How Apps Can Reduce Doomscrolling

Those headlines aren’t going anywhere

Key Takeaways

  • A growing number of apps can help you monitor and reduce the amount of time you spend reading bad news. 
  • A new app called Opal uses a virtual private network to disconnect your apps from the internet.  
  • One expert says that reading too much bad news can have mental and physical consequences.
Someone sitting in bed in the dark, looking at a laptop with an alarm clock on the bedside table that reads 2:05 a.m.
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Are you spending too much time doomscrolling through depressing headlines? There are a growing number of apps to help. 

A new app called Opal disconnects your apps from the internet to help save you from bad browsing habits. Other apps are available to limit your time on the internet or distract you. Experts say that over-browsing the news can be hard on your mind and body. 

"Reading 'horrible' news is stressful," Allison Chase, a psychologist with Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center who specializes in the effects of social media on mental health, said via email.

"When a person experiences acute stress, it activates the body’s fight or flight response, releasing such hormones as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. The short-term impact is an increase in heart rate, rapid breathing, tensing of muscles, slowing of digestion, and overall preparing the body to take action."

A Range of Options

Opal takes a hard line with users who are spending too much time on the internet. The iOS app uses a virtual private network to monitor usage. Once you start a session on Opal, you can open an app, but you won’t be able to refresh your news feed.

If you really need to use an app, you can input into the app why you want to do it and the amount of time you need. Opal allows users to cut off different categories of apps such as social media, messaging, and work. It also allows you to block hundreds of news, adult, and gambling sites.

"Doomscrolling breaks down all your defenses, making you prone to loneliness, demotivation, anxiety, and depression."

A range of other apps also is available to shut off stressful news. Dr. Brian Wind, chief clinical officer of addiction treatment practice JourneyPure, recommends the apps AppDetox, FamiSafe, Freedom, and Moment.

"Freedom is a good option because it allows you to sync your rules across all of your linked devices, and you can group apps together to block during the day," Wind said in an email interview. "AppDetox also allows you to set a specific amount of time to spend on each app per day. It also has the feature of only allowing you to use certain apps when you are moving as determined by your phone."

Apple and Google offer built-in ways to monitor the amount of time you spend scrolling on smartphones. Apple’s Screen Time lets you monitor your internet usage and set limits. Google’s Android operating system has a similar feature

Setting boundaries on your internet consumption is essential, Chase said. "Historically, there were traditional news broadcasts that were time-limited," she added.

"Now there is an endless barrage of news available anytime, anywhere. It is left to us to establish these boundaries on our own, which can be particularly difficult during a pandemic and quarantine, when it often seems there is not much else to do but sit at home and scroll."

Too Much News is Bad

To figure out if you are just keeping informed or harming yourself through too much news consumption, Chase recommends asking yourself the following questions: "What are we tuning in to, and how are we responding to the information? How does it make us feel? Do we behave differently on days where we wake up and scroll in bed? Do we sleep differently on nights when we scroll before bed? Has it resulted in any authentic or meaningful connection with people in your life?"

Woman dancing and listening music in the morning in her kitchen.
 Westend61 / Getty Images

Simon Elkjær, the chief marketing officer of avXperten, said in an email interview that he’s been spending too much time reading grim headlines since the coronavirus pandemic began. "Doomscrolling breaks down all your defenses, making you prone to loneliness, demotivation, anxiety, and depression," he said. 

But Elkjær said he doesn’t need a particular app to cut down on his internet time. "Whenever I feel like I’m getting consumed by too much negative news, I log out of everything else and use music apps such as Spotify to listen to calming podcasts when exercising or to soothing tunes when I go to bed," he said. 

I’m as guilty as anyone of doomscrolling. It will take more than Spotify to get me off the news binge.

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