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Experts say constantly reading news about COVID-19 can affect your mental as well as physical health. JF Creatives/Getty Images
  • Researchers say people who constantly read news about COVID-19, a habit known as “doomscrolling,” can experience increased levels of anxiety and fear.
  • Experts say “doomscrolling” can also affect a person’s physical health by overtaxing their nervous system.
  • Experts say there are ways to stop “doomscrolling,” including only checking your phone and social media at certain times as well as finding activities to replace this habit.

You’re up all hours of the day and night on your mobile device.

You’re going through your social media news feeds, reading everything you can find about COVID-19.

You can’t seem to stop yourself. Turns out, there’s a term for that.

It’s called “doomscrolling” or “doomsurfing.”

And it might not surprise you to discover that it’s really not good for you. Among other things, getting oversaturated on COVID-19 information can aggravate the anxiety you may already be feeling.

That’s the findings of a new study conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom and Canada.

The scientists looked at the emotional consequences of even brief exposures to COVID-19-related news on Twitter and YouTube in two studies with a total of about 1,000 participants.

The researchers found that as little as 2 to 4 minutes of exposure led to “immediate and significant reductions” in participants’ optimism and positive feelings.

Psychologists told Healthline that the results of this research are not surprising.

“We know that when we’re around anyone who is depressed or talking about heavy things, your ‘affect’ drops, whether it’s in person or online,” said Nancy Mramor, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania who specializes in how media affects you and your health. “That’s just the natural effect on our nervous and emotional systems.”

She says the result of so much repetitive negative news takes its toll.

“It’s disheartening in terms of the number of cases and deaths. You kind of feel helpless. So you don’t have a sense that you can fix it or do anything about it,” Mramor told Healthline.

Goali Saedi Bocci, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Oregon and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology in California, said that the deadly coronavirus was so frightening it sent people frantically searching for information.

That information changed rapidly as scientists made discoveries about COVID-19.

“I think it’s become extremely common,” Saedi Bocci told Healthline. “I think it’s become this sort of subconscious, habitual thing. You get on your phone and you see something. You click on it.”

“Especially at the beginning of the pandemic. We didn’t know what it was, what was going on,” she added. “People were just trying to stay abreast of the latest news and information to keep themselves and their families safe.”

But she says that for some, it became like other addictions to social media. You go to check your email or your Facebook feed. You see an article and start clicking on it and then another article after article after article.

Saedi Bocci said habits such as “doomscrolling” make people who are predisposed to anxiety feel more anxious. She adds it may prompt people who have not had anxiety to experience it for the first time.

Mramor said “doomscrolling” also takes a physical toll.

“It’s tiresome for the mind and the body to process the stress and anxiety generated by ‘doomscrolling.’” she said. “It results in fatigue. It wears out the nervous system.”

Mramor likened it to her research on people who watched too many crime shows on television. She said they got a false sense of their own safety.

They overestimated the amount of crime in the world. They become more hypervigilant, so they watch more news to find out what’s going on. The cycle repeats itself.

Saedi Bocci said it’s important be mindful of your triggers.

Do you pick up your phone when you’re bored? If so, do a puzzle instead or find a replacement activity.

“You probably don’t need a period of going cold turkey, unless you’re really addicted,” Mramor said. “Then you can cut down the amount of news, make it more concise, and make sure it’s coming from sources that are accurate.”

But she says the more you expose yourself to negativity, the more “feeling bad” becomes a way of being.

“There are so many studies that support this. Whatever you expose yourself to is what you tend to manifest in your life,” Mramor explained.

The mental health and well-being magazine Happiful suggests a half-dozen helpful tips to help you quit “doomscrolling”:

  • Don’t reach for your phone first thing in the morning.
  • Set aside a specific time to check your phone.
  • Embrace mindfulness and check in on yourself.
  • Make yourself stop scrolling. Put the phone down and go into another room.
  • Find another activity to replace “doomscrolling.”
  • Try to scroll through uplifting, hopeful sites and stories instead.