How to Stop ‘Doomscrolling’ and Love Your Phone Again
Not all screen time is created equal
In Microprocessing, columnist Angela Lashbrook aims to improve your relationship with technology every week. Microprocessing goes deep on the little things that define your online life today to give you a better tomorrow.
The “doomscroll” may be one of the defining behaviors of quarantine. Like 9 a.m. Cosmos, hours upon hours of The Bachelor reruns, and a debilitating fear of crowds, a habitual doomscroll — in which a person subjects themselves to scrolling through social media or the news on their phone or laptop as screaming opinions and bad news begin to blur together in a steady stream of terror — may stick around as something we’ve grown accustomed to doing all day, every day.
Subjecting yourself to incessant, heartbreaking headlines and flickering images of surgical masks, busy hospitals, morgues, and crowded parks is pretty damn bad for your mental health, unsurprisingly.
But not all screen time is created equal. The doomscroll is accurately named, but actively participating in online conversations — being vulnerable and intimate with friends via text and social media, or even with strangers on places like Reddit — can actually be good for your brain. So while it’s never a bad idea to step away from social media and focus on real-life tasks like jigsaw puzzles and baking, if you’re going to be online, you might as well pipe up and engage in sincere, in-depth conversations with friends, family, and even people you don’t know in online forums where you feel safe.
Research from 2016 shows that people who “lurk” on Facebook — passively scrolling and viewing without chiming in — are more likely to experience stress and poor mood than those who actively participate in conversations on the platform. A more recent longitudinal study from 2019 found that it isn’t the quantity of screen time that makes a difference to your mental health but the quality of it. Noncommunicative social media use, in which users more or less doomscroll, really is depressing. But “self-disclosure,” in which the user has honest and possibly vulnerable conversations with friends or even anonymous strangers, can lead to a sense of togetherness and…