Is Doomscrolling Bad for Your Health?

News

In this video, Bryan McLaughlin, PhD, of Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication in Lubbock, discusses his recent study on the relationship between problematic news consumption and mental and physical health.

The following is a transcript of his remarks:

Our paper is about looking at how people’s problematic news consumption habits might relate to both their mental and their physical health.

To explore this, we used a survey with 1,100 U.S. adults and asked them questions about their news consumption habits, as well as general stress and anxiety for the mental aspect, and for health, we asked them how recently in the last month they’ve had things like sore backs, digestive issues, headaches, and exhaustion.

We tried to see, for the problematic news consumption, we were interested in how absorbed people got in the news. If they had a tendency to get deeply drawn into the news, really emotionally and mentally involved, if their habits were compulsive, meaning they were just doing it all the time and they couldn’t really stop themselves from checking the news, and then if it interfered with other aspects of their lives, if they were kind of finding themselves distracted while they were at work or school or when they’re with their family. We put those together as a composite measure to look at problematic news consumption.

What we found is that those who were really high in problematic news consumption were much more likely to have indications of mental ill-being, just generalized stress and anxiety — not about the news specifically, but these tendencies to feel like they’re in a panic and things of that nature. Also a lot more physical ill-being.

Our survey was conducted in 2021. At that time there was obviously a lot of attention on things like COVID, and it’s certainly likely that a lot of people were experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety because of COVID. But there are other stories that probably caught people’s attention. There were a lot of people that worried in the U.S. about political developments on both sides of the aisle.

It’s hard to say whether this is something where we expect to find the exact same results all the time, but given the way things have gone recently in the news, we do think that there’s probably an increased level of anxiety and stress in relation to the news. We don’t look at that directly, but we would expect that just in terms of how people are feeling about the news and stories that people are getting from the news making people feel a little bit worse.

In terms of what people can do if they do find that they have high levels of problematic news consumption, we think the first thing that people should do is just have awareness of it. Pay attention to your habits. A lot of people kind of engage with the news habitually, right? They’re getting on their phone without even thinking about it. It’s not like, “It’s my time to check the news. I need to know what’s going on.” It’s just kind of second nature for a lot of people.

These are habits that maybe people do need to cut down on if they’re just compulsively doing it when they’re with their family or friends and they’re kind of tuned in to their phone rather than paying attention to their surroundings. People should be aware of those habits and maybe try to cut back a little bit.

We don’t want people to stop watching the news completely. The news has a lot of important information and it’s good for society to have informed citizens, but when it becomes habitual, when it becomes all the time, that’s probably a little too much.

The other component of that is just being aware of how it affects you. If you feel stressed when you’re checking the news, be aware of those feelings and get a sense of how that’s affecting you. So just bringing awareness to that should help people kind of understand how they relate to the news, and then maybe think about better ways to do it.

Another thing that we’re suggesting is that having a little bit more presence and mindfulness about the surroundings around you can help people. We think one of the biggest problems is people carry around all the stress and anxiety from the news all the time when they’re out and about. In situations in which the news stories aren’t directly present for them, they’re still thinking about it and not paying attention to things that might otherwise bring them a little bit of calmness, a little bit of happiness. Just being a little bit more mindful in your day-to-day life might help people to disassociate a little bit, so they’re not always carrying around that stress.

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    Emily Hutto is an Associate Video Producer & Editor for MedPage Today. She is based in Manhattan.

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