I don’t usually make resolutions, but this New Year I have. And it’s one I need to keep if I am to enjoy the next twelve months.
The problem is I am spending far too much time worrying about the State of the World. I cannot stop looking at the news, online articles and other people’s (often ill-informed) opinions. I have even been waking up in the early hours and switching on my phone, to see if I have missed something of vital importance. Which I haven’t, of course.
Apparently, this is Doomscrolling
Endlessly scrolling through your phone or laptop for bad news and overdosing on negativity. I have discovered plenty of information from scientists and medical experts about this phenomenon online. It’s not new, but became much more prevalent in 2020.
So it’s not just me, then
There is also plenty of advice about how to stop doomscrolling. However, many of the techniques advocated just don’t work for me.
I already put my phone away while I am working. I use an alarm clock, so I don’t need my phone at my bedside. But something clearly needs to be done, because…
I want my writing time back
I need to stop “just taking a peek” at social media when I am supposed to be working. And I need to regain my creative mojo. In the morning, I go to my desk and switch on the computer, ready and eager to get on with my latest work-in-progress. By lunchtime, I find I have not written 100 words. Sometimes even less. Instead I have spent hours looking at Facebook or Twitter, following links, clicking on news reports, reading articles, blogs, etc. etc.
We live in a world where there is always bad news somewhere, if you look for it. And in 2020 we haven’t had to look too far. I see the outrage/frustration/anger/depression of others and I absorb it. I add it to the grief and sadness I feel for friends and family who are suffering their own problems at this time.
Is it any wonder I can see only doom-laden clouds rolling in?
And it’s a double whammy: I am angry/ frustrated/depressed by what I have read/seen/heard. I have also lost valuable hours of writing time, which then puts pressure on the looming deadline. It’s a vicious circle, too much stress and my creative mojo becomes a no-go.
So what is going on here with this doomscrolling?
I am sure the psychologists are right. It is linked to our instinct for survival. For us to deal with the threats we perceive, we need to know what we are facing, so we watch the news and search the internet. We are using technology that knows how to grab our interest and play on our primitive emotions of fear and outrage. The more we look, the more negativity we see, the more we search for it.
Much of what is out there is skewed or inaccurate. In the Good Old Days (and boy, do they seem “good” at the moment!) one would wait for the morning newspaper, tune in to the radio or wait for the TV news bulletin. Now the news is there, 24/7, and in myriad forms. Too much information.
What am I going to do about the doomscrolling?
We all know what is required – fresh air, exercise, chat with friends, less time on social media, less time watching the news. I intend to do all of those things.
I have started to cull my Social Media contacts, too. Removing those who seem to be hell-bent of pushing negativity. There are causes out there I support, but my time and my mental strength are limited, so I must choose my battles wisely.
But what about my writing mojo? Time for a rethink
For years I have set my myself a goal of four hours writing time each day, but in that time I could happily go online to look up words, check references etc. A few clicks, done. Back to work. Now I get sucked into all that bad news and the writing just isn’t happening.
So I have started setting myself a goal of just one or maybe two hours to write without going online. I allow myself a short break to check emails (and only emails) but by then I am usually writing quite happily and can go back for another hour or even more. I am also using books to check spelling, slang, facts, rather than going online.
And if I need to check something in detail, I put a note to myself in red on the page, to go back to it afterwards.
Guilty pleasures – make use of them against doomscrolling
Housework has to be done, sadly, but while I was cooking, ironing, even washing up (!) …
… I used to think about my latest story, work out plot lines, plan the next book. Sadly, that hasn’t been happening recently. So I have turned to my comfort reads to get me through.
I now listen to a favourite book while I do these mundane tasks. It doesn’t matter if I miss some of the words because I am busy, I know the stories so well I can fill in the gaps – and in the case of Heyer, I am usually a line or two ahead of the narrative anyway! I may not be planning my own book, but at least I am enjoying the story.
Technology isn’t all bad
Communication is good. Sharing photos and info with friends on social media is fun. Zoom meetings inspire me.
I have done several “zoom worknights” too. A group of us meet, chat about what we want to achieve, then work for an hour with zoom and sound still on. It is the nearest thing to being in the same room as others who are working. At the end of the hour, we have a brief chat to say how we have done. So far it has proved successful for all of us. I have achieved more words in one hour than I have done in a whole day on my own.
I feel it is retraining my brain to get back into working
And all this appears to be working for me. Words are getting written, targets met, or at least only just missed. Consequently, my mood is improving and that helps the writing, too.
My resolution? To remember this:
Simples. I just need to keep calm and carry on!
