by Colleen M. Story
Is “doomscrolling” hurting your writing creativity?
If you haven’t heard of the term, it describes the act of consuming a lot of negative information at once, typically online.
It’s become more popular over the past year, but it could ruin your writing sessions. Here’s how and what you can do to protect yourself.
What is Doomscrolling?
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, doomscrolling gained steam as people began scrolling their news and social media feeds for information on how to protect themselves. Things got worse during the George Floyd protests and later, during the 2020 election, as we all compulsively scoured the Internet in search of ever more terrible information.
Strangely enough, we feel productive while doing it. We’re gaining information about current events and informing ourselves about issues we have a reason to be concerned about.
The problem is that we often keep going even after we’ve gathered the basic information we need. Like witnesses to a train wreck, we simply can’t pull our attention from the constant stream of disasters.
Why Do We Doomscroll?
Experts point to several possible reasons. For one, most of us felt disconnected during the pandemic, with our only remaining connections to the world coming from our devices. Even amidst all the bad news we could share it with our online friends and thereby reclaim a little of the connection we were missing.
We were also feeling confused and frightened, so we turned to the news for more information as a way to protect ourselves. The hope was that the more informed we were, the better we’d be able to handle whatever might come our way.
Strangely, doomscrolling can also help us feel safe. The riots are occurring in another city, not ours, we think. The death rates are higher in another state than in ours. It’s not that we don’t have compassion for others. We’re just scared and looking for ways to reassure ourselves.
Unfortunately, whatever the reasons for doomscrolling, it can become a bad habit that can easily derail your writing practice.
How Doomscrolling Messes with Your Writing Practice
1. Doomscrolling increases stress, which destroys creativity.
Exposing yourself to negative news on a regular basis increases your stress levels. According to a 2017 study, watching the news triggered persistent negative psychological feelings, including stress and anxiety. In a recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), more than half of Americans said the news caused them stress, as well as anxiety and insomnia.
Stress, in turn, is terrible for creativity. In a 2002 study, researchers analyzed more than 9,000 daily diary entries from people who were working on projects that required high levels of creativity. They found that stress, in the form of time pressure, resulted in less creative results.
If you’re regularly doomscrolling, you're hampering your creative muse.
2. Doomscrolling negatively affects your mood, which inhibits creativity.
It’s true that positive thoughts encourage creativity, while negative thoughts discourage it.
In one experiment, scientists found that a positive mood facilitated work on a project while a negative mood inhibited it. A later study found similar results—those in a positive mood produced higher creativity ratings than those in a neutral or negative mood.
Doomscrolling typically increases negative thoughts and feelings, worsening your mood and making you less creative.
3. Doomscrolling can create sleeping problems, robbing you of creative energy.
When you spend significant time scrolling on your gadgets, you expose yourself to blue light, which in turn, can mess with the sleep hormone melatonin. In 2018, researchers found that greater screen time was associated with insomnia and shorter sleep periods. Negative news, on top of that, can leave your mind reeling with worries and anxieties that can be hard to quiet down.
All of this causes next-day fatigue, which is definitely not conducive to writing. You know how it goes when you’re staring at the blank page with heavy eyelids—not good.
4. Doomscrolling creates a vicious negative cycle that increases anxiety.
“The more time we spend scrolling,” clinical psychologist Amelia Aldao explained to NPR, “the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them, the more anxious we get. Now you look around yourself and everything feels gloomy, everything makes you anxious. So you go back to look for more information.”
Not only can this habit cut into your writing time, but it can also leave you in a state of mind that discourages creativity. Who wants to sit and write a story when it feels like the world is going up in flames?
“When uncertainty is high, it drives our brains to seek as much information as possible to feel in control,” says Jacqueline Bullis, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in McLean Hospital's Center of Excellence in Depression and Anxiety Disorders. This can make us feel slightly better in the short term but ultimately has the opposite effect.
“In the long term, these behaviors are increasing our anxiety by feeding into this belief that if we have enough information, we can control what happens,” Bullis said. “The more we seek certainty over what will happen in the future, the more anxious we will feel.”
5 Ways to Stop Doomscrolling and Boost Writing Productivity
Nothing good comes from doomscrolling, so the only thing to do is to stop. Here are some tips to help you do that:
1. Limit your exposure to negative news.
Set aside a certain amount of time to check the news each day, and then refuse to go over that time. As to how much is too much? Go by how you feel after you’ve finished scrolling. If you notice an uptick in anxiety or negativity, you need to cut back more.
2. Choose to get your information only from trusted sources.
Be selective about your media. Rather than falling down negative rabbit holes online, watch and read the news only from your trusted sources, then let it go. Bookmark your trusted sites and vow to check them only once a day.
3. Remove anxiety-provoking leads from your social media.
If you follow people who are constantly posting negative news, it may be time to unfollow them or to at least hide them from your main feed. Feel free to explain that you're taking a break from negative news if you like, but don't worry too much about what others think. Your health and ability to write is what matters most.
4. Soak yourself in inspiring news.
As a writer, it is your responsibility to take care of your creativity. That means inspiring yourself as often as you can with music, art, walks in nature, photography, workshops, books, and more.
Rather than immersing yourself in negative news, make a point to surround yourself with inspiring resources of information and inspiration. Do so for just a week and you're likely to see an increase in writing creativity.
5. Unplug at least once a week.
Choose one day a week to avoid social media, the internet, and the news completely. Use that day to allow your mind to rest and recuperate. Take a notebook and head to the park for some quiet time. Make an afternoon trip to the library and see what you can find that might inspire you. Spend some quality time with your family, or take your dog for a walk.
Reconnect to the other things in your life that you love and watch your mood and your energy soar.
How do you avoid doomscrolling? Did you do this more than usual during the pandemic?
- Amabile TM, et al., “Creativity under the gun,” Harvard Business Review, 2002; 80(8):52-61, 147.
- Garcia-Navarro, L. (2020, July 19). Your 'Doomscrolling' breeds anxiety. Here's how to stop the cycle. NPR.org.
- Heid, M. (2020, May 19). You asked: Is it bad for you to read the news constantly? Time.
- How much news is too much news for good mental health? (2020, October 31). McLean Hospital | Mental Health Treatment, Research, and Education (Belmont, MA).
- Mastria, S., Agnoli, S., & Corazza, G. E. (2019). How does emotion influence the creativity evaluation of exogenous alternative ideas? PLOS ONE, 14(7), e0219298.
- Study links screen time to insomnia symptoms and depressive symptoms in adolescents: Regulating screen times may improve sleep health and reduce depression. (2021, January 12). ScienceDaily.
- Szabo, A., & Hopkinson, K. L. (2007). Negative psychological effects of watching the news in the television: Relaxation or another intervention may be needed to buffer them! International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 14(2), 57-62.
- Vosburg, S. K. (1998). The effects of positive and negative mood on divergent-thinking performance. Creativity Research Journal, 11(2), 165-172.
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Colleen M. Story inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, was a gold-medal winner in the 2019 Reader’s Favorite Book Awards, a 1st-place winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards, and Book By Book Publicity’s best writing/publishing book of 2019.
Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker, where she helps attendees remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers. Find more at her motivational site, Writing and Wellness, and on her author website, or connect with her on Twitter.