Doomscrolling: The Biggest Trend of 2020

Stop mindlessly reading negative news on your feeds

Key Takeaways

  • Doomscrolling is the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though the information is depressing. 
  • Experts say we doomscroll as a way to look for any answers to make us feel safe. 
  • To stop your doomscrolling habit, you have to talk yourself down and be mindful of your internet and social media consumption.
Someone laying in bed with a mask on, scrolling on their phone.
Kawana_Studio / Getty Images 

This year has seen many trends—from baking banana bread to making TikToks to binge-watching shows like Tiger King. But experts say one of the biggest trends of 2020 that pretty much everyone is taking part in is "doomscrolling." 

The act of scrolling through your social media feeds and always seeing negative news—and not being able to stop—has become a daily routine for most people in 2020. Of course, doomscrolling is not a new habit, but experts say it’s one that’s become much more prominent and much harder to stop in a year like 2020 with a global pandemic, racial unrest, and an historic election, where we are trying to make sense of it all. 

"By doomscrolling, we have a biased view of the level of danger out there," said Dr. Pamela Rutledge, a media psychologist, and director of the Media Psychology Research Center. "You are loading this impression of the world into your brain about how terrible it is, and you don't have evidence to offset that, so you get a very emotional response."

What is Doomscrolling and Why Do We Do It? 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary officially added the terms doomscrolling and "doomsurfing" to its list of "Words We’re Watching" back in April. Merriam-Webster defines doomscrolling as "referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing." 

On the science side, Rutledge says doomscrolling is our instinctive reaction to danger. 

Person surfing the internet on their phone during lockdown.
FluxFactory / Getty Images 

"When we see something scary, we look for answers and certainty because that’s how we feel safe, especially right now during the pandemic and the middle of a very contentious election where there are a lot of questions," she said. "So people are very anxious, and when you're anxious, you search for information to feel better, and when there are no answers, you continue to search." 

Especially when there is still so much uncertainty about the coronavirus pandemic and last week’s election, finding concrete answers can be difficult during this year. Rutledge says our minds are trying to find those answers through doomscrolling. 

The effects of your daily doomscrolling habit go beyond just wasting your time online. Rutledge says that the habit significantly impacts our mental health. 

"Doomscrolling affects your mental health by overloading our perceptions of the world as scary and negative things. Your brain is reacting to keep you safe, which means your anxiety increases," she said. 

How to Stop the Bad Habit

Since most of us probably already have higher instances of anxiety this year, we shouldn’t be doomscrolling ourselves into an even more anxiety-ridden path if we can help it. To curb the doomscrolling habit, Rutledge says you have to stay mindful about the purpose of your search. 

"Like most of the things with social media, it’s very compelling, so it’s really important to be aware of what you're doing on these platforms."

"You have to step in with what I think of as a cognitive override," she said. "You have to talk yourself down and focus on what you’re doing and why. It’s about being aware of when you’re reacting and when you’re purposeful." 

It’s also a good idea to replace your scrolling habit altogether, and instead of picking up your phone to doomscroll, pick up a book, call a friend or family member, 

And if you just can’t kick the habit of scrolling, you can set a reminder on your phone to stop scrolling or follow someone more intentional on your social feeds that will remind you themselves. 


Quartz
Reporter Karen Ho—whose Twitter handle is Doomscrolling Reminder Lady—posts regular reminders on her Twitter page to stop doomscrolling if you are, and to instead, put your phone down and go to bed. 

Rutledge says that overall, doomscrolling is nothing to be ashamed about since we’re probably all doing it. 

"People shouldn't beat themselves up over this…this is a very natural response," she said. "Like most of the things with social media, it’s very compelling, so it’s really important to be aware of what you're doing on these platforms."

So if you needed a reminder not to doomscroll today, this is it.