Psychologists reveal top tips to avoid 'doomscrolling' on social media

A sad-looking woman rests her chin on her hand, which is placed on a table, as she looks glumly at her phone with her other hand
As our social media feeds and televisions are filled with distressing images and news, we may feel heightened anxiety and stress. (Getty Images)

The 24-hour news cycle can be relentless. In recent weeks, particularly difficult news and images from Israel and Gaza have been broadcast from our TVs, computers and phones, leaving many people in despair.

As a result of our near-constant exposure to news, anxiety is on the rise among Britons. According to Mental Health UK, negative news can increase the body’s levels of cortisol, which is the main stress hormone, and lead to higher levels of anxiety that are unhealthy and unsustainable.

It can lead to unhealthy habits such as:

  • Doomscrolling (spending excessive amounts of time reading negative news online)

  • Checking your phone or other devices constantly

  • Unable to focus or concentrate on tasks

  • Sense of hopelessness

  • Social isolation

This National Stress Awareness Day, we spoke to the experts about how you can avoid doomscrolling and take better care of your mental health in the midst of terrible news.

Watch: If you spend endless hours on your phone scrolling through negative content then you're a "doomscroller" — but don't worry, there's a way to stop

Why does scrolling on social media make you anxious?

Thijs Launspach, psychologist, TEDX and keynote speaker and author of Crazy Busy: Keeping Sane in a Stressful World, says it is all too easy to “lose yourself in endless doomscrolling” with everything that’s happening in the world. From the war between Israel and Hamas, to natural disasters and climate change, there is an overwhelming volume of bad news currently proliferating our social media feeds and TV channels.

“In threatening and dangerous times, we’re wired to look for more information,” Launspach explains. “We want to know everything there is to know about the situation at hand. More information, more news and more data make for more control over the situation, we feel.”

But the more news we consume, the worse we feel. “We’re bombarded with information, and it’s more than we can process – resulting in anxiety, compassion fatigue and feelings of helplessness. We feel that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s nothing we can do.”

The physical impact of news-induced stress and anxiety

A man with thick-rimmed glasses and facial hair leans his head in one hand as he stares seriously at his phone
Constant exposure to negative news can result in feelings of hopelessness. (Getty Images)

Jordan Vyas-Lee, psychotherapist and co-founder of mental healthcare clinic Kove, adds that excessive news exposure can harm the body, as watching others in distress can trigger a response in the body that releases stress hormones and neurochemicals, as though we are under threat ourselves. This causes us to enter an alert mode and become tense.

“We become distracted and unable to focus on immediately valuable engagements,” he says. “Our mind is more likely to access other negative or scary memories due to the associative memory structures that lie in the brain.”

You might notice the following responses:

  • Feeling more tense

  • Experiencing emotions like disbelief, anger or sadness that don’t dissipate quickly

  • Thinking about a story long after you’ve stopped reading or watching

  • Feeling like you’re in a state of existential worry and anxiety about our world and future

How to avoid doomscrolling

Launspach advises that cutting back on your news consumption is the best way to reduce feelings of anxiety. “It might be counter-intuitive, but limiting your news intake really helps with news-induced anxiety. Instead of watching all news all the time, choose one or two websites to check one or two times a day. Check out one news program on tv, or read one newspaper.

“You will be plenty up to date, but not overwhelmed. And ideally, have conversations about what you’re seeing and reading with people you trust. Together, figure out what to do with the information you’re processing. Identify steps you can take. Because that’s the way out of feeling like a helpless and passive news consumer: putting all of that information into actionable goals.”

Vyas-Lee adds that purposefully seeking out more positive or emotionally neutral news can help “reset the nervous system”. He also advises that you set time limits on your news intake and only read stories once.

“Also be mindful of not speaking too much about the material with others who share identical feelings,” he continues. “An echo chamber of negative feelings can really exacerbate all of the above.

“At a fundamental level, time spent trawling through various outlets for small, emerging pieces of new, traumatic information keeps you hovered in a stress response, and takes you away from other important daily occupations, which in themselves will be more soothing, restorative and rewarding to your mind and body.”

Read more about stress and anxiety: