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Creepy headlines aren’t new, but thanks to social media we’re more exposed to them than ever.

From the continuous airing of the Capitol Riot in Washington, DC, to videos of police abusing blacks and Maroons, to updates on the rising death toll from COVID-19, we are constantly bombarded with doom. Social media provides the perfect space for everyone to share the latest information (and misinformation), as well as analytics. There is no break.

Overall, we think we can handle it because we don’t fall apart every time we spot another tragedy in our News Feed. But is this really a sign that we are doing well or is it really an indication that we are in more pain than we realize?

Consuming this constant stream of negative information can be traumatic, experts say.

Katie Day Good, a oneAssistant professor of strategic communications at the University of Miami and author of “Bring the World to the Child: Technologies of Global Citizenship in American Education,” said social media can be a double-edged sword when it comes to to understand tragedy or humanitarian crises. While these platforms can help us better understand the problems that plague others and “inspire us to adopt behaviors and advocate for political solutions that bring about positive change,” there is also the problem of becoming numb to tragedy because that we see so many, she explained. .

“Social media can desensitize us to tragedies by presenting us with too much information, information taken out of context, misinformation or disinformation (information intended to deceive),” she said.

And because we don’t always have enough time to digest a story before another break, sometimes we can end up feeling emotionally numb, helpless, and still. This usually happens when our survival mechanisms are triggered. Grace Dowd, a psychotherapist based in Austin, Texas, likens it to the “boiling frog” fable.

“If you want to boil a frog, don’t put it directly in a pot of boiling water because it will jump. But if you put the frog in a pot of water and slowly increase the temperature, the frog will stay in the pot because it won’t notice the gradual change over time, ”she says.

“We have become numb to situations that at other times would seem outrageous or unimaginable,” she continued. “Our constant access to social media and news plays a role in this by continuing to provide access to information to the point where it no longer becomes shocking, and also by diverting our attention with the next crisis.

More insidiously, our current social media climate affects us

It’s not just the desensitization that is of concern. This particular moment of social media can impact us in many other ways. Here’s how:

Constant doomscrolling can rewire our nervous system.

According to Mary Joye, a licensed mental health counselor and certified trauma professional in Florida, our fight, flight or freeze stress response kicks in when we watch bad news, whether we realize it or not. Then our system “releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol,” Joye said.

And the more we engage in this cycle, the more it hurts – sometimes even to the point where our bodies and brains immediately respond as soon as we connect.

“Repetition of [bad news and images] hurts us through vicarious trauma, ”Joye said. “Just like a trauma survivor who has become hypervigilant and scans the world for dangers, the doomscroller also looks for negative events.

When we are in ruins, our brains start treating the world as “a dangerous place, which is one of the many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Joye explained. “It can cause us to be irritable, territorial, shut down or exclude others – and all of those are reactions to trauma as well.”

It can lead to less empathy for others.

Joye said social media can help make humans less empathetic to each other through desensitization and anonymity.

“People make comments online that they would never say in front of someone. If they do this continually, they will start to become less empathetic and compassionate in real life, ”Joye said.

Excessive doomscrolling can lead to mood swings, loss of appetite, and even cardiovascular issues.

According to Sam Nabil, CEO and Senior Therapist at Naya Clinics, Excessive exposure to dark, hateful and gloomy content can lead to elevated cortisol levels in the body, which will lead to a downward change in mood.

It “also contributes to mental health problems, loss of appetite, problems sleeping and increases your risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases.”

Prolonged use of social media can have effects on mental and physical health that we may not even notice right away.

How to reduce your disaster consumption while staying informed

If you are looking to limit your use of social media, there are several things you can do. But first, you have to recognize that there is a problem.

“Awareness is always the first step in changing behavior,” said Lin Sternlicht, therapist and co-founder of New York-based Family Addiction Specialist. “An individual must realize the negative impact that doomscrolling has on their life, and then have the desire to want to change their habits.”

Here’s how to make that change without missing out on critical current events:

Create limits for yourself.

“We need to monitor our time online and set clear limits on when and for how long we can access information,” said Steven Crawford, medical director of the Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center in Baltimore. “Historically, there were traditional news broadcasts that were time-limited. Now there is an endless barrage of news available anytime, anywhere. We have yet to establish these boundaries on our own, which can be particularly difficult during a pandemic and quarantine when it often seems like there is not much else to do but stay at home and scroll.

Crawford suggested filling your social media feed with good news or stories that will give your brain a break from the gloom and gloom.

“If that doesn’t feel good for you, ask yourself why you want to continue to be exposed to it,” Sternlicht said. “If staying informed is your main concern, find a news source outside of social media that tends to let you know about news you want to be updated on that isn’t overtly toxic.”

Be intentional when checking social media.

“Be careful when looking for updates out of boredom, impulse, stress, or to relieve negative emotion,” Sternlicht said. “Find healthier ways to fill time out and deal with negative thoughts and feelings, such as taking care of yourself by exercising, eating well, meditating, practicing gratitude, holding a newspaper and other welfare methods. “

FOMO, or fear of missing out, is often used to justify doing things we probably shouldn’t be doing, explained Julie L. Futrell, a psychologist in California. People often use this as a reason to stay tuned.

You might be afraid of missing out on something, “but you can almost guarantee that if something big happens, we all find out somehow,” Futrell said. “We live in an information society.”

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