You’re in bed, having fully intended to get to sleep early and have a decent night’s kip, but instead of closing your eyes and drifting off to sleep, your screen is glowing and your thumb is scrolling, scrolling, scrolling in a never-ending motion.
There’s nothing there for you apart from misery – breaking news alerts, reports on coronavirus death rates, features highlighting the devastating mental health impact of living through the pandemic – and this repetitive act is in no way relaxing or enjoyable. But you can’t seem to stop.
This is doomscrolling, also known as doomsurfing, and it’s wrecking your mental health.
Doomscrolling describes the act of endlessly reading through gloomy news updates and bad-faith takes online.
It’s a strangely unconscious act. If you paused to ask why you’re scrolling Twitter and your newsfeed when it only serves to make you angry, sad, and scared, you probably wouldn’t have a reason – other than perhaps that urgent need to be informed and a fear of missing out on what’s going on.
But while doomscrolling makes little sense as a pre-bed activity, many of us find ourselves in the same routine – and the act has become even more prevalent in coronavirus times, so much so that Merriam-Webster recently declared doomscrolling one of its ‘words to watch’.
So why do we do it? And perhaps more importantly, how can we break free of the endless doomscrolling cycle?
Dr Daria Kuss, Associate Course Leader of Cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University, tells Metro.co.uk that doomscrolling has become even more irresistible in the pandemic because our worlds have ‘shrunk’ and we’re in need of any form of social connection.
‘We have become conditioned to use social media more during the pandemic,’ she explains. ‘We reach for social media to connect socially, to feel a sense of community and belonging.’
But of course, while social media might feel like a way to connect and feel less alone as a concept, the reality is very different. We can end up feeling even more isolated and miserable, drowning under a barrage of bleak news.
Despite that, though, the act of scrolling has inbuilt mini ‘rewards’ to keep us going, even when what we’re actually seeing isn’t making us happy.
Daria says: ‘When engaging with social media, we receive rewards in the form of comments and likes, and over time our brains learn to associate social media use with a rewarding experience, which explains why the behaviour is maintained.
‘Doomscrolling may be a side product of this conditioned social media engagement.’
Basically, even if the content of our feeds is making us miserable, it’s gamified enough to keep us hooked. The bright colours, the interspersion of bad news with funny jokes and reposted…