Me too! “Doomscrolling” was the Macquarie Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2020 and throughout the year I embraced it with gusto! I would find myself awake at 3am scrolling through the newsfeeds in Australia, in the UK, in the USA, in the world, reading the latest updates globally for pandemic news and more news on the chaos in America and other political hotspots. It became like a vital urge to know everything. And it developed into a deeply entrenched habit. A bad habit.
Of course, it was natural to be concerned about what was happening with Covid19 and it was indeed sensible to be kept up-to-date and informed. But I found that my mind was in a constant state of ‘noise’, like an annoying buzzing sound in the background of everything I did. When my attention to the pandemic went beyond the need-to-know level and gradually escalated to catastrophising, it began to impact on my mental health. And before I knew it, I was just feeling anxious all the time.
One night, in the wee hours, when I was doomscrolling away, it suddenly hit me that I was constantly feeding this shit to my mind and it wasn’t healthy! The constant buzz of negativity was now becoming like the dark, consuming background to my whole waking (and sleeping or non-sleeping!) life. I wanted to stop this obsession with the news… but how?
There is a teaching in one of the old Pali sutras, which says:
Whatever a person frequently thinks about and ponders, that will become the inclination of their mind. If you frequently think about and ponder unhealthy states, then your mind will incline to unhealthy states. If you frequently think about and ponder healthy states, you will abandon unhealthy states, and then your mind will incline to healthy states.Majjhima Nikaya 19
There is no doubt about it – any bad habit is very difficult to stop. However, I do believe that the years I have invested in a meditation practice, although clearly is not a panacaea for every mental ailment, did in fact help me. It provided me with an awareness tool that I needed to even realise there was a problem. In the midst of one of my doomscrolling sprees, I had just enough mental space to bring in that sudden awareness that is essential to breaking through a habit you want to change. The awareness is the key and the first step. And of course, as with many moments in our lives, it was simply a “WTF am I doing?” moment!
So here’s how I changed my doomscrolling habit. This was my own process and I found something that worked for me, but that doesn’t mean that this particular solution will work for you. Nonetheless, I think the underlying process is a useful tool that you could adapt to your own personality and inclinations.
The first question I asked myself was, “What can I replace the newsfeed with, so that I can begin to cultivate a ‘healthy’ state of mind?” My solution was to subscribe to a feed from Tricycle (Buddhist journal) called “Dhamma Wheel”: a daily quote from a Buddhist sutra, which then has a brief Reflection and a recommended awareness Practice for the day.* So it is just one small thought or action to use throughout the day, which acts as an anchor for my day and provides an alternative background to the doomscrolling.
So instead of turning to my newsfeed the moment I wake up, I read the reflection and just make a note to myself of one thought or action that I can focus on during the day. At the start of this change, I made a conscious decision not to look at the newsfeed after reading the Daily Dhamma, just to try and curtail the habit. It was actually pretty difficult and I was surprised by that! Doomscrolling had really hooked me in.
This method of replacing doomscrolling with reading something inspirational may sound a bit corny, but it has been surprisingly effective. If you’ve been stuck in doomscrolling, I would highly recommend finding some online uplifting daily feed that suits your own personality and try it. There are plenty of offerings out there to suit any spiritual inclination. I actually find the Buddhist Daily Dhamma helpful because it isn’t just a saccharine feel-good inspiration meme, of the kind that proliferates Facebook feeds! Instead, it is giving me something to reflect upon and then act – it is the daily shift to action that has helped me change that doomscrolling habit.
This new practice doesn’t mean that I just turn away from what is happening in the world – well, let’s face it, that is pretty much impossible anyway! No, I’m still aware of the headlines but I’m no longer actively engaging with doomscrolling – it is no longer an anxiety producing buzzing. Instead, I can remind myself throughout the day of the note I’ve made first thing in the morning, which becomes a gentle humming background instead. It’s such a relief 🙂
*Just to let you know, “Dhamma Wheel” is a paid subscription, which acts as an engaging year-long course in Buddhist teachings from Tricycle’s online courses, but you can also get a free “Daily Dharma” inspirational quote from Tricycle by subscribing with your email address, which also link to an online article.