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What Is Doomscrolling, and How Is It Impacting Your Mental Health?
Day in and day out, we take in a lot of upsetting or anxiety-inducing news. For some of us, staying glued to our Twitter feeds or news outlet of choice has become something of an obsession — so much so that there’s a new word to describe that (seemingly) ceaseless compulsion to keep refreshing and devouring all those unsavory news stories. That word? Doomscrolling.
In all likelihood, many of us have been practicing this unhealthy habit of consuming large quantities of negative news without naming it — or, in some cases, without realizing it. But it’s essential that we start taking notice, especially when it comes to safeguarding our health. While doomscrolling has already been linked to experiences of depression and poor heart health, there’s also mountains of evidence to support the idea that long-term stress negatively affects our physical health and mental wellbeing too. However, more often than not, those studies don’t specifically address the stress that stems from social media or smartphone usage — at least not yet.
What Exactly Is Doomscrolling?
At its most basic level, doomscrolling is the act of looking through social media posts or news websites, almost to an obsessive point, while feeling more and more anxious and depressed with every story or update we read. Despite feeling worse and worse as we read more and more, we continue to scroll through anyway, almost as if we’re on a quest to find as much disheartening information as possible. Sometimes called “doomsurfing,” the behavior doesn’t just involve getting caught up in negative stories; it also refers to our tendency to actively seek out negative information instead of positive, feel-good headlines. That’s where the “doom” element comes into play.
There’s an almost-masochistic undertone to doomscrolling — the more we consume bad news, the more likely we are to seek out additional stories that make us feel depressed. And it’s become especially easy to doomscroll in a time of climate dread, the COVID-19 pandemic, highly visible police brutality, and increasing political polarization. With access to doomy news always at our fingertips, breaking the cycle can be very difficult.
Why Do We Doomscroll?
So, what is it about our brains that makes us want to doomscroll? According to Dr. Ken Yeager, a psychiatrist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, it has to do with an evolutionary process that possibly once helped us protect ourselves. “We are all hardwired to see the negative and be drawn to the negative because it can harm us physically,” Dr. Yeager explains . This need to seek out dangerous things so we can learn about them once served a very important purpose: It helped us thousands of years ago. It taught our ancestors how to observe and anticipate harmful events so they could better respond to those events — with the end goal of increasing the likelihood of survival.
While most of us no longer need to know the subconsciously recognizable indicators that a tiger might be on the verge of attack or that a wild fruit may be poisonous, that evolutionary relic remains in our brains. There are plenty of modern-day negatives we can seek out to satisfy that mental itch — namely those posts on social media and articles elsewhere online. These sites can give us the “hits” of negativity that our brains are looking for, but they also have a variety of other effects on us.
As researchers delve more deeply into the effects of social media and instant information-sharing networks, they’re beginning to find that these sites and the posts on them have the tendency to divide their users and cause them to feel isolated . In short, our favorite social media apps or sites might be making us feel alone, and that can exacerbate the sadness we feel after reading negative headlines. This phenomenon isn’t relegated to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram; even news sites can make us feel down.
We doomscroll when we have a longing to connect and learn about current events that may address our worries. The behavior often sneaks up on us while we’re attempting to catch up with our social circles or on local and global happenings. That impending feeling of doom and hopelessness can come on strongly after we’ve scrolled past the 20th depressing story about destroyed forests, flooded homes or corrupt politicians — and it might affect us in some detrimental ways.
What Does Doomscrolling Do to Our Brains?
In the past, tragedies were something that affected communities very deeply. Sad stories became touchstones for several generations, often serving as warnings while also shaping the ways those communities conducted themselves. That was partially due to the fact that news didn’t spread as quickly and people didn’t have access to headlines from around the world at the click of a mouse. Nowadays, however, it’s challenging to go about daily life without receiving a flood of tragic news from every possible corner of the world.
Instead of spending months mourning, say, the death of a small child as a community might have decades ago, we have mere seconds to comprehend and process the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people — just moments to think about human and animal suffering, the impacts of climate change, the corruption happening in various countries, and the fear and despair and utter hopelessness of it all. That’s quite a bit to ask our brains to handle, a seemingly impossible feat, and our minds simply cannot process all of the information they receive. To cope with multiple stressors, our brains dull the events’ effects and cause us to enter a state of stress . Instead of feeling relaxed when scrolling through our phones after work, we often end up feeling far more agitated or depressed, particularly if we were already experiencing those emotions.
According to the Cleveland Clinic , “doomscrolling can reinforce negative thoughts and a negative mindset,” and this can impact our mental health immensely. If you’re already prone to depression, for example, reading depressing news stories can worsen your symptoms and increase feelings of loneliness and disconnection. And excessive consumption of negative news stories correlates with increased stress, fear and anxiety and with poor sleep even in people who weren’t already experiencing these emotions and effects on a regular basis. This causes our bodies to continually expose our brains to stress hormones, which can eventually lead to exhaustion and other mental health issues. So what can we do about it?
How Can We Stop Doomscrolling?
