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26th Jan 2024

Searches for ‘Doomscroll’ are on the rise, but what is it and how do we break the habit?

Jody Coffey

doomscrolling habit

If you’ve stopped scrolling to read this, you’ve already taken the first step.

In the digital age, many of us are gripped by the clutches of a binge scrolling habit on social media.

What we consume online is part of the diet we feed our insatiable minds, and whether we want it to or not, some unhealthy, depressing, or triggering content ends up slipping through.

When it does, do we immediately put down our phones? Not usually. If anything, we keep on scrolling and likely come across the same genre of content again and again.

This is what is known as ‘doomscrolling’, and I’d bet my savings (albeit, there isn’t a whole lot) that we have all fallen victim to this online habit.

Credit: Getty

What is ‘Doomscrolling’?

Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘doomscrolling’ as “the activity of spending a lot of time looking at your phone or computer and reading bad or negative news stories”.

Sound familiar? You’re certainly not alone.

Google search data has revealed that searches for the term have risen by 53 per cent in Ireland over the last year, in what I can only assume is an attempt by users to make changes to online patterns.

According to Dr Naveen Puri, Medical Director for Bupa UK Insurance, there are negative impacts – both physical and mental – that are associated with ‘Doomscrolling’.

“Mentally speaking, using devices like your smartphone can trigger the release of dopamine in your brain, which makes you feel happier,” Dr Puri explains.

“However, if you build up a tolerance to that dopamine response, you might find yourself spending more time scrolling to try and get that same happy feeling that you once did.”

Credit: Getty

Most people already know that spending too much time on our phones can damage our mental and physical health, but we may not be aware of how.

“From information overload to using your phone as a ‘security blanket’ to help with social isolation or anxiety, your phone may exacerbate underlying health conditions,” he tells 

“Looking at screens too much can leave you both mentally and physically exhausted. Over long periods, excessive screen time without proper breaks can leave you prone to digital eye strain (DES), leading to symptoms like headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck and shoulder pain.”

The introduction of smartphones has allowed us to access information in seconds and connect to people all over the world, which is great, but Dr Puri warns it can also be a huge distraction from reality and ourselves.

Asking ourselves honestly how our social media habits make us feel is a good place to start.

“Paying more attention to how your smartphone makes you feel about yourself and others can help you change your priorities, improve your sleep, relationships and ability to focus, too.”

With that advice in tow, now it’s time to get real with ourselves.

Signs you may need a digital detox that will help break the habit

You panic without your phone

Has your phone become an extension of your arm? If so, it’s an indicator that you may need to hit pause on your social media habits for a while.

“Noticing the power your device has over you can help you to take steps to dedicate time to do things without it,” Dr Puri says.

This, he says, can be as simple as silencing non-urgent phone notifications or just setting a goal to put your phone aside for an allocated amount of time.

Baby steps.

You delete posts that don’t get enough likes

We’ve all been there: You upload a post and feel the pang of disappointment to see it only reach double-digit likes.

While getting affirmations from followers is a reassuring and gratifying feeling, it shouldn’t be at the root of why you post online, Dr Puri warns.

“If you find yourself aiming for a certain ‘likes’ goal for a post to be successful, take a step back and think about how posting makes you feel, and how you’d like it to.”

You never mute or unfollow accounts 

If we’re honest with ourselves, there’s probably a handful of accounts on our following list that make us feel less than.

Perhaps it’s a post from an influencer filled to the brim with #ads while you sit penniless waiting for payday, or maybe it’s an account that shares the calories of every meal they eat after you just enjoyed a (well deserved) pizza.

If it alters your mood to see someone’s content, consider muting or unfollowing them, Dr Puri recommends.

“Occasionally, you might see some content on social media that changes your mood. However, if you find that you’re often seeing content that’s making you feel bad about yourself, it might be time to start reviewing who you follow.”

You’ve no longer got time for your hobbies

The introduction of social media has meant we’ve had to complete the same number of tasks and a full day of work while carving out time to scroll online.

Well, we haven’t had to, but we do.

If you no longer have time for things that you enjoy, then social media is affecting your lifestyle, Dr Puri says.

“If your hobbies have fallen by the wayside, think about the ways that your lifestyle could be improved if you were to take them back up again.

“From playing an instrument to playing a team sport, managing your screentime better can unlock other wellbeing opportunities.”

You can’t stop comparing

Comparison is the thief of joy. Unfortunately, it’s not a habit that can be curbed easily, and it feels like comparing goes hand-in-hand with social media nowadays.

We’re all occasionally guilty of comparing our lives to someone else’s, even offline in our actual daily lives.

However, if it’s mostly happening while there’s a smartphone in your hand, it may be time to unplug. 

“Many accounts you follow likely showcase the best possible parts of another person’s life,” Dr Puri reminds.

“This might make you think that their life is better than yours, but it’s important to try and remember that people often only share the better parts of their lives online.”

You scroll for more than two hours every day

This one got me. When I think of phone overuse, I estimate four to five hours as being the danger zone.

To my surprise, Dr Puri says two hours a day should be our social media scrolling cutoff point.

“If you notice that your daily screentime is showing more than two hours a day, that exceeds the amount research recommends as being healthy,” he warns.

The weekly screentime breakdown can be found in the setting of most phones and it will show the most used apps for each day.

You can’t remember the last time you switched your phone off 

For many of us, our phone likely doesn’t switch off unless the battery dies.

Other than that, its last rest was when it was sitting in the shop where we bought it.

If it’s always on and by our side, we’re more likely to pick it up, and check for notifications, and get lost in another scrolling binge.

Ask yourself: “When was the last time I switched my phone off, completely?” Dr Puri says.

“Setting yourself a goal to keep your phone out of sight for certain times throughout the day can help to break your reliance on it,” he adds.