|All day, every day, our 24-hour news cycle continues to broadcast news that confirms that life as we remember it has come to a halt. At the bottom of the TV screen scrolls a bar shouting the words “BREAKING NEWS” in bold capital letters, causing our blood pressure to rise and a pit to grow in our stomach. The bad news just goes on and on: virus cases are increasing, the political rhetoric is getting uglier as the election approaches, and our favorite restaurant has closed for good.
The emotional entanglement of being pulled into a downward spiral while bingeing on the doom-and-gloom news found on social media, as well as on TV, is known as “doomscrolling.” Fueled initially by stay-at-home orders that kept us indoors and focused on the screens of our phones, computers, and tablets, it has been estimated that our average screen time this spring grew by 50%. In addition, many major news resources offer COVID-19 updates for free which contributes to the abundance of doomsday headlines available to us.
Doomscrolling is an addictive cycle to break and a harmful waste of our precious time. It takes a toll on our mental and physical health and can generate emotions of extreme anger, frustration, anxiety, and depression. The sense of helplessness and hopelessness increases, while it decreases the time spent on our beneficial social connections with friends and family. How do we interrupt the cycle and reset healthy emotional boundaries to keep the news in perspective? Here are three options to consider:
1. Control your time, and limit your daily consumption of news and social media. Recognize that we are all information consumers, and create a plan that doesn’t try to eliminate that natural impulse, but limits it. Construct a realistic plan, one that you can stick with, for choosing what and when to watch or read. Set a timer when you decide to start scrolling and set it for 5 or 10 minutes; this lets you feel informed before you begin to feel overwhelmed. You can also use a rubber band worn around your wrist that you can snap when you feel yourself giving in to doomscrolling. Make sure that your daily schedule includes time spent outdoors in nature; take a walk around the block of your neighborhood, or go to a nearby park and enjoy the feeling of being in pretty places with open skies to reduce the levels of fear and worry.
2. Practice mindful meditation to generate helpful, positive hormones and to learn to listen to your body and emotions so that you can pick up on the signals they send for you to avoid doomscrolling. Meditating for only 10 minutes a day can generate better concentration, calmness, a sense of well being, and lowered levels of stress. A meditation practice teaches us to pay attention to the present by noticing when our mind wanders off. It gives us a place where we can rest and quiet our minds. There are many meditation websites, podcasts, and YouTube videos to sample to find an approach and a teacher that suits you.
3. Another solution comes from a Japanese concept called a “moai” (pronounced mo- I) which refers to a social support group that meets regularly and gives members the opportunity to share ideas, advice, companionship, and resources. The word literally translates into “meeting for a common purpose.”
For the past two years, I have been in a happy moai with two dear women friends; it started when one of them expressed an interest in monthly meetings over brunch to discuss our careers in the second half of life, service projects, and other mutual interests. When the pandemic hit, we no longer could meet in person so we began meeting once a week by phone, and, lately, we have been meeting on Zoom. Our free-flowing conversations are always nourishing, fun, and inspiring; we encourage one another’s talents of writing, speaking, and hosting community projects to benefit women. Much of our time together has focused on decisions we have made with regard to our careers, including when and how to combine our work lives with our lives as artists and grandmothers. We look out for one another, and we learn from each other.
Consider adding a moai to your life. Think about who you would like to spend quality time with and invite them to a phone meeting, or an in–person meeting with masks on and socially distanced from one another, to see if there is mutual interest. The benefits of connecting with others can be significant: a reduction in loneliness, an increase in happiness, a strengthened immune system, and the pleasure of shared companionship that can add years to your life. As one of my moai friends enthused recently, “I love our meetings, and I look forward to them each week. I feel truly blessed by our creativity and our friendship.”
Changing our behavior at any stage of life can be challenging, and, as we age, it can be complicated by life circumstances, including loss, impermanence, and isolation. But when we find the courage and the self-discipline to change, our character is opened, strengthened, and softened. While these are difficult times it’s important to remember that we come to this moment knowing that happiness is a life skill that we have been cultivating our entire lives. We have been preparing to create a legacy in our second half of life, and the pandemic only offers us further opportunities to decide what contributions are important for us to make. Let’s not let doom and gloom cloud our vision or rob us of our precious time. Onward!