If you’re keen to avoid the negative effects of doomscrolling, the first thing that can help is to learn to recognize the habit — you might be engaging in doomscrolling without even realizing it. From there, you can begin to take steps to change your behavior, keeping in mind that lifestyle shifts don’t happen overnight.
Fortunately, and somewhat ironically, there are plenty of apps designed to help you limit your amount of screen time. If you tend to wake up and fall into a pit of doomscrolling while you’re still in bed in the morning, you can use the apps to “lock down” your phone during these early hours to train yourself to stay away from worrisome stories and posts. After a little while, going to your phone to check it won’t be your automatic wake-up reaction.
It’s also helpful to enjoy activities that keep you more aware and in the moment. Exercise, socializing and meditation are excellent examples of activities that help you focus on the here and now by engaging your mind and body at the same time. Learning how to live in the moment can help you relax and lower your stress levels. This is like hitting a mental reset button and can be particularly helpful after a doomscrolling session.
If you’re someone who doomscrolls because being informed feels like a part of your civic duty, consider connecting with an actual, in-real-life activist organization local to you. It can be easier to disconnect from grim news across the globe once you focus in on tangible ways that you can make a difference.
Even a brief pause can help you break the doomscrolling habit. Do you often find yourself picking up your smartphone and navigating to your news app almost reflexively? If so, try to be more intentional in these actions. When you pick up your phone or wake up your laptop, stop for a moment and think about what you’re doing and what you’re planning to look at. Then, make a choice not to open Twitter — or even put your phone back down and walk away.
Learning to Live a Doomscroll-Free Life
It’s no secret that stress can have harmful effects on your mind and body. Being under constant stress can lead to everything from high blood pressure to ulcers to heart disease — and doomscrolling is one of those activities that can keep you in a near-constant state of stress, however low a level it may be. It’s essential to lower your stress levels to lead a happier, healthier life, and cutting out doomscrolling is one way to get you closer to this goal.
If you’ve found yourself doomscrolling lately and you’re finding the tips above difficult to implement, it can help to get in touch with a mental health professional. A counselor or therapist can address your concerns in a positive, supportive and uplifting environment and help you cope with any symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression you’re feeling. They can also help you formulate an effective plan for changing behaviors you want to move away from and teach you techniques you can apply to make measurable progress.
There will always be bad news in the world — and there will always be good news, too. Making a conscious effort to limit your consumption of the negative or even seek out content that’s a bit more positive can do wonders for your mental health and go a long way towards improving your outlook on the world. And as you’re getting started, it doesn’t hurt to put down your phone or shut your laptop for a little while, either.
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The true impact of workplace wellbeing: two case studies
Embedded Expertise, Published: January 29, 2020 - Updated: August 22, 2022
Mental health concerns are a leading cause of workplace absence , and as we see increasing incidents of mental health-related sick days, workplace wellbeing is paramount for both organisational and individual success.
Below I’ve written two real-life stories where bettering the wellbeing of a workplace can have dramatic effects on the individuals and business profitability itself. Hopefully this will inspire you to incorporate a wellness approach into your organisation or team, or take more notice of your own mental health.
Case study one: Michael thought he was fine
Michael* realised he was arguing a lot with his family at home and was becoming increasingly more reactive to situations that probably didn’t warrant it. He wasn’t terribly great at conducting conversations or maintaining relationships with coworkers and this spilled outside of work. Body aches and excessive headaches had also started to culminate: all obvious signs of deep stress that Michael was ignoring.
The thing is, he thought he was actually doing really well and managing his stress levels appropriately and that his behaviour and experiences were quite normal.
But in fact, he was suffering extreme levels of stress . Something he didn’t even comprehend until he connected with a workplace wellbeing expert and he had the opportunity to observe his behaviours.
After one week of dedicated and concentrated awareness on how he was reacting and experiencing situations and noticing stress levels, triggers and emotions as they arose, he started to really notice a difference.
‘After one week of dedicated and concentrated awareness… he started to really notice a difference.’
To mitigate his stress levels and improve his workplace wellbeing and relations, Michael also engaged in visualisations (similar to what athletes do ), particularly with conversations, which creates different pathways in the brain . From here he started acting differently, having better discussions and decisions and was significantly calmer everywhere throughout his life, not just in the workplace.
Case study two: bad behaviour, great worker
Company owner, Rajiv, was experiencing some staff problems that he’d tried to handle but wasn’t seeing any changes. One of his contract managers, Tom, was displaying bad behaviour whenever things would go wrong.
The thing was, it was abundantly clear that what Tom was saying and the problems that he identified were absolutely correct. And the company valued his hard work and how exceptional he was at his job, so there was no desire to terminate his contract early. Which can often be a case for difficult situations in the workplace— many people are too eager to throw the ‘baby out with the bathwater’ so to speak, rather than experiment with some alternative ways of reaching conflict resolution. Or even taking the time to discover what is really going on, stepping away from the ego and its primal behaviour of flight or fight mode.
After supportive discussions with Tom, the wellness team discovered that actually he felt isolated , alone and that he didn’t belong. And, because the mind seeks to confirm our beliefs (through confirmation bias), would create situations and replicate behaviour to further consolidate that belief. He was very caught up in his story that he was an outsider.
