We’ve all been there. Scrolling on our phones to feel connected or to take the edge off. Perhaps it’s a case of revenge bedtime procrastination: diving into your Instagram or TikTok feeds late into the night in attempts to ‘take back’ your day.
If that’s you, you might have noticed that your curated feed took a darker turn several days ago. Bad news travels fast, but social media has brought catastrophic world events closer than ever as we process the senselessness of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the rise in COVID-19 cases, and other global natural disasters from our phones.
Merriam-Webster defines doomscrolling as “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.”
Beyond putting down the phone to limit our news intake, taking deep breaths and going for walks, it’s normal that we cope with devastating news in different ways.
You may have already donated to humanitarian causes and still feel helpless as you monitor the situation. Or perhaps you are burnt out, beyond your limit of bad news yet still care deeply for the suffering of others. Is there a sustainable way to keep informed without the hangover of hopelessness and guilt that our daily lives are—by comparison—blissfully uneventful at best? How can we stop spiralling after doomscrolling leaves us feeling more overwhelmed than ever? Vogue Singapore spoke to these mental health providers on their best coping tools.
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Dr Megan Johnson, psychologist at Woven Together Truma Therapy
You don’t need to shame yourself for feeling any way that you are feeling
Rather than resist or shame yourself for what is coming up emotionally, embrace it. The truth is, there are many different ways we as human being respond to stress and overwhelm, so you might be experiencing a wide variety of emotions right now. And your emotional experience may be different than those around you. That is all ok.
You are a caring, feeling human being so it is only natural that you would have a strong reaction to the suffering of others.
What is important is that you make space to recognise and process whatever feelings are coming up. Big emotions only become a problem when we bottle them up or try to shame them out of existence. It may feel counterintuitive, but allowing your natural emotions to come and go enables them to run their natural course rather than continue to control you.
It’s ok to still care about the things that were important to you last week, even if they seem trivial now
Trauma and stress have a way of reorienting our priorities. When chaos is unfolding on a global stage, like it is right now, we can become hyperfocused on safety and security in a way that neglects our deeply held values. In the face of trauma, the mundane aspects of life can seem trivial. But they are not. It’s ok to still prioritise your self-care routine, time with your family, exercising, eating healthy, and investing in important projects. Doing so can even prevent the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that accompany trauma from taking over. When we continue to invest in the things that are important to us, we see that we are not helpless and at the mercy of the chaos unfolding around us. Even though most of us have little to no influence on geopolitics, we do have control over a lot in our day to day lives; and focusing on that can curb a sense of overwhelm and regulate our nervous systems.
It’s important to stay informed, but don’t let it consume your entire day
It can be tricky, but it is certainly possible to balance long term goals and values with immediate safety concerns. Pick two or three trusted news sources and give yourself a time limit. Set a timer and update yourself on what is happening in your world and what you need to know in order to make informed decisions. But when that timer goes off, return back to the tasks at hand (you job, caring for kids, studying, your health, etc.). This approach can allow you to informed without being overwhelmed. Without setting clear boundaries around news sources and time limits, you could spend your entire existence scrolling and watching, which will only lead you to feeling more helpless and disengaged from the life in front of you.
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Dr Jean Cheng, clinical psychologist at Talitha Koum
Practice feeling safe in your body
When we stare at our screens and consume an unending thread of overwhelming news for too long, our bodies can quite naturally go into a state of survival. Our eye focus becomes narrowed, our shoulders hunch, and we are find ourselves braced in a position ready to respond to threat. Our bodies entering into a frequent or even constant state of threat will inevitably affect our mental health. A simple tip when catching yourself doomscrolling and feeling more restless after is to take some time to orient to your environment (i.e., look at your environment and move your eyes and neck from side to side, so as to shift away from a narrowed eye-focus and enter into having a wider perspective of your environment. It would be better if you can do this outdoors, or looking outside a window into nature. This teaches the body that it is safe, that there is no immediate threat to prepare for, and helps move the body more quickly away from a sense of threat into a sense of safety, where you can then re-enter other activities in a better state of calm.
Feeling numb is normal
It is not uncommon to feel numb when faced with the horrors of what is happening around us. While some may view this as a lack of empathy (and this may indeed be what describes some people’s experiences), I have found in my work with many that this is, more often than not, a sign of being overwhelmed by a combination of empathy and helplessness, and not knowing what to do with these feelings. It is frightening to face the heartache, horror, powerlessness, senselessness and helplessness of what is happening around us. What could instead help is to let ourselves feel it in more manageable doses such as by letting ourselves feel for what Ukranians are going through and focusing on what we can do (e.g., donations, prayers and meditations, lending a helping hand to what the vulnerable in our own country are going through etc).
It’s ok to feel anxious, even if you’re not directly in the thick of things
It is normal to feel shaken and anxious when we get in touch with the fragility of our lives as many of us have been conditioned to ignore this and to experience ourselves as ‘go-getters’ who can take charge of our lives. The problem with this conditioning is that is makes us vulnerable when we are in touch with humanity—which also includes fragility, aspects we have no or little control over. Learning to befriend our fragility, although initially uncomfortable, will help us to become more grounded in ourselves and less anxious over time.