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One Ugly Side Effect of Reading Too Much News, Warns Top Psychiatrist

How "doomscrolling" can actually damage your body and produce profound feelings of numbness.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan
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A lot of us have felt it at one point or another during the last year. You wake up in the morning and thumb your way to your news app of choice, but then find yourself feeling empty and disinterested as you scroll through an endless stream of alarming headlines. We're living in an era where there is no shortage of bad news, after all—from political strife to a global pandemic, from mass shootings to natural disasters—and it's all too easy to feel fatigued and even a troubling sense of numbness.

If this all sounds achingly familiar, an instructive new article co-written by Richard F. Mollica, M.D., MAR, an expert in trauma and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School—who has written books such as Trauma Story Assessment and Therapy: Journal for Field and Clinic and Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World—explains why.

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"Whether each of us experiences the ravages of this time close to home or as part of a larger circle, the symptoms of collective trauma are widespread," writes Mollica. "Many of these symptoms—feeling overwhelmed, anxious, fatigued—may be familiar. One deserves special mention: numbness."

According to him, the endless barrage of bad news, though effective at maximizing reader interest on a wide scale, takes its toll. "Our responses to the pandemic and continuous uncertainty, fueled by doomscrolling and newsfeeds, range from hyperactivation (fight or flight) to numbness (freeze)," he explains. "While the three Fs refer to the body's stress response in the moment, these reactions can continue long after exposure to trauma."

Over time, too much exposure to this sort of bad news can have the effect of damaging your nerves, which actually can lead to numbness where the bad news is no longer effective. "You might feel a low level of anxiety operating in the background, much like an operating system running our computers silently," he writes. "You may feel no emotion or a sense of frozenness during the day, followed at night by insomnia or nightmares."

What's important is that you take more time to look after yourself, and you simply be aware of the effect of "doomscrolling." Mollica, who also directs the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, says that we can even take a few pointers from the program's Refugee Trauma 10-point toolkit, which outlines a number of strategies you can do to reduce your stress and ultimately feel less numb—which you can read below. And for more news from the cutting edge of mental and physical health, make sure you're aware of The Single Most Effective Way to Work Out Every Day, Say Psychologists.

1

Ditch Notifications—and Limit Your Time Online

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The goal here is the be sure to offer plenty of respite for your nervous system.

For more science-backed news you can use, make sure you're aware of The Major Side Effect of Sitting on the Couch Too Much, Say Experts.

2

Spend More Time in Nature

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Spending more time in the woods, which the Japanese call "forest bathing," will lower your stress hormones and lower your feelings of anxiety, fatigue, and depression, among other health benefits.

3

Be More Mindful

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Practice daily meditation in order to be in the moment. By focusing on the present, you can allow more stressful thoughts to drift away.

4

Be More Mindful As You Read or Watch Bad News

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As you take in the information, do so by consciously trying to ground yourself in the present.

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