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Tuesday Tip: Turn “Doom Scrolling” into “Joy Scrolling”

By The Healthy Minds Team

This week’s Tuesday Well-Being Tip explains how to get a handle on your doom scrolling.

Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

It’s 2 am and the lone light from your smartphone is emanating from under your pillow. You woke up a while ago, after a couple hours of restless sleep and now you can’t – stop – scrolling. At this point you’re on a thread from another thread, and your heart is pounding. You know you should put down the phone – all the data and articles tell you that even having your phone in the bedroom is a recipe for poor sleep! But yet, you can’t. It’s doom scrolling. And it’s getting harder and harder to resist.

So what’s going on? And how can we put an end to this habit?

What’s going on

The human brain has evolved to detect change. So, when things turn out differently than we’d hoped, we can easily start to dwell on the negative. In this manner, the brain has a negativity bias. It’s so easy for us to get overly focused on continuing to gather information to support our survival instinct, especially as external events exacerbate this inherent “need.” (For example a world-wide pandemic, continued shelter-in-place orders, a divisive and stressful election process.)

As our founder, Dr. Richard Davidson, states in the Healthy Minds Program App:

The human brain didn’t really evolve to keep us happy. It evolved to keep us alive. And what kept us alive was the ability to be hyper-sensitive to problems and threats, like wild animals or harsh weather. Today, our challenges are much less severe, but our brain and nervous system don’t really know that. The brain treats a stressful situation at work the same way it would deal with an encounter with a dangerous animal that almost got us killed. It replays the situation over and over so we never forget about it. That’s a really helpful thing if we spend our days out in the wilderness, but not so much when we’re sitting in an office all day.

Dr. Richard Davidson

Research even shows that the more negative a statement, the more likely we are to perceive it as truthful given our tendency to pay more attention to the negative!

How can we put an end to Doom Scrolling?

So now that you know why you find yourself endlessly scrolling through more and more negative news sites – what can you do to stop it?

There are two ways to divide and conquer this habit: 

  1. Make access to scrolling less easy and less of what your brain is seeking; and
  2. Flip the narrative by focusing on things within your control, and what is positive

Reduce Access & Make it Less “Fun”:

  • Turn off notifications and turn on screen monitors.
    • There is no reason to get an alert in the middle of the night. Turn off your notifications – the news will still be there in the morning.
    • Screen Time” isn’t just for kids. You can set limits for your personal phone use.
  • Another way to trick your brain? Make it less fun by shifting your phone to grayscale. You’re basically removing all the incentive for your brain to continue to scroll when you make it more boring.
  • Have a non-screen reading item at the ready for those times you do wake up in the middle of the night. Even a book on an e-reader can be better in this moment then seeking out the latest news.

Flip the narrative – try “Joy Scrolling” and other ways to focus on the positive:

  • It’s 2 am (or any time) and you just “need” to look at your phone? Can you curate an area of the internet that brings you joy before you go to sleep? Interspecies friendship? Escapist Fiction? Just beautiful images on instagram? (Combine all three?) 
  • Show some gratitude. Can you really express gratitude when you’re stressed and agitated (at any time of the day)? Why not? Send a (potentially delayed) email or text of appreciation to someone. Make a gratitude list.
  • Focus on what you can control: If you are worried about the election, can you help get out the vote? If you’re saddened by our discourse, can you spend your day making each interaction a positive one for whomever you see?
  • Tune in to your meditation practice when you have a “Doom Scrolling” itch to scratch. All month, the Healthy Minds Innovations Team has focused on offering live meditations for this moment in time, with particular focus on election anxiety and yes, Doom Scrolling.
    • Let’s say you spent an hour reading about the upcoming election, turn to the Healthy Minds Program App in our singles section. Or just click here for a practice for “Election Anxiety.
    • Did you Doom Scroll on the latest Covid-19 numbers? This one’s for you.

Our most recent live meditation focused specifically on this topic, check it out:

The world isn’t all rainbows and lollipops and getting control of your Doom Scrolling does not mean ignoring the real issues that exist. But, if you find yourself seeking out more and more negative stories, your brain may be hooked and it’s time to take it back.

So, the next time you “need” to look at your phone, either pick up an alternative, or try some “Joy Scrolling” instead!

Get more practices and tips by downloading the Healthy Minds Program App, freely available thanks to the generosity of our donors wherever you get your apps.

Healthy Minds Program App Tuesday Tips Well-Being Tips