The past few months have been a new experience, no matter where in the world you hail from. We’ve seen the introduction of lockdowns, social distancing, shielding; a plethora of new vocabulary and new ideas which we need to get used to, and act on in our daily lives. We’ve been gripped by the sudden unwelcome necessity of caution into normal activities such as grocery shopping. It’s enough to make anyone a little anxious.
Then add in the onslaught of shock-horror headlines that began bombarding us constantly on social media. We began scrolling through, aghast at what we were seeing, and simultaneously using it as confirmation of why we should stick to the guidelines and stringent measures being introduced. Personally, I would spend my newly-discovered free time looking at articles and discussion on Reddit and Twitter; and I know of many who were doing the same. It was a perverse comfort in a sense, it felt like knowledge was power over this sudden void of Unknown into which we’d been thrust suddenly, at the turn of the year.
This habit of inhaling any (and all) of the bad news that we are able to see, has become known as doomsurfing, or for those who prefer portable despair, doomscrolling. Excitingly, it sounds like something one would find at the end of a Dungeons and Dragons adventure, but it really just defines the habit of “falling into deep, morbid rabbit holes filled with coronavirus content, agitating [one]self to the point of physical discomfort, erasing any hope of a good night’s sleep.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/technology/coronavirus-doomsurfing.html)
I was entirely guilty of this myself, and it was affecting my mood, my work, my relationships. But I realized one day, that I was just becoming a passive, panicked consumer. A lot of my reactions were being dictated by my very basest fight-or-flight hormones; a kind of global schadenfreude, almost. I was becoming addicted to the constant stream of bad news and wallowing in it, just as people become addicted to constantly negative soap operas or reality television shows. Except this was all too real.
I decided to try something new, and instead of my usual pre-work-sadness scroll, I would try to write a journal of what was happening that day; to simply try and create something, rather than passively panicking all the time about content I had no control over. It’s really important during times of crisis like this, that one focuses on the small things that one can control. What was really important during this whole thing? Staying healthy, staying sane, and keeping my job. And all my doomscrolling, whilst it was entertaining and satisfied some primal insatiable need for danger and worry, was not helping any of that. In fact, it was hindering all of it.
There’s no easy fix to a mild and free addiction like this; and I must admit, I still do take a quick glance at Reddit every morning. But I’ve limited myself to 10 minutes in the morning, and 10 minutes in the evening, and if I go over that, I need to spend 10 extra minutes creating something. The creations can vary from a healthy meal, to a short journal entry, to simply cutting up some extra veggies for my pet guinea pigs. The important thing is the habit of creation, and not becoming mired in the vast swamp of despair that social media tells us are all around us. We may now find ourselves with extra time that doesn’t need to be spent going places or doing things; and we should use that time for ourselves.
The world may seem like it’s spiralling out of control right now; but you have the power to control your own world. You have the ability to control the content that you allow into your life, and that’s a really important filter to be aware of sometimes. And when you look up from the screens transporting you to the maelstroms of bad news in the world, you might just find that it’s full of tiny moments of joy, which you could have missed completely, because of the lure of the doomscroll.