My friend Hadass is looking for suggestions on how to get out of the doomscrolling hole. I thought a lot about this, because I’m not sure I’m completely out of it, but it’s gotten better. And it’s getting better, day by day. Some of my suggestions are a bit contrarian, but if the same approach worked for everyone, we’d all be thin, rich, and wildly happy, right? Here are a few things that have worked for me.
The World Can Wait!
Know what can’t wait? Your morning shower. Coffee. Breakfast. Family. Get up early enough – if you can – to dawdle over coffee and breakfast.
Be Just Informed Enough
You should be knowledgeable enough about current events not to look like an idiot in that first Zoom meeting of the morning, right? Not to be laughed at as you walk by the water cooler. Get your news from AP News. Why? It’s about as unbiased as it gets. There’s even an app! For a dose of world news, you can sign up for a free account on EIN Newswires and have topical world news from a wide variety of sources delivered to your inbox. You can browse to see what’s top of mind for people in other countries.
Avoid excessive “commentary” and avoid using Facebook and Twitter as “news sources.” Note your own thoughts on the news in your journal. Or start a blog and share your thoughts in it, if you want to. Why are your own thoughts, unformed – unmanipulated – by attention-seeking celebs, podcasters, bloggers, or pundits, any less valid or important than theirs? Their job is to get you spun up enough to talk about them. Not to talk about the real issues of the day. Not to fix the real problems in the world. Just to talk about and promote them and what they have to say about it. If you don’t understand what’s going on in the world, and you want to, seek out analyses by real experts who work in the field – not celebrities, politicians, or 24/7 news program anchors.
You’re Not the Boss of the World!
Remind yourself that you really can let everything go. Reread the Serenity Prayer:
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
If you are not religious, I think that you can use or adapt this prayer as a meditative reminder to yourself – where the prayer refers to God, think of addressing yourself. “Let me find the serenity to accept…” and “taking this imperfect world as it is, trusting that all will be made right if do my small part and I surrender my need to worry, to control, to juggle all the cares of the world in my brain like spinning plates, and satisfied that I have done my best, allow myself to be reasonably happy in this life.”
Last year, my husband and I visited the Canary Islands. Folks there were surprised a couple of Americans could find it on a map and wondered if we’d somehow ended up there by accident. It’s part of Spain, off the coast of Morocco in West Africa. Anyway, it was nice to be somewhere where the 24/7 news was occupied by a volcano erupting and a change of leadership in Germany. Wasn’t that still doomscrolling? Maybe, but it was a different kind of doom. There’s a lesson to be learned from a volcano: if you’re in the path of the lava, you have absolutely no control. But you’re not helpless. There are things you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Those things won’t make you happy in the short term, while watching ash bury your house on TV, but they’re the things you have control over.
When my daughter was little, she heard a prediction that an asteroid (1997 XF11) would “hit Earth in 2028.” She was terrified. It was the end of the world! Oh, Brian Marsden… I did the math and thought about how best to help alleviate her terror. Not by saying, “Nonsense, that’s not going to happen.” Actual astronomers were saying it could. In theory. Probably not. But you never know. I said, “You’ll be 40. That means that you have a choice. Worrying about it is pointless. But you have time to study astronomy, or engineering, or both. Figure out how to divert it or destroy it before it hits. Or spend your 40 years on Earth doing fun and marvelous things. It probably won’t hit us, but if it does, you won’t have wasted your entire life and robbed yourself of all joy by being afraid of it. We all die, none of us knows when. That’s the truth.” She earned degrees in music and non-profit management – not astrophysics. Given that the thing ought to put on a nice light show in six years, but is highly unlikely to graze our planet, I think she chose wisely.
A Fair Question
What can you do about any of the things that are worrying or upsetting you? What practical things can you do today? Posting and sharing memes on social media don’t count. That’s just “slacktivism.” It’s easy, gives you a feeling of having contributed something, but it does little beyond deepening the divisions between people. Here are a few better ideas – pick two, follow through, then sleep better at night. It is not your job to fix everything. Just some little part of everything:
- Vote, remembering that local and state elections matter as much, if not more than, national elections when it comes to having your vote “count”;
- Call your elected officials and let them hear from you on important issues;
- Write to and email your elected officials and let them hear from you on important issues;
- Donate money to organizations that have the manpower and resources to get things done when it comes to causes you care deeply about;
- Volunteer your time and labor to those organizations.
Health and Fitness
Don’t work yourself into a lather over the doom and gloom online! Work up a sweat, instead. Take a walk, lift weights, ride a bike, play catch with the kids or fetch with the dog. Get outside and breathe fresh air. Figure out whether exercise energizes or relaxes or makes you sleepy, and time your workouts accordingly.
