The Toll on Mental Health
In recent times we have experienced an unparalleled level of upheaval in our lives. We navigated our way through Brexit, heaved a collective sigh of relief when David Attenborough told us there was still time to save our planet and then boom, we were plunged into the turmoil of a global pandemic. Now, just when we thought it was safe to pop our heads above the parapet, we have been confronted with the unthinkable, a war in Europe.
Powerful terms such as unprecedented and ‘turbulent have become commonplace and we barely even raise an eyebrow at the use of such emotive language. New words have been propelled into our vocabulary with terms such as superspreader, Zoombombing and doomscrolling making their way into the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2020
Words of the Year compilation.
According to the OED, ‘doomscrolling’ is the action of compulsively scrolling through social media or news feeds actively searching for bad news. This is nothing new, psychological research suggests that people have a negativity bias when it comes to news consumption where we tend to dwell on the bad rather than the good. Similar to how we can spend hours, days or even weeks ruminating on a well-meaning snippet of constructive criticism and yet brush off a compliment in the same breath.
So how does this morbid curiosity and the endless quest for knowledge impact us in our present-day era of 24/7 information overload?
21st Century News
Nowadays, we have access to up to the second, fast-paced new information with graphic pictures and moving images on a constant, round-the-clock, rolling basis.
Most people receive the bulk of their information via news sites and social media platforms and in our plugged-in era of posts, pop-ups and push notifications, it can feel overwhelming. The news itself is no longer solely concerned with factually reporting events, with sensationalised headlines and ‘breaking’ stories adding a sense of mystery and drama that hook us in and keep us glued.These tactics grow viewing figures, inflate ad revenue for the platform and reinforce our propensity towards a negative worldview so that the vicious cycle continues.
Recently we have seen an explosion in digital usage as the pandemic forced us into lockdown and our screens became our window on the world, our workstations and our only source of social contact. No more putting the world to rights around the water cooler for that much-needed collective navel-gazing meant we became reliant on technology for social connection and solace.
Whilst staying connected via social media is, in the main, a force for good, we cannot escape the dark underbelly of the web which litters our feeds with conspiracy theories, fake news, political propaganda and provocative clickbait which aims to drive maximum engagement and fuel advertising revenue.
The upshot of all this is that, for some, our scrolling habit is impacting face-to-face human connection, potentially warping our perception of reality, fuelling an epidemic of fear and playing havoc with our mental health.
In the midst of a crisis, our sympathetic nervous system is activated which floods our body with stress hormones and puts us into flight or fight mode. Constantly monitoring the news activates this stress response and negatively impacts our brain which can profoundly affect our wellbeing. Common symptoms can include difficulty sleeping, depression and anxiety.The graph below depicts T-Cup community data on 24thFebruary 2022 when The Russia-Ukraine invasion began. You can see that Mood and Overall wellbeing scores took a major nose dive as the news reverberated around the world.
So how can we combat the impact of these constant stress triggers and manage our anxiety in uncertain times?
Limit Your Intake
App notifications are designed to hijack our attention and suck us back in so we spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling our lives away. When we hear that familiar ping or swipe down for a screen refresh, our brain releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter and the main chemical involved in addictive behaviours. Addiction expert Dr Anna Lembke believes that the smartphone has become the modern-day hypodermic needle, and that the antidote is a digital detox to reset dopamine path ways and reduce the anxiety that excessive scrolling can induce. Remind yourself that it’s not important to know everything that’s going on and limit yourself to checking in on the news once or twice a day.
Social media sites create specific algorithms for each user based on an analysis of their unique behaviours. If we spend time clicking and engaging with certain content then only those ads, posts and news reports that align with our interests will be visible to us. This sounds like a relatively harmless way of refining the user experience but if you factor in the perils of being sucked into a labyrinthine black hole of misinformation because you once clicked on a conspiracy theory then this has the potential for serious ramifications.
In response to all this negativity, there is a growing counter-movement gathering pace with the appearance of positive news sites such as The Good News Movement which is committed to reporting feel-good, uplifting news stories. It’s worth intentionally seeking these out along with humanitarian organisations and aid agencies to remind ourselves of the essential goodness of the human spirit.
“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
― Fred Rogers.
Boost your mood
Recent T-Cup community data shows a noticeable uptick in happiness as we head into the weekend. For many of us, the weekend is the time when we down tools and log off to catch up with friends and spend time with family. Connecting with others on both an emotional and physical level is vital to our overall health and wellbeing and while we have never been more connected through technology, our digital interactions have the power to disconnect us from nature, from ourselves and from each other. Humans need face-to-face connections to thrive and meaningful relationships with others are known to lower anxiety and depression and promote higher self-esteem.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, just as our tech has anxiety-inducing potential; it also has the power to help us to be the best versions of ourselves. It all depends on how we choose to use it.
T-Cup’s wellbeing tool, CheckUp, is scientifically proven to effectively raise 8/10 people’s conscious awareness of what impacts personal wellbeing, empowering people to take control. As a result of using the app, 7/10 people saw a direct increase in motivation. CheckUp can create a snapshot of your organisation’s wellbeing through guided self-reflection in less than sixty seconds and provides employers with comprehensive data to drive wellbeing initiatives whilst simultaneously delivering individual resources to each employee. As with breaking any bad habit, it’s all about setting the right intentions. Mindless scrolling results from a subconscious habit and to put an end to it, we need to be consciously present and aware of our actions. So, next time you find yourself sliding into a scroll hole, set the right intentions to be alert and aware and try to break the habit – your mental health will thank you for it.