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.
While going for a walk recently at a track in my neighbourhood, I noticed something that hadn’t been there before.
There was now a second path parallel to the old gravel track circling the playing fields. This new footpath had been beaten into the grass over the summer and fall by people wanting to jog while still physically distancing from those on the main path.
It got me thinking how events in our lives often make us forge a new path.
For just about all of us, the coronavirus has diverted our life path onto an unexpected detour. Some of us may have experienced a job loss or had our health impacted. All of us have had our daily routines disrupted and our plans upended.
We’re having to travel a new path, one we’ve never taken before.
But the good news is that God knows which way we should go, and will lead us in the right direction.
I think that’s true: you put seeds in the ground in spring, hoping most will germinate and grow into a plant. If you’re lucky, you might see hints of growth in a few days, but often it can be weeks before a little green head pokes its way out of the soil.
If planting seeds takes faith, then I think it takes a special kind of faith to plant bulbs in the fall.
In the fall, you know the days are getting shorter and colder. The leaves are dropping from the trees, and tender plants are beginning to die from early frosts. You know that snow will soon blanket the garden to the depth of a couple feet. You’re heading into a barren season.
The precious tulip, daffodil or hyacinth bulbs that you’ve just planted will disappear from your view for many months. You’ll have no indication that they’re all right, let alone any guarantee that they’ll eventually bloom. They may fall prey to rabbits, squirrels or deer. Who knows what will happen to them?
And yet you still go ahead and plant fall bulbs, trusting that they’ll survive the frigid winter and bloom later in spring.
Some things in our lives take special faith to trust for, too, don’t they?
It’s usually safe to rely on our senses, but sometimes they can play tricks on us.
Especially if you’re flying a plane.
Pilots sometimes get into trouble with something called “spatial disorientation.” If they’re flying at night or in poor weather, they’re unable to see the horizon through the cockpit’s windshield. Without these visual cues, they may fall back on their other senses, but this can be a big mistake.
A pilot’s non-visual sensations, such as signals from their inner ear, may not respond truthfully during flight. Without visual inputs to override these mistaken feelings, a pilot may believe he or she is flying level when they may actually be in a bank, or gradually ascending or descending.
If a pilot isn’t proficient in the use of flight instruments, errors can pile up until the pilot loses control of the aircraft, entering a steep, diving turn known as the graveyard spiral. The pilot remains unaware of what’s happening until it’s too late to recover control, and the aircraft breaks apart or crashes.
In fact, it’s believed that spatial disorientation is what led to the fatal crash in 1999 of the plane piloted by John F. Kennedy, Jr. Flying at night over water, the visual landmarks he might have relied on were absent. Kennedy was certified for visual flight rules, but had not yet received his full training for instrument-only flying. His instruments would have told him that he was heading on a collision course with the water, but tragically, he trusted his non-visual sensations until it was too late.
We as believers can get into the same sort of trouble when we trust our feelings instead of what the word of God says.
In baking, as in life, it’s important to let off some steam every so often.
When you’re baking a pie, the recipe will usually instruct you to make some slashes or holes in the top crust before putting the pie in the oven. This isn’t just to make a pretty design, although some people do get very creative and make decorative cut-outs of hearts or dots, or even create a latticework effect in the crust.
The real purpose of these openings is to let the steam escape. If there’s no outlet for the steam building up under the crust, the filling will burst through and spill out. Your pie will end up looking like an unsightly mess.
Sometimes we need to let off a bit of steam, too. We get frustrated or angry at the circumstances in our lives, and need to “vent” our feelings.
David certainly did his share of venting in the Psalms. He let loose with some very raw emotions, crying out to God to intervene in his situation.
Surprisingly, God seemed okay with David’s outbursts. In fact, David was the only person in Scripture whom God called “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).
I believe David’s example can give us a key to how to vent appropriately without letting our emotions explode all over, making a mess of our lives and leaving us bitter.
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?
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?
If you live in a cold climate, have you ever woken up to discover that there had been an ice storm overnight? You look outside to find the bare branches of the trees are encased in a thick layer of ice.
The effect can be absolutely stunning. The branches glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. People rush outside to take photos of the ice-covered trees.
But the beauty masks a danger: those bare branches are at risk. They were never meant to carry the weight of so much ice. The branches may break off, and the tree can be left devastated.
Do you ever feel like you’re carrying too much “weight”?
Last week, the Scots celebrated “Hogmanay,” or New Year’s Eve. A particularly delicious treat often consumed there on this holiday is shortbread, which is a Scottish invention. It’s not really a bread, but rather a buttery, rich, crumbly type of cookie (recipe below).
But why is it called “short” bread? Is it vertically challenged? Well, yes, it’s quite a flat cookie, but in this case the word “short” means something different.