We’ve all done it. That one alarming headline pulls you in and leads to click after click, scroll after scroll — until suddenly you’re reading about everything wrong in the world. Or maybe you were looking for some information to reassure yourself, but after catching up on the news, you’re more anxious than before.
This phenomenon now has a name: Merriam-Webster recently recognized the new terms “doomsurfing” and “doomscrolling,” and they evoke a problem traveling around the world as fast as COVID-19. They refer to “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening or depressing.”
So why do we spend our time this way? Research suggests consuming the news can be addictive. For example, a 2019 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the average human is more physiologically activated by negative news stories than by positive ones. This phenomenon is called negativity bias, and it’s one explanation for why it’s hard to stop reading and watching the news.
Go to your favorite news app right now and see how many of these themes you find in the first five headlines:
- Natural disasters
- A worldwide pandemic
- Climate change
- A volatile economy
The news is brimming with negativity, and there are more ways to consume news than ever before. If you spend much time focusing on it, your outlook on the world will be influenced by it. A 2007 published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine showed that after a 15-minute newscast, anxiety increased overall for the group of 179 viewers, and positive feelings decreased.
So how do we stay informed and positive at the same time? How do we clear the mental clutter of bad news to make way for a better outlook? Experts have some advice.
Turn off the alerts:
Reading the news can be like mental quicksand — difficult to emerge from once you follow the first click. But you can lessen the temptation of the first click by simply turning off notifications for your news apps on your device.
So how much news is too much? Experts say limit yourself to one or two news check-ins per day. That includes on your phone, TV and computer. And never, ever watch or read the news before bed. This is a good practice for healthy sleep anyway, as experts for years have recommended limiting screen time in the hours leading to bedtime.
Take a break:
Whether it means turning off your TV or being intentional about your phone use, choose one day per week to distance yourself from the news and social media.
Reflect on the positive:
Try this exercise from the Greater Good Science Center. Each day for at least one week, write down three things that went well for you that day, and provide an explanation for why they went well. For example, “My co-worker complimented me today,” or “I finished three miles on the treadmill.” To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some find that writing before bed is helpful.
As you write, follow these instructions:
- Give the event a title (for example, “Co-worker complimented me today”).
- Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.
- Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).
- Explain what you think caused this event — why it came to pass.
- Use whatever writing style you wish, and do not worry about perfect grammar and spelling.
- If you find yourself focusing on negative feelings, refocus your mind on the good event and the positive feelings that came with it. This can take effort but gets easier with practice and can make a real difference in how you feel.
And whenever you take time to reflect, it can help to remember that God is in control — like the psalmist David did when he wrote these words in Psalms 94:19: “When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy.”
Written By Kirsten Cutler