Newsfeed blues

Let’s face it, there’s plenty of bad, sad or frankly scary news to go around and there has been for quite a while. It appears every day on our screens and in our newsfeeds and we consume it, often for hours.

The ‘newsfeed’ — that continuously updating scroll of information, like a feeding tube that goes directly into our brains, serving us updates from our world, local and far flung, morsels and tidbits that permeate not just our minds but our moods and our physical behaviours. We consume it in ever greater quantities, gripped by the conflict, the drama, the constant novelty of updates. There’s even a word for it – doomscrolling.

The newsfeed diet

Does this constant consumption of newsfeed nuggets nourish us in a healthy way? Does it enrich our lives, give us a sense of meaning or direction? Or is it a diet of morsels and tidbits that, in overly large quantities, feeds us a kind of poison?

I hold my hands up here and say that, yes, I too have spent far too many hours on my phone doomscrolling – often because I’m putting off doing something more useful or because I’m bored. Even if it’s just because I wanted to catch up on the news, I’ve logged on with the best of intentions and been hooked by the clever algorithms that were designed to keep us glued to our phones and therefore to the ads that pepper the feed.

I glance at the clock and an hour has gone by; my mood has plummeted and I’m drained of energy. I feel annoyed with myself and I don’t get done what I’d wanted or planned to do.

If that sounds familiar, then it may be time to tackle your newsfeed diet.

Tackling the newsfeed blues

If your newsfeed were a diet or meal plan, what would be in it, how often are you consuming it and is it of snack proportions or more like a 3-course dinner with seconds and leftovers? How do you feel after consuming it? Nourished, energised and content? Or on edge, downbeat and cranky?

I’m not suggesting giving up the newsfeed altogether; it helps us keep in touch with the news we care about. But spending too much time doomscrolling to no constructive purpose is not a healthy use of that time. Here are some ideas for tackling the newsfeed blues:

  • First of all just notice the urge to check the newsfeed. Notice the impulse and rate it out of 7: so 1 is easy to resist and 7 is an irresistible urge to log on.
  • When you feel tempted to log on, practice resisting the urge — close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply for a count of ten. Focus on where in your body you feel that urge and just sit with it. Gradually increase the length of time you wait before acting on the impulse.
  • Keep a note of how long you typically spend on a single newsfeed session and start reducing the time by five minutes a day. Set a timer on your phone if you need to.
  • Work out when you’re most tempted to pick up the phone and ask yourself
    • Why now? What am I avoiding?
    • What am I looking for in the newsfeed? Relief from boredom? A distraction from chores or work? A bit of novelty?
    • What could I be doing instead that would be more productive or enjoyable?
    • Ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t check the newsfeed right now?” Be honest with yourself.
  • Make a list of things to do to distract you from the newsfeed; they don’t have to be big things, just making a cuppa or looking out of the window at the sky can help break the cycle.
  • Be selective about the news you subscribe to; limit it to the topics you really care about. Are there real world ways of you getting involved In the things that matter to you?

And finally

Change is hard and breaking the newsfeed habit is difficult, especially when the world and our lives feel very uncertain and very precarious at times. Be kind to yourself and be reasonable in your expectations; your newsfeed habit didn’t set in overnight and rebalancing it will take time too.

Take care.