Interactions with social media and online news platforms can have a serious impact on young people’s mental health — and unfortunately, it isn’t always positive.

With the residual effects of the pandemic and widespread economic disparity exacerbating young people’s stress and anxiety, it’s more important than ever for us to assess our relationship with social media, and the things we can do to limit its potential to harm.

One of the most glaring manifestations of social media’s negative effects on mental health is doomscrolling. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what doomscrolling is, its causes, and some healthy self-care habits to get into if you’re worried about how doomscrolling might be affecting you.

Doomscrolling and What it Does

When social media was in its infancy, early platforms like Myspace and Bebo were dedicated almost entirely to light-hearted memes, viral videos, and music. As the significance of social media in our society grew, however, this relatively harmless content has given way to the more serious bazaar of politics and current events.

Doomscrolling is the act of habitually scrolling through bad news on social media apps in a way that exceeds normal media consumption, despite knowing that this type of media will lead to a low mood.

Though doomscrolling isn’t exclusive to young people, it’s long been known that overuse of social media is a more common issue among younger age groups, with the potential to harm a person’s quality of sleep and heighten the risk of depressive symptoms.

Since the onset of the pandemic, other studies have been conducted specifically on the mental health risks associated with doomscrolling. One investigation by the academic journal Health Communication found that: ‘16.5 per cent of about 1,100 people surveyed showed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption, leading to greater levels of stress.’

Doomscrolling is an especially concerning topic due to the algorithm models most social media platforms use, which track people’s engagement for certain types of content and use this as a prompt to show more of the kinds of content we linger on most. This way, people who are in the habit of doomscrolling are more likely to keep doomscrolling, as their chosen social media platform recognises their engagement with negative or controversial news and shows them more to keep them on the platform.

Though there are ongoing constructive conversations around people learning digital hygiene at a younger and younger age, for the time being, today’s youth have to depend on their own wherewithal and discipline to limit the damaging effects that doomscrolling can have.

Healthy Habits to Help You Stop Doomscrolling

Though doomscrolling can be an immensely hard habit to break, consciously adopting healthier habits can work wonders to counteract its negative impact on your mental health.

Here are 4 helpful bites of advice to stop doomscrolling from getting the better of you:

1. First of All, Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

The first and most important thing to say is that you should never be afraid to ask for help when struggling with your mental health.

Admitting you need help can be an understandably daunting prospect, and makes many people feel vulnerable or weak. However, it’s important to note that the stigma around talking about your mental health isn’t nearly as prevalent as it once was, and there are now more resources than ever for people who need a little extra support managing their mood and behaviour.

From simple things like using a guided meditation app that gives you push-notification reminders, to extended stays at specialised treatment centres that focus on internet addiction, there’s no reason for people to suffer in silence when they know they need more support.

2. Reflect on your Thoughts When You Catch Yourself Doomscrolling

When you realise that you’re doomscrolling, one of the best strategies you can use to curb this behaviour is to apply a little self-directed CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). In CBT, patients are encouraged to use a technique known as cognitive restructuring, in which they reflect on maladaptive and irrational thoughts as soon as they arise.

The idea here is to examine your negative thoughts enough that you can determine how accurate they really are (no wild assumptions!), what’s triggering them (e.g., social media pages that specialise in hyperbolic headlines), and the immediate reaction that these kinds of stimuli have on you (e.g., anger, withdrawal, fatigue).

Though CBT is ideally conducted with a trained therapist, learning about it on your own initiative and developing habits based on its principles can be a great way to cut down on unhealthy mental habits, and adopt better ones.

3. Limit Your Scrolling Time

Though excessive consumption of bad news is unhealthy for anyone, trying to stop doomscrolling doesn’t mean that you have to give up on current events altogether.

There’s now a huge market of apps that allow you to limit the time you spend on certain apps or set reminders that notify you when you’ve been spending a lot of time scrolling.

Though these apps are usually marketed as productivity tools, they can also be configured as mental health supports once you’ve examined your habits and determined which apps are contributing to your doomscrolling the most.

By limiting your social media time to specific windows, you can put a cap on your potential for doomscrolling and work towards a healthier relationship between your social feeds and your mind.

4. Take a Break from Push Notifications for News Sources

Push notifications can be positive or negative, productive or distracting, depending on the associated apps and the settings you apply. If you find that one of your big triggers for doomscrolling is push notifications from news platforms, then try turning these off for a while.

Using your phone without the regular slew of notifications might feel strange at first, but once you get used to it, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up thanking yourself.

Push notifications create a false sense of urgency by design, pulling you away from whatever it is you were doing and stirring you into a feeling that you have to take action immediately, even in the knowledge that whatever’s pinging you can wait. By removing that initial stimulus, you’ll naturally begin to settle into healthier, more positive browsing habits.

Final Thoughts …

Unhealthy habits like doomscrolling can be easy to slip into and hard to break out of, but by acknowledging the problem, you’ve made your first step towards remedying it.

We hope this quick guide has helped you build a better understanding of your triggers, embrace self-care, and move towards a better relationship with your phone.