So here we are, entering 2021. We have a vaccine (maybe several) with which to fight the pandemic. We have a Brexit deal. So much of the fear and outrage surrounding those subjects should fade a little. It won’t go away. It will shift to other matters. The old advice of don’t worry over what you can’t control still holds true. My getting anxious and stressed isn’t helping anyone, whereas finishing the next book is something productive that I can do, and hopefully do well.
I am sure many of you have your own coping techniques, too, and perhaps you would like to share them in the comments?
Maybe we can help each other?
I wish you all a happy healthy and safe 2021
Oh you are not alone! I watch news when having breakfast just to catch up. Once on the computer I tend to work, tho not write. But my phone is the time killer. Social media, emails, etc and that’s what pulls me in. Tho I have mostly abamdoned reading doom stuff. Too depressing.
My solution to keeping off it all when I write is using a different device. Alphasmart is my friend! Four lines of text in a screen and that’s it. No distractions so I can’t click away.
What a great post! I’m addicted to doomscrolling – and am glad I now have an apt name for it. I have news radio on 24/7 … If I switch to music I get very anxious that I can no longer see/hear what’s coming to get me and mine, and I switch it back forthwith! My writing has taken a very large hit and I need to do something pretty drastic. I’m intrigued by the ‘zoom worknight’ idea and wonder if that would work for me … Anyway – thank you for this post! Wishing you a happy and healthy 2021.
Thanks, Susan. I try to limit myself to watching news just once a day. If a major catastrophe occurs I know I will hear of it but I am determined not to watch the same gloomy messages over and over again. I can recommend the zoom worknight, if you can find a few like minded souls. The first time gave in and clicked onto the web in the middle of my typing and since the sound was on, I was caught out! I have managed to write about 1K each time – not perfect, but it gives me something to edit when I sit down to work the next morning, and that helps a lot, too.
As I don’t have a smart phone, everything comes via my laptop/office Mac, so unless I’m working, I don’t see it. I hear brief radio bulletins and I watch early evening news broadcasts. Otherwise I chase up the news stories myself. I get mad, but rarely scared. As I am currently sharing a house with my extremely political son, who is sharpening lampposts as we speak, I am left in no doubt about what’s going on. It is, sadly, my own procrastination which gets in the way of those pesky deadlines flying by.
My smartphone isn’t much of a problem for me but I find it all too easy to click on the web while I am at my laptop. It’s a short step then from checking twitter responses, emails etc to clicking on some “interesting” headline. It is an addiction, and I am fighting it! As for procrastination, we all get stuck on that one, good luck with it!
Oh, this sounds so familiar. Very, very sensible suggestions on how to beat it. I shall give it a try! Thank you.
Thank you, Jan. It was becoming such a problem I knew I had to do something about it.
Interesting that NZ has chosen Doomscrolling as their word of the year –
This is utterly brilliant. Thank you. (Am sharing on FB, too!) You are not alone. I’ve found that I need to write longhand to stop myself doomscrolling (can be dirty draft or polished, but it’s the only way to get words down – and then bribe myself with sewing to type them up without clicking the news – one page of my handwriting = 1 length of floss!) x
Thank you, Kate – I bribe myself too. I think i shall try writing more longhand, although my writing is almost illegible these days, so I need to type it up quickly before I forget – perhaps that might be a good thing, too!
Good idea about the bribes, too!
Great post, and so timely for many of us, Sarah. I’ve tweeted it. anne
Thank you, Anne. I have been pretty quiet during lockdown. Decided I need to be more pro-active. This is a start!
Very timely. I don’t watch (or indeed have) a television, so I stay away from news bulletins and Prime Ministerial Pronouncement which I gather will be back with us soon. But it’s all too easy to get caught up by social media– some reference will make me anxious and then I pursue it through the Internet. The only result is I end up feeling worse,
So I shall follow your excellent example from now on.
Thank you Sophie. Its not easy but it does work for me to have A Plan. I fail some days, but I return to it 🙂
You are bang on the money, Sarah. I abandoned FB long ago but Twitter? Every time I go on there I find myself doomscrolling. Suddenly, an hour or more has passed. And what do I have to show for it? Only negatives.
So far, my only remedy has been to stay off Twitter altogether. Not good for my internet presence but seemed the only way to keep relatively sane. Now you have suggested other solutions. Thank you.
Hope it helps, Joanna. I keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues on twitter and FB, so I am loath to abandon them altogether, but I am trying hard to limit my time there and do something more enjoyable, even if its not that productive.