The second I heard the word I knew what it was. The process of looking at your phone and scrolling through Twitter, or Facebook, or a newsfeed, moving from depressing story from depressing story — the rate of infections increasing, the economic impact of the pandemic, the threat of climate change, the possible consequences of the dire things that will happen IF kids go back to school and the equally dire things that will happen IF they don’t.
You start by just glancing at your phone and suddenly it is an hour later and you are full of ennui and despair and just want to pull the covers over your head and eat Doritos with abandon. Or drink wine.
When I listened to a story about Doomscrolling and the anxiety it creates on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” on Sunday I could fully relate to the syndrom they were describing. It just gets to be so overwhelming and you get further drawn in as you read story after story about how awful it is and then it hits you — 2020 is just a little over half over. What else can happen?
What occurs as we get lost in the bad news is that our natural anxious response to things that create fear is fueled and we become overloaded. According the the psychologist who was interviewed, Dr. Amelia Aldao, “Our minds are wired to look out for threats. The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them the more ansioux we get.”
Basically, we get caught up in a cycle that makes a grim world even grimmer as a pall is cast over everything. We start looking at the world through doom colored glasses.
Dr. Aldao offered some excellent suggestions on how to deal with the way we consume news during this period of pandemic and isolation. She said we should set a timer, so that we only allow ourselves so much time to peruse and stop when the timer goes off. We should remain cognizant of why we started looking something up and not get sucked down a rabbit hole that takes us in a direction we did not intend. Finally, she said we should swap the vicious cycle of doomscrolling with a virtuous cycle, by doing positive things like reaching out to a friend or looking for something funny to build up positive emotions.
I loved her suggestions and know that they help me. Last week, for example, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and a friend sent me a few jokes and a link to what I thought was a very lovely YouTube series called “Pluto Living,” about a very funny and wise terrier who talks … and is Canadian to boot. Suddenly I was laughing and it was what I needed. Her virtuous cycle helped me get out of the vicious one in which I was consumed.
As people of faith, I think we can take things a step further than Dr. Aldao did because we are people who live in hope. Over and over again, the Bible is filled with stories of people who did not give in to the days of doom that surrounded them but forged ahead in faith.
Whether it is David, who stood up against all odds to Goliath with only five stones; or Jeremiah, who bought a field while Judah was under siege and they were about to be led into exile; or Jesus, who died and then triumphed over the grave, the Bible is rife with stories of God finding a way where there is no way and offering us light and life in the face of darkness and death.
Taking that as our cue and knowing as we do that in the end, God wins and “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:4), we can find a way around the sinking pit that consumes us when we get overwhelmed by the world as it is today.
What I believe we need to do is read the news and stay engaged but use the techniques Dr. Aldao suggests, with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other and the timer on. Rather than read it through doom-colored glasses, use grace-filled glasses.
We can’t ignore the pain in the world and stay under the covers. That is antithetical to what it means to be a follower of Christ, who told us to go out in the world and proclaim Good News. But we can become engaged with the world by being aware of our current condition as well as the hope of Christ, which does not disappoint.
We do that by praying as we read and then acting upon that about which we have read. Perhaps that means we make a phone call to a legislator, or a lonely neighbor, or perhaps it means writing a note of support to someone you think may be downcast. I know I have received notes that have made a huge difference in keeping my spirits up.
Perhaps it means figuring out a way to volunteer at the Food Pantry, or participating in the virtual choir, or lifting your voice in another way to promote justice and mercy, recognizing that when we work together we encourage each other and elevate our mission.
By inviting God into the cycle of news, we know that there is no doomsday that cannot be overcome. And by moving to action, we know we are helping to do God’s work with our hands. We are not helpless or hopeless. We are children of God, created in God’s image, and we need to remember the power that comes from that realization, the power of the Holy Spirit.
I know how easy it is to get sucked in and pulled down. But when that happens, we are allowing the voices of the powers and forces of evil to get into our head and our hearts. But when we pray and then act, we are calling upon our Higher Power, our God who is a God of Hope.
Right now, we are all stuck in the same news cycle. But we are not stuck in it alone. So breath deeply, set a timer, trust God and act as if you believe that God is a God who keeps promises.
For my closing prayer, I think the Apostle Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, puts it better than I ever could:
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. Amen.”