Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic left a great many people locked down in their homes, each night ends the way the day began — with an endless scroll through the internet in a desperate search for clarity. The concept of ‘doomscrolling’, which started gaining traction last year with the outbreak of the coronavirus, has only gotten worse in the recent months. Many took to social media to admit that they could not peel themselves away from excessive consumption of information.
“Doomscrolling is mindless scrolling, spending excessive time on social media so much so that you don’t get your basic functionalities done,” says Shriya Shrivastava, therapist and founder of Roohi, an organization working towards making mental health more accessible. She reiterates that the phenomenon is not only limited to negative news but also any content that people are consuming in excess amounts.
Every human being has an inherent need to feel like they belong and in the absence of real-life interactions, social media bridges that gap, Shrivastava opines. In a media report, Graham Davey, a researcher from the University of Sussex also points out that in unprecedented times like these, people feel the need to constantly engage with news because of the sheer lack of certainty.
“Ironically enough, I heard about doomscrolling recently while I was doomscrolling,” says Madhu (24). The Chennai-based finance professional admits that she spends anywhere between three to six hours a day on social media and has struggled to stay away from it.
Having recovered from COVID-19 recently, she shares that she was extremely anxious during the time. “I was on my phone a lot on the pretext of ‘keeping up with the news and medical advice online’ but I was doomscrolling,” she adds. She remarks that the habit only compounded her stress and anxiety, making it hard to turn her mind off and disrupting her sleep cycle.
Being caught in a faucet of data and content running nonstop can lead to severe long-term consequences on not just mental well-being but also your physical health. Shrivastava shares that constantly being hunched over a screen can lead to neck and shoulder pain and increase your risk for conditions such as spondylitis. Excessive social media usage, amidst all of the pain, isolation, and destruction, has also led to people experiencing more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
“I’m cut off from a lot of things that would ideally keep me occupied throughout the day. And because the future looks grim, I started using social media as an emotional anchor but now the truth is I use it to escape from my feelings and reality,” admits Madhu, echoing the feelings of many others who feel similarly at this current stage of the pandemic. “On most days I feel emotionally exhausted and numb from doomscrolling,” she adds.
Why you need a social media audit
Take some time out to conduct a social media audit and analyze your consumption. Use apps that educate you about your total screen time each day and how much you spent on each social media site. You can also install extensions on your computer to give you similar information. Currently, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are some of the platforms where people spend the most time, according to .
“You don’t need to do a complete social media detox,” says Shrivastava, because for many it is their only connection to the world outside. “Instead focus on smaller steps that can help you curate your social media experience towards being healthier for you,” she says.
A key part of the social media audit is to also clean up the list of accounts you’re following. While it’s necessary to remain updated, you can perhaps stick with a handful of trustworthy news sources. Content from other countries where things could be far better may also be a source of disappointment or hope, so take action accordingly. Many have shared that influencers’ content has also been triggering to them in some cases. For example, if you’re someone who is living with body issues, following a range of models and fitness influencers may not be the healthiest for you. Take the time out to cull down who you’re following depending on the way their content makes you feel.
“Turn off push notifications,” she recommends so that you’re not constantly reaching out for your phone every time it goes off. For instance, Instagram has an option for usage limits that lets you manage your activity by choosing a particular amount of time. It will automatically alert you once the daily limit lapses, allowing you to be more cognizant of your use.
This correspondent has also tried uninstalling Instagram and Twitter from her phone every weekend and only uses them when necessary from the laptop, thereby helping bring down unnecessary scrolling.
“Something that I’ve tried with myself and my team is to not start the day with social media and emails,” remarks Shrivastava. She reiterates that it’s okay if you don’t want to start the day by journaling or working out, but stresses on the importance of creating mindful rituals. “Simply sit down by yourself either on your balcony or by your window before the day begins,” she adds. She focuses on creating rituals instead of goals because they are easier to shift as and when you need and feel less competitive. “I know it gets very difficult, especially these days, so now is the time to go easy on yourself,” she reiterates.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)