A sense of belonging
To further compound this position, Tom was contracted as part of a large project and he felt like he didn’t fit in with the permanent employees, who had established themselves in the internal culture.
Forbes states that, ‘Employees who do not naturally fit into established corporate norms will often times try to assimilate to those norms – or put themselves “on guard” – in order to avoid potential biases or discrimination.’ This can take considerable effort and energy, which could be better spent on a person’s core duties.
A sense of belonging in the workplace contributes greatly to retention and attraction of high-quality candidates, which leads to better productivity, outcomes, creative solutions and more profit. It can also result in 75 per cent fewer sick days and avoid millions of dollars’ worth of lost productivity.
‘A sense of belonging in the workplace contributes greatly to retention and attraction of high quality candidates…’
Fostering this sense of belonging ‘in the workplace makes employees engaged and produce work that is elevated above the ordinary…’.
Once identified, the workplace wellbeing team worked with Tom and Rajiv with proven techniques that involved awareness, cultural changes and compassion and saw rapid improvement within weeks, thanks in part to the commitment of the people involved.
The change was so significant that Rajiv was enthusiastic and hungry to find more ways in which he could change the dynamics to bring out better and better results within his company. The company also extended Tom’s contract when the opportunity became available.
Welcome contract workers too
It can be really easy to forget that contract staff are an integral part of your team, even if they are only on staff for a limited time. And it shouldn’t be a last minute or token effort.
‘… there needs to be a culture and allowance for people to connect as human beings. We shouldn’t need bonding or team leadership days to actually connect with our colleagues and make meaningful relationships ,’ says Dr Michelle Lim, a loneliness researcher and senior lecturer in clinical psychology at Swinburne University.
Incorporating contract workers as genuinely part of the team and treating them as well as you treat all employees will only promote excellent benefits for the business and wider society as a whole and help contribute to preventing distressing issues such as high suicide rates in the engineering industry.
Can you relate in full or in part to these stories? Improve your wellbeing in your workplace today. Discover more about our for our contracting professionals.
*We’ve changed these names to provide privacy and protect the identity of these people.
Nukon is joint venture between the world of optimisation and automation. our parent company, SAGE Automation, is a leader in the operations market, while NUKON has fast established an outstanding reputation in the manufacturing data, intelligence andimprovement area.
This meeting of minds means we can now bridge the gaps between the different silos within our client businesses, bringing visibility, unity and breakthrough improvements right across our clients' businesses.
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Find out about how other organisations have incorporated mentally healthy working processes.
Many businesses, large and small, are already leading by example and thinking creatively about ways to promote mentally healthy workplaces and how to support the wellbeing of their staff, including moving towards models of hybrid working to support more flexible working arrangements.
The engineering sector often involves a male-dominated workforce working at inhospitable hours and locations. Babcock’s Head of Safety, Health, Environment and Quality talks about their approach to tackling mental health stigma and discrimination.
Burness Paull LLP
The high performance culture of the legal sector can make it hard to be open about mental health issues. Burness Paull’s Director of HR and Operations discusses their approach to tackling this stigma and discrimination.
The Co-op is a very large organisation spanning retail, legal, insurance and funeral services. Their approach involved a complete overhaul and the creation of a dedicated mental health team.
Recognising that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental health and wellbeing, Costain worked with employees as well as others from across their supply chain to see what changes could be made to their working culture.
Changes to the working lives as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic led to Deloitte examining how to support mental health and wellbeing within flexible working and distributed teams.
Edinburgh Airport is a fast-paced environment employing hundreds of people. By being proactive about managing mental health and wellbeing and the use of Mental Health First Aiders, they reduced staff mental health absence and received excellent feedback via Occupational Health.
As a small technology organisation with 43 employees, PODFather used flexible working approaches and wellbeing coaches to support mental health and wellbeing, resulting in happier employees and lower staff turnover.
With a workforce of over 200,000 people, Santander approaches job design in a way that helps all individuals maintain work/life balance, as well as working to reduce mental health stigma and discrimination.
View the Santander - Promoting employee wellbeing and inclusion report (PDF)
Scotrail worked with managers on eradicating stigma by example and making sure they were confident in supporting workers’ mental health and wellbeing.
Zurich Insurance Group
Mental Health First Aiders, family friendly policies and wellbeing hubs and networks all helped to support the mental health and wellbeing culture at Zurich Insurance Group.
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Case studies about reasonable adjustments for mental health
Case studies exploring how different organisations have helped staff with reasonable adjustments for mental health.
A Civil Service organisation case study on reasonable adjustments for ADHD and autism
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Birmingham City Council case study
Hampshire and Isle of Wight NHS Integrated Care System case study
Thrive Law case study
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Staff mental health and wellbeing: case studies
- Staff wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility at Islington iCope
- Embedding a culture of staff wellbeing at North Yorkshire IAPT
- Managing staff wellbeing at Talking Therapies Service Brent
- Promoting wellbeing in the workforce: Yorkshire and the Humber Senior Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner Network
- Staff retention at Westminster Talking Therapies service