Doomscrolling is a new word that’s been coined to describe the habit of obsessively consuming a large quantity of negative online news.
The committee of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary even named “doomscrolling” their Word of the Year for 2020.
Humans have a natural tendency to pay more attention to bad news, but the doomscrolling trend has accelerated during the pandemic.
We compulsively check our news apps and social media feeds, endlessly scanning the latest ominous headlines. We feed ourselves a steady diet shocking or disheartening news about rising COVID-19 case numbers, hospital intensive care units filling up, businesses shutting down, political instability or even weather woes.
We can’t seem to help ourselves, even when we sense that doomscrolling is probably detrimental to our mental health. All this bad news saturating our minds can leave us depressed, anxious, angry or hopeless.
We need an antidote to the feeling of despair that doomscrolling can produce.
Do you ever get a bit anxious when faced with something completely new?
Like how to find a new job in an economy that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before? Or how to navigate a world that’s turned upside-down?
Many of us shrink from the prospect of entering uncharted territory.
And we’re not the only ones: even some animals balk when confronted with something unfamiliar.
Cows are notorious for disliking disruptions to their routines and environments. They’re particularly averse to new gates. Cows are made so nervous by new entrances and openings that they’ll stubbornly resist going through them.
This trait is so well known that it’s given rise to the phrase, “like a cow looking at a new gate.” It means to view something with bewilderment and confusion, as though to say, “Are you serious? I’m not going through that.”
Do you feel this way when faced with the uncertainties that the new year may bring? Is fear of the unknown keeping you from stepping forward in faith to realize your dreams?
Fear has a way of paralyzing us, so that we stay stuck where we are instead of trying something new.
There are a lot of things in this world that are contagious. Certain viruses and diseases come to mind, as do laughter and yawning.
There have even been cases of contagious dancing, such as the “dance epidemic” of 1518 in Strasbourg.
But did you know that fear is also contagious?
A friend of mine was telling me how she organized a backyard sleepover in a tent for her daughter and some friends a few years ago. The children were assured that the parents would be with them in the tent all night long.
The kids were excited about this adventure, and all seemed to go well at first. Eventually, however, one little girl became afraid of the dark. It didn’t take long for another girl to become fearful as well. Pretty soon the whole thing had to be called off, despite the parents’ promises that they wouldn’t leave the children outside alone in the dark.
The other kids had “caught” the fearful attitude of the first child.
Scripture recognizes how destructive fear can be when it contaminates a whole group.
Has this pandemic made you fearful? Are you afraid that you or your loved ones might catch the COVID-19 virus? Are you nervous about even going out in public? Afraid that life will never be quite the same again?
For many of us, the coronavirus crisis has only added to our list of things to fear. As if we didn’t already have enough things to be afraid of!
There are fears common to many of us, such as fear of spiders or snakes, fear of public speaking or fear of falling.
Then there are the more unusual phobias, such as fear of clocks or clowns, balloons or buttons, and even beards. (Full marks to you if you know that triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number thirteen.)
There’s no end of things to be afraid of in this world. But is fear always bad?
No. God gave us the emotion of fear: it’s there to save us from danger.
But we need to differentiate between good fear and bad fear.
Once the worst of this pandemic is over, psychologists warn that many of us may suffer from post-traumatic stress for some time to come. Some of us will have lost a job, seen our business close down for good, suffered isolation and loneliness, or may have even lost a loved one during the COVID-19 crisis.
But is PTSD a given in these circumstances? Is there different outcome that can occur, an unexpected benefit that may arise out of these difficult times?
Psychologists say yes: there’s such a thing as post-traumatic growth. It’s been found in survivors of war, cancer, and natural disasters. Some people emerge from a crisis with increased spirituality, a greater sense of personal strength, new priorities and closer relationships with others. What could have broken them actually made them better.
This phenomenon reminds me a bit of “sea glass.” Sea glass, or beach glass, found washed up on shores, starts out as merely cast-aside pieces of broken glass. Perhaps they’ve been tossed overboard from a ship, or thrown into the sea from land along with other garbage.
These shards of glass endure years of being buffeted against the stones of the sea bottom. It seems like they’re being dashed about mercilessly by the relentless action of the waves. Surely no good could come of this?
There’s something strange about the crisis the world is undergoing right now: from the outside, things look surprisingly normal.
If you view the streets of your town during this pandemic, most things look the same as they did before. The buildings are intact, the streetlights come on at night like clockwork, and the spring flowers are blooming. This isn’t a crisis like a flood or earthquake, where the devastation is plain to see.
The COVID-19 crisis seems almost invisible, until you realize that something isn’t quite right when you look around: missing from the scene is the normal hum of human activity. The workplaces are shut, people aren’t in restaurants, and children aren’t in playgrounds. An eerie quiet pervades most areas.
It’s only when you look behind closed doors that you see the devastating impact of the pandemic. The high death toll in some nursing homes, the stressed out health care workers, and the loneliness of self-isolation.
When we have a crisis of our own, like depression or despair, we can look a bit like those intact buildings. Things look normal from the outside. When people look at us, there’s no evidence of the turmoil raging within.
I did. I loved taking it in my hand and shaking it to see the sparkly fake snow whip up into a blizzard around the little figures inside. I knew that the snowstorm was limited in scope, however, and would soon settle down. I had the globe in the palm of my hand, after all, and governed events inside.
But imagine the snow globe from the perspective of the tiny “people” inside it. From their vantage point, all they can see is whirling whiteness that seems to have no end. They’re blinded to the fact that outside their little bubble, there’s no storm at all: everything is calm and under control.
Life here on earth can be a bit like living inside a snow globe, can’t it?
During this worldwide crisis, many of us are concerned about the changes that are being wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We wonder what the world will look like once we emerge from the lockdowns.
Will life truly return to the way it was before? Will there be thousands of small businesses that will never reopen? Will we ever be able to gather in large crowds like we did in the past? Will the way we “do life” have changed permanently because of this pandemic?
It’s at times like these that we need something that never changes, much like conifers. During the winter, when deciduous trees are bare, I’m thankful for coniferous trees. These loyal friends, like the spruces, pines and firs, still have their mantle of green, which they’ll keep year-round. These silent sentinels might not be flashy, but we can count on them not to change.
For over a century, two marble lions have guarded the main branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. These majestic stone creatures flank the entrance to the building, keeping careful watch over all who enter.
During the 1930s the library lions were officially named “Patience” and “Fortitude” by then-mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He felt that those names embodied the qualities that New Yorkers would need to survive the Great Depression of that era.
If ever there was a time when New Yorkers (and indeed all of us) again need patience and fortitude, it’s during the COVID-19 crisis. New York has been struck particularly hard by this pandemic, but they are pulling through in large part thanks to the selfless health care workers who have done their utmost to guard the health and welfare of those under their care.
We still need guardians, don’t we? Particularly during times like these.