One in six people are ‘doom scrollers’, a study suggests.
The term gained popularity in 2020 during the Covid pandemic and 2020 US presidential election and refers to people who obsessively follow negative news.
Researchers analysed data from an online survey of 1,100 adults who were asked about their news consumption habits and stress and anxiety levels.
Results showed 16.5 per cent showed signs of ‘severely problematic’ news consumption.
It ‘frequently preoccupied their minds’ and left them so absorbed they ‘forgot’ about the world around them.
Around three quarters of them felt they were suffering with mental health problems, including anxiety and stress.
Researchers said people can fall into a ‘vicious cycle’ of checking every update on a bad news story that leads to them to being in a ‘constant state of high alert’.
But Dr Bryan McLaughlin, an advertising expert at Texas Tech University, insisted it is important people ‘remain engaged in the news’ to stay informed.
He said it was better for these people to develop a ‘healthy relationship with news consumption’ rather than cut it out entirely, which could also be dangerous.
One in six people are ‘doom scrollers’, a study by Texas Tech University has suggested
Texas Tech University researchers found nearly three quarters of doom-scrollers – who flit from one bad story to another – feel they are suffering with stress or anxiety. Graph shows: Average mental ill health scores for people who had no problematic news consumption compared to having minimal, moderate or sever levels
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is a normal part of life that affects different people in different ways at different times.
Whereas stress can come and go, anxiety often persists and does not always have an obvious cause.
Along with depression, anxiety is among the most common mental-health condition in the UK, affecting 8.2million people in 2013 alone.
Around 40million adults suffer from the condition in the US every year.
Anxiety can make a person imagine things in their life are worse than they are or that they are going mad.
Although it evolved as part of the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in our caveman days to avoid danger, anxiety can be inappropriately activated in everyday life when stress builds up.
It can have a clear cause, such as moving house or having surgery. However, sometimes little life events build up until a person is unable to cope, with anxiety then taking them by surprise.
Physical symptoms can include:
- Increased heart rate and muscle tension
- Hyperventilation and dizziness
- A tight band across the chest
- Tension headaches
- Hot flushes
- ‘Jelly legs’
- Feeling like you are choking
- Tingling in the hands and feet
Some psychological symptoms are:
- Thinking you are going mad or losing control
- Thinking you may die or get ill
- Feeling people are staring at you
- Feeling detached from others or on edge
Treatment often involves counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.
Activates like yoga, exercise, reading and socialising can help to manage anxiety.
The study comes after years of particularly stressful news from the Covid pandemic to the Ukrainian war and climate change.
Dr McLaughlin said: ‘Witnessing these events unfold in the news can bring about a constant state of high alert in some people, kicking their surveillance motives into overdrive and making the world seem like a dark and dangerous place.
‘For these individuals, a vicious cycle can develop in which, rather than tuning out, they become drawn further in, obsessing over the news and checking for updates around the clock to alleviate their emotional distress.
‘But it doesn’t help, and the more they check the news, the more it begins to interfere with other aspects of their lives.’
The latest study, published in Health Communication, took data from an online survey on August 21 that was from a sample representing the general US population.
Participants were aged 40 on average, with 45.1 per cent voting Democrat and 34.3 per cent being Republicans.
They were split into four groups based on the extent to which their news consumption was ‘problematic’.
This was based on questions that asked them how much the news occupies what they think about and if they feel it is difficult to stop reading or watching the news.
They were also asked if they were ever so absorbed by the news they forgot their surroundings or if it affects their focus at work or school.
Some 16.5 per cent of respondents were classed as having ‘severely problematic’ news consumption.
Around 28.7 per cent had ‘non-problematic’ consumption, while 27.5 per cent were ‘minimally problematic’ and 27.3 per cent were ‘moderately problematic’.
Participants were asked nine questions about their general stress and anxiety levels to see how these were affected by how obsessively they followed the news.
They were asked how much they agree with statements like ‘I felt I was close to panic’ and ‘I was in a state of nervous tension’ over the past month.
Results showed those who followed the news most intently had a 61 per cent higher mental ill health score than the non-problematic group.
But the study was not able to prove news consumption was behind the stress and anxiety levels.
Writing in the study, the team said: ‘The finding that 16.5 per cent of our sample are classified as having severely problematic news consumption is particularly alarming.
‘[It is especially alarming] since those with higher levels of problematic news consumption experience significantly greater mental and physical ill-being than those with lower levels of problematic new consumption.’
But they warned simply isolating yourself from the news is not healthy either.
Dr McLaughlin said: ‘While we want people to remain engaged in the news, it is important that they have a healthier relationship with the news.
‘In most cases, treatment for addictions and compulsive behaviors centers on complete cessation of the problematic behavior, as it can be difficult to perform the behavior in moderation.
‘In the case of problematic news consumption, research has shown that individuals may decide to stop, or at least dramatically reduce, their news consumption if they perceive it is having adverse effects on their mental health.’
He said previous research showed people who were aware of the toll obsessing over Covid coverage was having on their mental health decided to ‘tune out’.
But he warned people ignoring the news can come at the expense of staying informed and ensuring there is a ‘healthy democracy’.
Dr McLaughlin said: ‘This is why a healthy relationship with news consumption is an ideal situation.’