March 10th, 2021

What Doomscrolling is Doing to Your Writing Creativity

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?

For more help managing your time and increasing productivity, see Colleen’s award-winning book, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue.Get your free chapters here!


Sources

  1. Amabile TM, et al., “Creativity under the gun,” Harvard Business Review, 2002; 80(8):52-61, 147.
  2. Garcia-Navarro, L. (2020, July 19). Your 'Doomscrolling' breeds anxiety. Here's how to stop the cycle. NPR.org.
  3. Heid, M. (2020, May 19). You asked: Is it bad for you to read the news constantly? Time.
  4. How much news is too much news for good mental health? (2020, October 31). McLean Hospital | Mental Health Treatment, Research, and Education (Belmont, MA).
  5. Mastria, S., Agnoli, S., & Corazza, G. E. (2019). How does emotion influence the creativity evaluation of exogenous alternative ideas? PLOS ONE, 14(7), e0219298.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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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About Colleen

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.

30 responses to “What Doomscrolling is Doing to Your Writing Creativity”

  1. olderwriter says:

    Now I understand what happened to my writing and why I often could not write at all. I a happy to say that's over and done with. I am on my writing projects again.

  2. LauraDrake says:

    This really spoke to me this morning, Colleen. I tend to think that I'm the only one who is damaged by all this, and knowing it has a name reminds me that I'm not alone.

    Thank you

    • colleen says:

      Glad to hear that, Laura. Yes, it does help to put a name on it. I wasn't aware of it until not long ago. Now I can identify it!

  3. Thanks for these reminders, Colleen. I've been pretty good about setting boundaries for myself on my exposure to bad news, but I haven't paid specific attention to its effect on my creativity. I will start noticing!

  4. What a wonderfully helpful post, Colleen. Times have been tough, and part of my problem was that I've never given the news media more than a cursory look before. But you're spot on about my doomscrolling, at least, when you say it's an effort to get some control over what's happening. Terrific insights and great advice...thank you!!!

    • colleen says:

      Right? I mean, everything seems so out of control the response is totally understandable. We creative souls have to protect ourselves. :O)

  5. So much negativity in the news last year and this year. the word ahs gone upside-down. having you point out what I knew was disturbing me helped. Thank you! I will do better!

  6. amreade says:

    Great post. I had to stop watching the news halfway through 2020 and I didn't regret a single minute of time I got back. 🙂 It also made things seem much more hopeful.

    On the last Friday of every month, I participate in a blogfest called We Are the World. Bloggers from around the world unite to share and spread stories of good news on their blogs. The stories come from all walks of life and every sector—I almost always share good news about the environment. There's a Facebook page people can visit if they want to find out more: it's https://www.facebook.com/Blogfest-Community-We-Are-The-World-watwb-1340888285958297.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      What a great idea, AMReade! I loved the Some Good News network John K from The Office started. My creative soul was so battered by all the news, I just had to turn it off. I've always told my husband he saved my sanity when he dropped cable before the 2016 election. It's been more peaceful in this house ever since we didn't have the yelling heads on every night.

      • colleen says:

        I've heard of many people doing that, Jenny. Cutting the cord as they say. Saves money and sanity! Glad it worked for you. :O)

      • amreade says:

        I'll have to check out John K's site. Getting rid of cable is an excellent idea, and I often wonder why we haven't done it yet.

        And yes!! So many of the heads on cable are actually yelling! And they talk over each other. I wouldn't allow it in my own house, so why would I want to watch other people doing it?

    • colleen says:

      Thanks so much for sharing that Amy. I'm sure we all could use more good news!

      • amreade says:

        My pleasure, Colleen. The huge variety of stories that people share is testament to the amount of good news out there that we're just not hearing on traditional media outlets.

  7. Julia Archer says:

    What excellent advice. Thank you for taking the time and effort to research and write this post.

  8. Jenny Hansen says:

    Colleen, I know I already thanked you profusely for this post - the topic is so important. I tell my daughter all the time, the news media outlets want your outrage. Outrage is like a drug that makes us feel more in control of the world and it's addictive.

    • colleen says:

      Sooo true, Jenny. It's all about feeding their bottom line and the more scared and angry they have us, the better for them. We can take back control by not succumbing to it. I'm happy for your daughter that she's learning that early!

  9. Jacquolyn McMurray says:

    Thanks for the post. I start my day by reading something inspirational from a bound book (not on the internet). Currently, I'm rereading Dr. Wayne Dyer's 10 Secrets of Success and Inner Peace. I quickly check my email, then start writing or revising. I watch the news on tv in the evenings with my husband. One hour max. The routine works for me.

    • colleen says:

      I love Wayne Dyer, Jacquolyn! We really miss his positive, inspiring voice now. Whenever he came on PBS I'd drop everything to watch him. So many great lessons. I like reading from the masters in the morning too, usually before writing. I try to resist checking emails until after---too distracting! :O)

  10. dholcomb1 says:

    Doomscrolling is not an issue for me. Trying to set my parents straight on facts and being part of the Sandwich Generation during covid has been hard.

    denise

  11. Marcia says:

    I finally understand why my writing slowed down to a crawl! I don't "doomscroll" per se, but much of the news and dire warnings were almost inescapable, If I turned on the tv for a few minutes to be sure I was informed about staying safe, or glanced at a headline to understand the overall situation, it was like a tidal wave of bad news and horror stories. I found myself sinking into a depression that seriously impacted my writing. Thanks for giving me an answer to why, when I was home all day, every day for over a year, I got so very little done. It makes perfect sense.

    • colleen says:

      I think it all affected a lot of writers the same way, Marcia. Many of us are sensitive souls and it was hard to manage it all. The good news is things are looking up—I hope your writing is too! :O)

  12. raynayday says:

    Good Advice, though I tend to limit my "doomscrolling" (didn't even know it was called that----cool name for it)

  13. Monique says:

    This is a very helpful blog. If the book is valid, it will discover a crowd of people that is intended to understand it. An author is somebody for whom composing is more troublesome than it is for others.

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