how doom scrolling affects our mental health danielle van de velde

Are we doom-scrolling ourselves into a false perception of mental health?

How doom-scrolling affects our mental health

With Mental Health Day falling on the 10th of October, the internet is awash with commentary on the dire state of our mental health. On the face of it, it appears we are in the grip of a global pandemic-induced psychological epidemic.

All of us have, in one way or another, observed the real impact of the pandemic on those we love and our communities and we all have our own stories to tell. These stories are our own, and highly subjective. For me, it has been a frustrating two years of not being able to be with my parents who have endured serious health issues involving extended hospitalisations, major surgeries and significant loss of independence. For some, this scenario is a light one compared to what they have endured during the pandemic, while for me, it has been a daily deep concern and frustration.

Our personal state of wellbeing is largely affected by what’s happening in our personal field, and equally, the wider content that we are ingesting. What we read and the conversations we partake in, form our perceptions on the state of things, which, with repetition, form our beliefs about the state of things, and our beliefs become our reality.

There have been times during the pandemic when I have felt a seriously dark, heavy state within me, yet it has felt counter to my actual reality, which is, that I am well and strong, my family is well and strong, we’re safe. And whilst frustrated, shouldering higher stress levels and feeling disempowered in the broader sense of the world, we are still very much at the helm of our ship and thriving.

I started to observe a clear correlation between this mood when it arrived, and the content I was ingesting. I started to see that I had fallen into the slippery trap of ‘Doom Scrolling’. Sensational click-bait headlines, post after post on epidemic depression and not taking the time to interrogate the content and importantly, to seek a counter-argument to it. My sense of wellbeing at times was being affected by reading and believing a narrative, that the global sense of wellbeing was in a free-fall dive whilst the trend data is showing us that it’s not!

I was doom-scrolling myself into potholes.

Once I cottoned onto this correlation between my content and my mood, I adopted a far more interrogative approach to what I was allowing into my mind, perceptions, beliefs. I started to investigate and consciously balance my view.

I am fortunate to have an incredibly intelligent brother who has access to a wide array of scientific studies which he shares with me, especially when relevant to my interests and business…a large part of which is mental wellbeing.

The findings released by the Mental Health Task Force in July this year, a research study commissioned by The Lancet and conducted by a heavy-weight bevvy of Stanford University professors, shows very clearly, that globally we are adapting, have higher resilience, and have evolved through the pandemic. We are doing what we humans do best…recalibrating, redirecting and bolstering.

The study combed through close to 1,000 studies that examined hundreds of thousands of people from nearly 100 countries. The research measured many variables related to mental health, including anxiety, depression, and deaths by suicide, as well as life satisfaction. They focused on two complementary types of evidence: surveys that examined comparable groups of people before and during the pandemic and studies tracking the same individuals over time.

The study observed that early on in the pandemic in 2020, “average levels of anxiety and depression, as well as broader psychological distress climbed dramatically, as did the number of people experiencing clinically significant forms of these conditions.” However, in the latter part of 2020, the study observed that remarkably, “average levels of depression, anxiety, and distress began to fall. Some data sets even suggested that overall psychological distress returned to near-pre-pandemic levels by early summer 2020.”

The study then rejigged its parameters, expanding its geographical lens, including the Gallop World Poll that measures overall life satisfaction and real-time official government data from 21 counties, of suicide rates…yet still, the overall global statistics show that as a race we have rallied, reorganised and we are still standing upright and looking forward.

Of course, these statistics do not in any way diminish the pain, grief and anxiety felt by nearly all of us, the financial distress experienced by many, nor does it devalue the many lives lost to the pandemic. And whilst the research is telling us that globally, suicide rates are falling, we can all agree that even one suicide is too many. However, this research is significant and needs to take equal place in our ‘content field’. We are, as a species, doing OK, contrary to the click-bait headlines…and knowing this, in turn, boosts our mental wellbeing.

“… the astonishing resilience that most people have exhibited in the face of the sudden changes brought on by the pandemic holds its own lessons. We learned that people can handle temporary changes to their lifestyle, such as working from home, giving up travel, or even going into isolation, better than some policy makers seemed to assume.”

how doom scrolling affects our mental health danielle van de velde

This is just one significant and well conducted study in an array that are out there. You can read the summary report here. However, I do think it’s interesting to ask why we don’t see these types of stats as prevalently as we see the doom. I think the reason is pretty simple: fear and doom have a sticky intrigue. They creep into our conversations, they are sensational, they are shared and propagated far more readily than the uplifting, inspiring content. Perhaps we indulge it to feel relatively better about our own predicaments. However, the irony is, that they alter our own predicaments when we unconsciously indulge them, without seeking out and balancing our content fields with the whole picture, which includes good news, inspiration, stories of incredible strength, acts of kindness, ingenuity and grace.

From my own experiments in my mental wellbeing over the last 18 months, I have  landed on eight key realisations:

  • Our own mental wellbeing is our responsibility and requires conscious engagement
  • Headline veracity does not equate to quality reporting/writing
  • Opinion IS NOT fact
  • Seek out counter-arguments to the mainstream narrative from reputable sources
  • Guard your mind like a castle – if forms your reality
  • Be mindful of the slippery web of unconscious doom scrolling and click-bait surface-skimming
  • Balance your media intake with inspiring content and share it
  • Balance your system into sensory and somatic experiences, daily

The conclusion of the study at the end of 2020 and heading into this year, left us with this hard-earned wisdom – that we are active stewards of our own well-being, and when we live from this knowledge, we are far more resilient than we may think.

“As we look ahead to the world’s next great challenges, including a future pandemic, we need to remember this hard-won lesson: Human beings are not passive victims of change but active stewards of our own well-being. This knowledge should empower us to make the disruptive changes our societies may require, even as we support the individuals and communities that have been hit hardest.” ~ Lara Aknin, Jamil Zaki, and Elizabeth Dunn 

If you are seeking ways to bolster your mental health through Meditation, Mentoring or Intuitive Healing, please get in touch. You can also visit my website to explore courses and useful content to guide you on your path to healing, self-discovery and mindful


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