“Doom scrolling,” the act of endlessly scrolling through social media feeds and news websites in search of negative or distressing information, has become an increasingly common behavior in today’s digital age.
While many of us may engage in this behavior as a way to stay informed, a growing body of research suggests that doom scrolling may be doing more harm than good. And, all that doom scrolling may actually be giving you “brain rot.”
Doom scrolling comes with an array of negative consequences, but you can take some steps to protect your mental health and well-being.
What is brain rot?
“Brain rot,” as you can probably guess, isn’t a medical or scientific term. Rather, it’s a slang term that can be used in a variety of ways depending on the context of the situation. In a less empathetic way, it’s sometimes used to refer to the deterioration of the brain due to diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. That’s not what we’re referring to here.
In a more general sense, Brain rot refers to the feeling of mental fog or confusion after prolonged drug use or lack of sleep, or a feeling of mental or emotional decline or decay, often associated with stress, anxiety, or depression. These conditions can affect brain function and structure, causing symptoms like cognitive impairment and reduced creativity and productivity.
Doom scrolling is a term used to describe the behavior of scrolling through and consuming large amounts of negative news or social media content, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and distressed.
Doom scrolling can have negative effects on your mental health by increasing anxiety, stress, and feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. The constant stream of negative news and images can also disrupt sleep patterns and lead to emotional exhaustion.
The behavior is often driven by a combination of factors, including the brain’s reward system, which can be activated by the anticipation of getting new information, and the “negativity bias,” which causes the brain to prioritize and remember negative information more than positive information. Social media algorithms and news outlets tend to prioritize and promote negative content to generate more engagement and clicks.
The brain’s reward system
The brain’s reward system is a complex network of structures and neurotransmitters that are involved in regulating feelings of pleasure and motivation. When we engage in activities that are pleasurable or rewarding, like eating or socializing, our brains release a chemical called dopamine, which helps to reinforce these behaviors and make us want to do them again.
However, when we engage in certain activities that are pleasurable in the short term but ultimately harmful, such as doom scrolling or excessive social media use, this can lead to brain rot. This is because these activities can actually alter the functioning of the brain’s reward system, making it harder for us to feel pleasure and motivation from other activities that are more beneficial in the long term.
IDG via Artbot/Stable Horde
Doom scrolling, in particular, can be particularly damaging to the brain’s reward system because it’s a form of addictive behavior that provides a constant stream of negative stimuli, such as news stories and social media posts that trigger feelings of anxiety, fear, and helplessness. Over time, this can lead to a desensitization to these negative stimuli, which can make it more difficult to experience positive emotions or derive pleasure from other things.
To counteract this, it’s important to take breaks from doom scrolling and other forms of excessive social media use and engage in other activities that are more beneficial to the brain’s reward system, such as exercise, socializing with friends and family, or pursuing hobbies and interests that provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
The consequences of doom scrolling can be significant. This behavior can have several consequences on mental health, emotional well-being, and even physical health. Here are some of the major consequences of doom scrolling, which all contribute to brain rot:
Increased anxiety and stress: Constant exposure to negative news and information can trigger feelings of anxiety and stress, leading to a heightened sense of fear and helplessness.
Depression: Prolonged doom scrolling can contribute to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair, increasing the risk of developing or worsening depression.
Insomnia and sleep disturbances: Doom scrolling late into the night can disrupt our sleep patterns and make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep, leading to chronic sleep disturbances that can have negative effects on our overall health and well-being.
Decreased productivity: Constantly checking social media and news feeds can be distracting and can interfere with our ability to focus on tasks, leading to decreased productivity and performance.
Physical health consequences: Chronic stress and sleep disturbances can have negative effects on our physical health, leading to an increased risk of various health problems.
Overall, doom scrolling can have significant negative consequences for our mental and physical health. Keeping a healthy balance of news and social media consumption, and setting boundaries around social media platforms, helps to reduce the negative effects of doom scrolling.
To prevent brain rot caused by doom scrolling, you need to be intentional about your media consumption habits and prioritize your mental well-being. One way to do this is to set limits on the amount of time you spend on social media and news websites.
You should also diversify your media sources. Instead of focusing solely on negative news, check out content that educates, inspires, or entertains you. This can help maintain a balanced perspective on the world and foster a more positive mindset.
When you consume content is also important. Avoid social media and news before bedtime to prevent sleep disturbances. Instead, try reading a book, meditating, or taking a warm bath.
Aside from setting a strict schedule of when you can consume news and engage in social media, you need to minimize the temptations. Turn off notifications for news and social media apps. This helps you create the necessary boundaries that prevent constant exposure to negative content.
Overall, you’ll need to engage in activities that promote mental well-being, such as exercise, meditation, or pursuing hobbies. These activities can serve as a healthy distraction from doom scrolling and contribute to a more balanced and positive lifestyle.