Eat well. Forget “diets.” I’ve lost 30 lbs this year by playing “how much nutrition can I cram into how few calories”? Avoid the pointless calories: highly processed foods with lots of additives; alcohol; sugary snacks; artificially flavored chips, and so on. Explore the produce section of the grocery store – try new-to-you fruits and veggies, especially vividly colorful varieties. Eat more oily fish, like salmon and tuna, to boost your levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Not only will you look and feel better, physically, it’s almost guaranteed to lift your mood.
Don’t Admonish Your Inner Child
The sage advice to set and adhere to a regular bedtime and wind down by turning off all the digital devices only triggers my inner rebellious teen. It’s stupid to hear, “You’re not the boss of me!” in your own voice, bouncing around and echoing off the inner walls of your skull. If rebellion is a trigger, just don’t do it.
DO turn off audible notifications during your “quiet time” – say, an hour before bedtime to the earliest time you are willing to wake up. Set exceptions for immediate family, in case of emergency. Tell them that any calls after the start of your quiet time may induce a heart attack, so please don’t abuse the privilege of being exempted from the general ban.
DO put devices on their chargers and turn off their screens. Ignore them. Don’t add restrictive apps or turn them off, just put them out of the way and try to focus on other things. Distract yourself. Let it go.
Develop a Bedtime Ritual
Perform your evening toilette. Don’t rush through it. Don’t forget to floss and brush your teeth, wash and moisturize your face, at minimum. A warm shower before slipping between clean sheets feels lovely.
Ablutions, if you prefer. If you’re feeling stressed and depressed, it can be tempting to skip these routines, but ironically, that can be the very thing you need to pull yourself out of a doom-focused mood. Imagine yourself washing off the grime of the day – mentally, as well as physically.
Write in your journal. You do keep a journal, don’t you? It does not have to be a fancy, scrapbooked BUJO sort of thing – a cheap composition notebook or a pretty blank book, along with a pen that lets a steady, flowing line of ink glide across the page, will do. I hate clumpy ballpoint pens. You choose whatever makes you happy, in any color you like. Jot down the highlights of the day, thoughts that bubble up about it – there’s no assignment here from Ms. Winklebottom, your 7th Grade writing teacher. 50 words or 20,000 – you do whatever makes you happy. Scribble in shorthand, code it in cuneiform, or embellish the page with doodles and hieroglyphics. It’s just for you. Until you’re dead and it becomes a cherished keepsake for someone, but trust me on this – you won’t be around, by then, to care.
If you own an e-Ink tablet, such as a Kindle Paperwhite (NOT a full-color tablet!), you can exempt it from the bedtime restrictions. No guilt. The e-Ink is easier on the eyes, allowing them to rest, and you can focus on ebooks – avoiding other social media distractions like Facebook and Twitter. If you don’t have an e-Ink reader, find some light reading in paperback format. Read fiction, poetry, humor – anything non-political and not disturbing – for at least 30 minutes. Distract your inner doomscroller. Fantasy may be a good choice. Escape to purely imaginary worlds. You know you best, but history, horror, and crime thrillers may not be the best genres to read yourself to sleep with! Doesn’t bother me in the least, as long as it’s fiction – but the idea is to relax, to read more, and to turn that into a pleasant habit.
Make love. Or don’t. Just don’t let it slide to the back burner of kids, homework, housework, work work, and other things. Snuggle up.
If you feel sleepy, slip under the covers and sleep. Don’t put it off, or you may get a “second wind.” Sleep deprivation is both a symptom and a cause of emotional distress. Too much doomscrolling only exacerbates insomnia, so don’t reach for the digital device and start checking your messages if you can’t sleep!
If you just can’t get to sleep, do something else until you feel sleepy. No sense laying there in the dark, feeling bad about not being able to sleep, as if you could turn off your brain by twiddling your nose like a light switch! Read, watch a movie (on your TV, not your phone or tablet), listen to music. Here’s a Spotify playlist that always works for me: Chimes & Bowls. Turn the thermostat down a degree. Or up a degree, if you are chilly and prefer sleeping in a warm room. If none of this works, a cup of Valerian tea (or a Valerian supplement) or a dose of Melatonin may help. And if that doesn’t do the trick, talk to your doctor. Or contact Hadass – she’s a long-time friend. She’s also a life coach and a good one. Sometimes we all need a little help breaking out of the doomscrolling hole – or loop, as it often is, for me. And that goes for doctors, therapists, and life coaches, too. We’re all human.