Endless bad news is as close as our phone. If we’re not careful, we can overconsume. How can we get relevant news without doomscrolling?
Staying up late glued to a screen, going down a rabbit hole of news that depresses you, sabotaging sleep—does that sound familiar?
Some might call it “staying informed,” but the more descriptive term is doomscrolling. This depressing habit has a tight grip on a lot of people, maybe even you. But experts say it erodes mental health and should be avoided.
How did doomscrolling or doomsurfing become a common practice, and how can we escape?
How we got a never-ending scroll
News junkies have been around for a long time, but the term doomscrolling seems to have first appeared in a Twitter post in 2018. It was then popularized during the pandemic in 2020. At the time, the public was inundated with bad news about the spread of COVID-19. It appeared as if news outlets were in a nonstop coverage contest about infection rates, mortality cases, vaccine theories and other virus-related content.
These bad news stories took the world by storm, and it seemed to go on forever—no doubt in part because people were confined to their homes with little to do.
But the pandemic was only the beginning.
There was also George Floyd’s death and the riots and protests that followed. Then there was the contentious 2020 U.S. presidential election, which led to the 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol. Afterward, we saw the historic 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
For three straight years, upsetting news flooded social media platforms. The result was two diverging outcomes. Many people disengaged from the news altogether, discouraged by the chaotic world they felt helpless to face.
But others were pulled into bottomless scrolling. There was always another article to read, video to watch or podcast to listen to. All of them promised to get us up to speed, maybe even prepare us.
Is it any wonder that doomscrolling has become a part of our lexicon?
There seems to be no letup in the reports on international tensions, inflation, the energy crisis, the precarious global economy, food shortages and the like.
As things stand, doomscrolling is here to stay, and it’s a concerning reality.
Doomsday discourse and its effect
A forum on Reddit, the popular social news network, summarizes the prevalence and dangers of doomscrolling. Reddit houses thousands of communities, known as subreddits, that cover various topics and interests. Most relevant to this piece is the subreddit “/r/collapse,” which is an abbreviation for the collapse of global civilization.
Billy Perrigo of Time magazine called this part of the website “the doomscrolling capital of the Internet.”
The subreddit /r/collapse includes the following disclaimer: “Overindulging in this sub may be detrimental to your mental health. Anxiety and depression are common reactions when studying collapse. Please remain conscious of your mental health and effects this may have on you.”
The paragraph concludes with a link to a suicide hotline and a gentle reminder to seek professional support if necessary.
The warning fits the tone of the subreddit perfectly: /r/collapse is a smorgasbord of the potentially disastrous scenarios that await human civilization. Half a million subscribers are fed doom-and-gloom news stories about environmental and social turmoil. One story, for example, forewarns readers about climate change catastrophes and leads with the despairing title “No Escaping, No Matter How Far You Run.”
Seeing these things raises the question of whether anyone can even casually visit this website and maintain his or her emotional well-being, let alone while doomscrolling.
Thankfully, the surge of doomscrollers has prompted a swift and informative response from a range of experts. Articles from various publications began citing scientific research as a way to warn about its adverse effects.
One widely cited study published in Health Communication links higher levels of “problematic news consumption” with “greater mental and physical ill-being.” WebMD also features a page on the self-destructive habit and summarizes its effect: “Doomscrolling can send your mind racing and lead to burnout. It can also make you feel uncertain, anxious, or distressed. And those feelings can steal your sleep, appetite, motivation, or desire to do things you usually enjoy.” Other studies cite depression as a possible outcome.
The growing body of literature confirms what may already be evident: We should avoid doomscrolling because of the health risks involved.
But if watching the news can lead to doomscrolling, should we even risk wanting to be informed in the first place?
Stay informed, not overwhelmed
Many conclude that the most effective way to combat doomscrolling is to just throw out the news altogether. It’s characteristic of human nature; we tend to gravitate toward extremes. We find it easier to either doomscroll or bury our heads in the sand like ostriches and tune out the noise.
Both of these options are unacceptable for a Christian. The better solution is to find a balanced approach. We should be informed about the most important things, but going overboard is a different story altogether. There is a way to get up to speed without becoming entangled in the mire of negative news surrounding us.
Remember, Jesus Christ brought news—the good news of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15). He taught His disciples to be aware of world events and consider how they relate to biblical prophecy.
For instance, in Matthew 24, Jesus warned His disciples to be on the lookout for the worldwide events that would occur just before His return. In this single chapter, there are multiple calls to “hear,” “see” and “watch” for particular signs (verses 6, 15, 42). Jesus wanted us to stay vigilant and keep an eye on the news.
Notice a clear example of this in verse 33: “When you see all these things, know that it [My return] is near—at the doors!” Jesus did not say, “If you see these things,” but “when you see these things.” In other words, He assumed His disciples would make the effort to stay informed.
This brings us to a pivotal question: How can we be attentive to world news while avoiding becoming overly fixated?
In an article on Yale Medicine, expert Kathy Katella shared a valuable principle: “If you are doomsurfing, it may be time to take a step back and ask yourself what you really need to know.” In the war against doomscrolling, honest self-assessment is going to be valuable. We might ask ourselves, “Which topics cause me to be considerably more distressed?” or, “Will this article change how I go about my day tomorrow or the following day?”
We can also take steps like:
- Setting specific times during the day to catch up on news and sticking to them.
- Limiting overall screen time to avoid the tendency to mindlessly surf the Internet.
- Unfollowing feeds that lean toward sensationalism.
- Diverting our attention from the news by engaging in offline activities for a balanced life.
- Establishing an accountability partner who can help us.
With the constant flood of information, it is essential to choose our sources and carefully filter the stories we see. It’s good to be aware of the biases and credibility of different news sources. These online articles can help:
The goal is to find the right balance between staying informed and protecting our mental well-being. But while these strategies can certainly be helpful, there is one approach that makes all the difference.
Rise above doomscrolling
Even in an era before technology made bad news easier to come by, the apostle Paul saw the need for Christians to dwell on positive things. In his letter to the Philippian congregation, he wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
This verse is not permission to be naive about the state of the world. We’re told in the Bible that it’s honorable to “sigh and cry over all the abominations” that happen around us (Ezekiel 9:4). Paul was urging us to reorient our minds.
Proverbs 25:25 unlocks a crucial insight for anyone trapped in doomscrolling: “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country” (emphasis added).
In reality, doomscrollers are weary souls, worn down by the mental burden the world and its bad news piles on them. But a remedy is available—good news, or the gospel.
The fact that Christ will return to earth as Sovereign King and usher in a new world is the ultimate “good news from a far country”—because it gives humanity hope and originates from the Creator God. He communicated the message to His prophets, the early newscasters (2 Peter 1:20-21). They then recorded it in writing.
Now we have access to that same gospel through the Bible, and we can be refreshed by it.
The glorious Kingdom of God will make bad news a thing of the past. If we embrace its arrival by focusing on its certainty, we can fill the void that drives many of us to doomscrolling.
If we doomscroll and fill our minds with negativity, we can expect negative results. On the other hand, if we regularly fill our minds with the positivity of God’s Word, we can expect very positive results.
And there’s nothing more positive and deserving of our attention than the reality of the soon-coming Kingdom of God.