Doomscroll! Phones, the news, the media and anxiety
Many of us in 2020 will have had that experience of scrolling through our phones, feeling angry or dismayed or lost, one thing after another… that sensation of “and now THIS?!!?”
Here are a few thoughts on phone anxiety from my perspective: that’s someone who is a therapist and works with a lot of of people who are experiencing anxiety where the news and the world outside are a factor, and also as a person who has worked in news and the media.
The ability to be constantly connected to other people, and permanently getting updates on the news, has been a mixed blessing for humanity.
The appetite for constant updates is deep and wide, and media organisations big and small know this. If they do not generate a steady stream – or you might call it a torrent – of news and opinions then their competitors will steal a march.
If is also the nature of reporting a breaking story that the reporters and editors don’t have all the information at once. How could they? The recent US elections, Covid, a terrorist incident, whatever: all of these major stories are unfolding in real-time, there is a lot of confusion and noise, the events are also changing by the hour or minute.
Even if we leave out for the moment misinformation, deliberate and malicious, or accidental and overzealous, it is still the case that you are getting the information in fragments. To move the story forward, it is by nature going to be piecemeal: you get a bit more info, you publish it. Supply and demand are of one mind, you might say, on this.
Of course, these days anyone with a phone is a news producer, a media organisation: we share, we froward, we comment.
The overall effect of this can be overwhelming, a bombardment of news, of views, of commentary, of truths, half-truths and downright falsehoods.
All sorts of research, from the neuroscience studies that show how our brains give us little reward hits when we find stories that reconfirm our preconceptions, to data tracking of what stories individuals click on, demonstrate how we can become ‘addicted’ to updates.
And like any addiction, these habits can be really hard to break.
Scrolling through updates that bring us down can cause us anxiety and damage our mental health. New information demands of us that we process it, making this a fight-or-flight type situation. Our stress, anxiety and cortisol levels get raised, but we want more and more. It can also create a sense of despair and powerlessness about our world.
A couple of practical suggestions, then.
Try to have a break at least once a day. Even if it’s just putting the phone down for a few minutes, it is a start.
Try to avoid people, organisations, news producers of whatever size who might be deliberately pushing your buttons with polarising, provocative or dubious content.
Try to differentiate between news that is directly relevant to you and events that really are beyond your control.
If you’d like to talk to me about anxiety, about starting therapy, or have any questions big or small, please get in touch with me firstname.lastname@example.org or 07961 601 275. You can see more about how I can help you, the sort of therapy I can offer you and more at www.altyerstherapy.com