The Spirituality of Doomscrolling

The Spirituality of Doomscrolling September 12, 2022

Like most people over a certain age, I remember being anxiously glued to CNN all day on September 11th, 2001, and for most of the week after. It wasn’t the first time I’d kept cable news on, keeping an ear out for an ongoing story, but something was different this time: the sense that I needed to keep vigil, that something bad might happen again if I stopped watching. Underneath my vigilance was a strange mix of anger and fear—fight and flight.

Photo: © oh_debby (Flickr) / cc-by.

After 9/11 and its aftermath moved off the front page, I found that I started looking at other crises with the same attitude of unhealthy vigilance I’d directed towards it. By the end of the decade I’d gotten rid of my TV and switched over to news web sites, and then to social media, but my fundamental relationship with the news hasn’t really changed since then. Several times I’ve deleted Twitter because I’d get hooked in and emotionally exhaust myself, then I’d feel guilty about insulating myself from the problems of the world and set my account back up again.

Whenever I’m given access to Twitter or start checking a news site, I get into the habit of doomscrolling. It’s not pleasant. It’s not productive. It’s also not unusual. So why do we do it?

Psychological answers to that question are valid, but they’re not the only answers. I’d like to focus on the spiritual and valuational question: What are we trying to accomplish when we’re doomscrolling? From talking to other people who share this unfortunate habit, I think it usually boils down to two positive, and otherwise noble, motives:

  • The drive for solidarity, grounded in an empathic need to feel other people’s pain with them ; and
  • The search for hope, an effort to keep searching for the silver lining after we’ve encountered something that tempts us to despair.

I’ll have a lot to say about these two themes over the coming weeks. In the shorter term, Katharine Lang’s “How to Have a Healthy Relationship with the News” (Medical News Today) has some helpful tips for managing your doomscrolling habit.

If you’d like to develop gentler news-consumption habits, you may also be interested in my recent post on Herminia Ibarra’s framing of the cycle of transition, three steps you can take to begin implementing a sustainable change within your own life. One way of beginning this process this might be to take Lang’s advice to swear off your usual news sources and social media entirely for three or four days (I’d recommend a full week if you can do it), which would be the first step in the cycle of transition (separation) and a good way of determining how media consumption is affecting your life.

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