Is reading too much negative news harmful for youth activists?

Shweta Varandani

Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

The world has been pretty hectic the past few years. From climate issues to political protests, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been concerned about what will happen next. We involve ourselves by spreading awareness about climate change and the surging pandemic, and we try to uphold our civic duties surrounding constitutional and economic events.

Although it is commendable that we work to improve our surrounding environment, it is necessary to take time to take care of ourselves and our well-being.

I need to take this advice myself. I often find myself on news platforms reading about the skyrocketing COVID-19 rates, the rising temperatures in the Arctic, or about a recent bombing somehow always occurring in a third-world country (which by the way, another bombing took place in a dam in Syria a few days ago). I might argue that I spend so much time on news platforms to keep up to date, but I recently discovered it goes far beyond that. I am doomscrolling.

You must be wondering “what on earth is doomscrolling?” According to Merriam Webster, it is “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.”

Why would anyone purposely read about sad news? Well, this has a lot of connections to mental health issues and how people cope with them. Reading bad news regularly, or doomscrolling is a way people feed into their unstable habits, almost as if it was a drug. Although the news itself is depressing, people keep reading it to seek answers regarding their personal concerns about current events.

By doomscrolling, people gain a feeling of control in a world that feels so out of control all the time. While researching this topic, this was the part that struck me. The world has been out of control.

People are always disagreeing on health, politics, the economy, the government, and every other topic imaginable. Opening the New York Times and finding an article on a certain issue gave me a sense of control because I felt at ease knowing that there was a group of journalists and readers that shared the same viewpoint as me.

But too much of anything is never good.

Doomscrolling is like a bad habit and it has become especially evident in our generation. As great as it is that this generation educates themselves and speaks out about topics they care about, it has its negative effects.

Studies have linked poor mental health to news exposure during negative and traumatic events such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters; the more news a person consumes during and after these events, the more likely they are to suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety. A continuous feed of bad news like global declining health rates, racial injustices, economic breakdowns, and the declining health of the planet takes a serious toll on the reader’s mental health.

After doomscrolling, I often feel an overbearing wave of guilt and stress. I feel like the world is going to end if people do not start acting right now. The feeling of anxiety and urgency is very common after wallowing in this harmful activity.

Many psychologists refer to this feeling as an “intolerance of uncertainty.” Unfortunately, something terrible will always be happening in the world. To educate ourselves and extend a helping hand (whether that be raising awareness, donating money, or physically helping to solve the problem) is extremely important. But it is also important to keep peace of mind and stay grounded when things feel too out of control.

I am not saying that reading the news is always harmful. Being well-read on current events is essential, but we must do so while protecting ourselves. To avoid doomscrolling, limit checking the news to once a day or once every couple of days. Ensuring that the news platform or source you are reading is credible also prevents misleading or false information from clouding your judgment and infiltrating your scope on the event. We can’t turn a blind eye to what’s happening around us, but monitoring the recurrence and volume of your news consumption are crucial. We can stay active without overbearing ourselves and taking care of our mental health.

Shweta Varandani is a writing team member with VAYCC

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The official Publication of the Virginia Youth Climate Coalition, a grassroots movement of Virginia youth taking action to demand climate justice in our state and beyond.

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