There’s a reason why you are doomscrolling.
It’s not because you actually care that much about athleisure apparel or what Aunt Edna is doing on her vacation. It’s not because you care about what Aunt Edna is doing on her vacation.
Many of us doomscroll because we are dealing with stress, and it’s an easy way to tune out the world and pretend we’re interested in all of those Instagram posts.
For years, I’ve assumed social media fixation is related to dopamine hits in our brains, and that’s mostly true. We feel good when we get micro-rewards, so keep on looking at more posts. Especially those which mention our name. Facebook posts are often made to receive a small reward from our family and friends.
This might only be part of the reason we’re so fixated, though.
Adam Alter, a marketing professor and author of books is also a marketing expert. Anatomy of a Breakthrough – How to Unstuck in the Moment of Truth is a highly readable and brilliant new book by Adam Alter. Alter mentioned something about half way through that caused me to sit up and pay attention.
Most of us see anxiety as a warning. It’s actually helpful and can alert us to danger or that it might be time to change course.
Stress is a sign that you are interested in the subject and should take note. In many ways, stress is a gift — it can save us from imminent danger.
As he says in the book: “Anxiety is an all-purpose warning system that tells you something’s wrong.” Anxiety might be a doorway to freedom.
That’s because, for those of us stuck on our phones flipping through TikTok videos, the signal might be loud and clear: We are trying to satiate ourselves.
I am deeply affected by this. I don’t deal with anxiety on a regular basis, but I am someone who looks for easy ways to deal with pressure. As a kid, family drama and school dilemmas would arise and I’d look for easy solutions, as opposed to viewing that stress as an indicator that something was wrong and that I needed to make changes or address problems.
The same goes for social media. It’s easy to access and works well as a short-term fix. We turn to these apps because we don’t have the time or resources to deal with deeper issues.
I asked Alter about this — how social media is a distraction from real life. The first issue he mentioned is that it’s easy to get stuck in the repetition. He said it’s a good idea to ask why you are using social media and if there is a goal involved. “Over time, social media is draining and demanding. Many people feel trapped. [using it],” says Alter. “A lot of people see a social reward from sharing their lives; for other people it is a loose, endless activity.”
Alter says it’s important to decide what is driving you on social media, and how you are using it to relieve stress and anxiety. He says it’s okay to take a break to find out what is motivating you to use social media, and whether it’s simply a stress reliever.
You may find the answer when you log in to apps. Constant social media used to relieve stress is a signal and a sign that there’s something you are trying to escape from.
Social media may be the short-term fix but it could also serve as a warning to look for long-term solutions.
In my case, I’m planning to take a break from one app (Instagram) and see why it has such an allure for me and why I’m using it to relieve stress by scrolling. Alter agreed it might be a good experiment for me to see why it’s a way to deal with stress.
I’ll report back after taking a break if there are any new answers. For now, it’s a relief to know — perhaps social media has provided a doorway for all of us, a signal that there is a deeper, more critical and underlying problem worth solving.