'Doomscrolling' Could Be Hurting Your Mental Health

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By KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Have you ever been mindlessly scrolling through your social media feed, and then realize you’re stressed about news stories you can’t even control?

It’s called “doomscrolling” and apparently it’s becoming an issue for many people. 

“In particular, in the era of (COVID-19), following news stories that are directly relevant or actionable to you and your choices in your community is just going to make you feel depressed and anxious and overwhelmed and it’s just a terrible idea,” says Dr. Melissa Hunt, a clinical psychologist and associate director of clinical training at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hunt has been studying social media and the effects on the mood for sometime. She has “a program of research examining the impact of social media in general on the mood and psychological well being of young adults.”

Depending on people’s habits, Hunt says a person’s mood can vary when using social media, depending on which of two ways people can use this steady flow of information: adaptive, which helps people feel more connected or maladaptive, which makes people feel really terrible. 

For instance, she said when people follow friends it helps people feel less lonely, less depressed and feel more supported in general. 

“Friends as in people who you actually know from multiple in person connections, people who you liked and people who want to sustain a relationship with,” she explained.

Using social media passively and to follow strangers is when people can feel pretty terrible. 

“In situations of terrible uncertainty like this (coronavirus), it’s very, very tempting and a natural human instinct to try and get information that will provide us with some sort of certainty,” Hunt said.

Both Twitter and Facebook reported more people have been using their platforms so far this year. According to Twitter, there’s been a 24% increase in daily use in the first quarter. The New York Times reports a 27% increase in daily Facebook usage.

However, Hunt noted social media can provide positives for people too. She said some people have used it to connect with family and friends while being isolated at home. 

Hunt believes self monitoring, or becoming aware of your social media use is always good. She suggested getting an app tracker or figuring out how often you scroll. No more than an hour a day on social media is her rule number one. 

Rule number two is a “gut check.” Hunt said to ask yourself, ‘How do I feel after using social media?’ She says people rarely ask themselves that question and it’s very important. 

The final piece of advice: “Don’t do it late at night and for God sake, don’t do it in bed.” 

She says the blue spectrum light affects your sleep and it’s not a good way to unwind. Hunt strongly recommends not even taking your cell phone in the bedroom with you. 

“For people who use their phones as their alarm clock,” she advised, “I suggest you buy yourself a $12 digital alarm clock.”

For more information on "doomscrolling," and how to combat it, listen to the full episode of KYW In Depth below. Subscribe using the RADIO.COM app or wherever you get podcasts.

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