Avoid Doomscrolling: How to Mindfully Engage with Current Events - Humantold

Avoid Doomscrolling: How to Mindfully Engage with Current Events

Nandini Malhotra, MHC-LP November 10, 2023

Seeing countless stories of oppression on social media can be overwhelming and contribute to feelings of distress, yet there is a way to mindfully protect yourself from doom-scrolling.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. 

Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. 

You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. “

-The Talmud

Everywhere we look, we are inundated with stories of oppression, violence, pain, and loss. For most of us, these stories are intricately tied to our lived realities. In such an atmosphere, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and saturated, possibly even hopeless. 

Doom-scrolling refers to the act of spending an excessive amount of time reading large quantities of negative news online. This is not always a choice. On nearly every social media platform, our feeds can oscillate between endearing animal videos, to stories of massacre and devastation, to motivational quotes, back to legislative failures around the world, and so on. Especially when major news stories break, our feeds can be filled with people sharing and reposting opinions, data, and calls for action. It can be overwhelming and contribute to feelings of anxiety, anger, and hopelessness. However, there is a way to move away from doom-scrolling and adapt a more mindful approach to engagement so that you are not overly consumed with distress.

Before we get into it, let’s preface that there is, of course, one major way to combat doom-scrolling, and that is to limit your time on social media. This is not equivalent to “close your eyes, look away.” There are plenty of ways to stay informed and educate yourself on current events through books, movies, documentaries, blogs, articles, reliable news networks, poetry, art, in-person events, and more. Get creative with it! And now, let’s explore strategies to move away from doom-scrolling into more mindful engagement with current events.

  1. Fact-check

Misinformation and fear-mongering have become mainstays of our news consumption. First and foremost, we must make sure that we are verifying the information we are reading through credible sources to make sure that what we are reacting to is based on facts and reality. Make sure that the people you are following on social media are similarly invested in sharing truth. 

  1. Cultivate nuance

History and current events are rarely black-or-white, if ever. There are always layers to problems and intersections that highlight different forces at work. Our ability to view a problem with nuance helps us understand it holistically. The false dichotomies of black-or-white thinking can make us feel overwhelmed, have absolute stances on matters that require more complexity, and ultimately create extreme polarities. Nuance can be liberating. 

  1. Determine your positionality 

Where do you lie in the nexus of this problem? Are you part of a group directly implicated? Are you part of a group that is directly oppressed? How is your identity, or rather - the intersections of your identity - tying you to this issue? Reflecting on our positionality can help determine the way in which we want to engage with a problem and think about how it is impacting us and those around us. Understanding ourselves and our role in events that might be happening geographically removed from us can help decrease our sense of helplessness, and also allow us to reckon with our privilege critically and mindfully. 

  1. Explore the sustained trauma

While trauma includes punctuated acts of violence, grief, destruction, etc., there is something to be said about the sustained trauma of living in a world that is continuously grappling with injustice. Consuming news and content that is highlighting this injustice on a daily basis can be extremely disturbing, and lead to anxiety, depression, fear responses, and a dysregulated nervous system. Notice how this trauma manifests in your body and mind. What comes up for you? How do you become aware of these manifestations? Are there specific words or stories that trigger you more than others? Have you become desensitized to certain happenings? How might this cognitive desensitization be stored in the body and influence your actions?

  1. Look for the helpers

When we are stuck in a news cycle, there can be feelings of hopelessness and disillusionment with the world. You may find yourself having existential thoughts about the kind of world we live in, and the kind of people that populate it. Every time, seek out the helpers. There will always be people helping. Amplify stories of goodness, seek inspiration from those who are lending their voice and energy toward justice, and create spaces for yourself and others to be helpers in the ways that you can. Maybe you contribute to or share a fundraiser, maybe you create a community-driven space for people to heal, or maybe you do the work of educating yourself. There are several ways in which you can be a helper–no effort is too small. 

  1. Listen to your needs 

Everyone’s capacity for engagement looks different. Pay attention to your needs and determine what mindful engagement can look like for you. For instance, if you are sensitive to graphic imagery, avoid videos and photographs, and focus on reading and text-based engagement. If you are part of a group that is directly impacted and experiencing complex feelings of grief and anger, seek affinity spaces and support groups. If you are personally dealing with difficulty in your life and have limited bandwidth, find ways to pace your engagement with current events and disrupt feelings of guilt. 

  1. Emphasize collective liberation 

We are all impacted by atrocity and injustice around the world, even if we don’t belong directly to groups involved. Healing collectively and practicing solidarity is the antidote to individualized ideas of safety that are perpetuated to enforce silence and isolation. Reach out to people who are impacted, understand patterns of oppression that may tether you and the groups you belong within to a larger struggle against power, and build communities around you. That can include simply discussing current events with people you feel safe around - family members, friends, colleagues, roommates, local communities, virtual spaces, and more. 

  1. Practice self-care 

As you are doing the work of engagement, advocacy, and learning, take time out to bring your nervous system back to a regulated state so that your efforts can be sustainable. Mindfulness is not a verb, but an adverb. It is not always what you do, but how you do what you do. Meditation might be helpful for a lot of us, but you can also mindfully walk, mindfully exercise, mindfully eat, mindfully create art, mindfully journal, mindfully socialize, and so on. Slow down, and remember to breathe. Pouring our efforts into rest and replenishment is essential when the work of social justice can be depleting. 

Remember that systems of power rely on exhausting you to persist. Through mindful engagement, we can prevent burn-out and exhaustion, and center well-being. It is important to note that caring for your well-being does not always equal protecting your comfort. Challenging yourself can pave the way for growth and identity exploration. Don’t be afraid to bring your thoughts into the therapy room - you are not meant to do this alone. 

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