbatical
The Attention Economy and Understanding Dopamine
Social media can resemble a virtual slot machine that uses the same principles as those in a casino – with the goal of having you stay on the platform for as long as possible. Social media employs the powerful psychology of users craving the next “hit” or “win,” which triggers the release of dopamine in your brain.
The dopamine reward system is activated by the random algorithmic placement of content, which causes you to keep scrolling in anticipation for the next hit. This could be a TikTok of a natural disaster, a controversial tweet from a celebrity, or an Instagram reel showing how much trash is floating around in the ocean. Why? Because they’re unexpected, shocking, and capture