Doomscrolling? Ask these 5 defusing questions first.

Tired of doomscrolling? I’ve wasted hours too, and also suffered mental deterioration.

If fearmongering, ignorant gossip, or sensational headline bait suck you down an addictive vortex, read on for 5 questions I ask myself before clicking a headline.

Doomscrolling Pinterest Pin

All news is biased. And all news outlets need money, often but not always from ad revenue. Social media is the same.

It’s in the best interests of both of these to get you to click to a new page or keep doomscrolling down the endless scroll.

I’m not accusing every outlet, article, or writer of being sensationalist. But there are some things you can look out for, and some things you can do, to stop doomscrolling.

I wrote these guidelines so I’d stop riding rollercoasters of anger, fear, and existential crises, and I hope they help you.

emotional roller coaster
Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

1. Can I do anything about it?

“There is only one road to happiness—let this rule be at hand morning, noon, and night: stay detached from things that are not up to you.” – Epictetus, Discourses

This started with me believing I could save myself and help others who struggled with misinformation. It worked, but once the evidence became overwhelming, I decided I had collected enough. Besides, some people are so trapped in fear they won’t listen, and to them, my words and evidence are a personal attack. (see #3)

That was the only thing I could do about it. So once I imposed that limit of enough, I had no need to consume news that repeated what I already knew, even when a new expert testified.

Rather, I follow the words of Epictetus, as I quoted above. The Serenity Prayer, composed by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1943, echoes it: (I use the popularized Alcoholics Anonymous version here):

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

If it’s not up to you, and you can do nothing about it, why get angry, or afraid, or horrified? It takes a mental toll, and you can’t change the outcome. So change your viewing behavior.

Yes, there are monstrosities happening in the world, but there’s more than one humanitarian crisis right now, and I’d wager at any time. Why don’t you care about those?

Because they don’t populate your news feed.

I’m not asking you to stop caring. But if you don’t know anyone personally involved, the reason you care about this one over all the others is because you’re not looking at all the others.

Here’s my Instagram friend renee_butnotdescartes on how to prevent it from populating your feed:

"The algorithm gives you content that it 'thinks' you want to see. That's all. It can't tell the difference between you hovering over a video because it shocked or scared you and hovering over something you found interesting or uplifting."

2. Does this sensationally outrage me?

Once you know how to look for sensationalism, it’s easy to spot. Here are a few things to look for:

  • judging or labeling one party
    • examples: any character attacks or name-calling (cowardly)
  • judging or labeling one’s party’s argument
    • examples: “slams,” “destroys,” “rips them apart,” “demolishes their argument”
  • judging or labeling the situation
    • examples: “shocking,” “you won’t believe,” (how dare you tell me what to believe), “unreal”
  • inflating magnitude
    • examples: “bombshell,” “revelations,” “explosive allegations,” “emergency,” “showdown”

The news should inform you, not fire you up. Nor should any outlet tell you what to think. But when they inevitably do, take their bias into account. And not just the writer, the editor and the outlet, too.

Publishing something that upsets their core demographic, regardless of the facts, would be bad for business.

Do note, however, that shocking words may be appropriate in some cases, such as “puppet” or “propaganda.” But since it’s impossible to find nonbiased news, all you can do is be aware of the bias.

Besides, this article is not an indictment. It’s a solution.

And here’s that solution: get angry at the OUTLET for harming your mental health!

But not by calling them out on Twitter. By refusing to give them your eyeballs, and thus, your business. Vote with your dollar: stop doomscrolling.

More doom (bad news headlines) compels more engagement (via continued liking/sharing/posting) which produces more personal data, thus making ever more profit.
from On Reading and Being Read in the Pandemic: Software, Interface, and The Endless Doomscroller

Don’t let them profit off your misery!

3. Does it make me feel unsafe?

“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.”
– Tacitus, Annals Book XV

Safety is the second layer in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Bottom to top: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, self-actualization.

According to Maslow’s theory, you can usually only progress to the higher layers once the lower ones are satisfied. When fearmongers terrify me, they freeze me in inaction until I feel safe to do anything else besides keep listening to them for a fragment of hope… which they never offer.

It’s a sales technique: terrify your audience, then offer one myopic solution. Better yet, encourage demonizing the side that doesn’t want the one solution and makes other listeners of the sales pitch feel unsafe. Pushing out articles demonizing that group will keep ’em doomscrolling.

Don’t be held hostage by marketers who terrify you into desiring their manufactured hate!

Eyeballs = money. Hate and fear WORK.

I know four doomscrolling solutions to feel safe again, all verified myself:

  • Religion. God fills the hole that fear creates.
  • But if that’s not your thing, try love and empathy. FEAR IS THE ROOT OF HATE. Most people who threaten your safety do it out of fear of losing their own. You have common ground! Forgive. (Believe me, I know this is the hardest thing in the world to do. At least do it for your mental health.)
  • Breathe in for 3 (nose), out for 6 (mouth) and remember / work toward your life goals. You can’t see the future, no matter how much you think you can.
  • Buy insurance. Life insurance, food, extra gas…

So if the news makes you feel unsafe where you weren’t before, refer to the next question.

4. Is the anger, hate, and fear worth it?

No.

Never.

You know this.

book cover: Hitler riding on a rainbow magic carpet. Title: "Everyone I don't like is Hitler: a child's guide to online political discussion."

5. Is ignorance bliss?

Put another way, would you have rather not known what you now do?

Doomscrolling can sometimes mean to imitate these statues: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

I know stacks of possible doomsday scenarios, but some I’m not afraid of because I refuse to learn about them. For instance, I can’t begin to understand finance news, and I ignore learning about socialism.

Sometimes it’s better to not read about another way powerful zealots could kill you.

Unless you can do something about it. If you can, that nullifies this question. You know what to do.

I think I’ll put these doomscrolling questions in a quasi-Maslow’s hierarchy form:

Doomscrolling questions hierarchy. 1-5.

Remember, you can’t (usually) advance to the higher layers unless you satisfy the lower ones. (Tay and Diener suggest the layers are more like vitamins, but nonetheless)

Ask these questions before even clicking on a new headline. This is how to stop doomscrolling.

Bonus: Does this person’s opinion matter to me?

If the article is titled something like “X wants to punch people in the face for doing Y,” and this person is for example a talk show host, why does their opinion matter to you? There are bad and hateful people. Truly, what does this article serve other than to make us feel more unsafe, and in order to recover, pigeonhole people of whatever demographic that loudmouth represents? Hate = eyeballs = doomscrolling.

Bonus: Does this confirm what I already believe to be true?

Nothing wrong with collecting science to show the misinformed, but do you need to hear expert #15 tell you what experts #1-14 said in previous longform? If they have no new information, it’s a waste of time.

Other doomscrolling solutions

  1. Unfollow sources that prey on you. Uninstall entire apps if need be.
  2. Realize the absurdity of The Endless Doomscroller.
  3. Read a positive news source… that aligns with your beliefs.

Try software. (works for news sites, but not social media unless you want to block all of it)

Try activating your parasympathetic nervous system. Nose-breathing in for 3, out for 6 (or in for 2, out for 4) initiates a calming response.

Try the above questions.

Try affect labeling.

And finally, try healing your own need for safety. You can use metta meditation, gratitude (reciting what’s going right in your life), religion, buying peace of mind, listening to calming music, or getting into nature and watching the trees and grass sway.

Intentionality ends doomscrolling. So set goals, a timer, or an if/then statement for maximum effect, then charge in thereif you still want to consumewith these questions and strategies as armor.

“The mind is an excellent servant, but a terrible master.” – saying

(This article also viewable as a slideshow!)



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