THE PANDEMIC’S HARMFUL HABIT

“I can’t help it,” groaned Richard, shaking his head with a rueful grin.  “Every night, it’s like an irresistible urge.  It’s probably not doing me much good – but can it be doing me any real harm?”

Since lockdown eased, Richard has been going to his office in Guildford four days a week.  He’s the owner of a small accountancy firm with nine staff members.  He has an understanding wife and two small children.  In BC days (that is, “Before Covid-19”), he had a fairly balanced lifestyle:  he’d run most mornings, get to the office by 8:30 am and always manage his team with energy and vision.  They all adored him – but he’s had to make three roles redundant over the last six months.

He’s felt keenly the worries that most SMEs have experienced regarding the future.

“I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept through the night,” he says, running a twitching hand over his head.  “I’ve stopped running – have to start that again soon.  I just don’t have the energy, though.  I guess it’s making me look as tired as I feel.”

While it’s not my place to say, I privately think he may have a point.  The bags under his eyes go beautifully with his shoes.

Just what is it he’s doing every night that is keeping him awake?

“Well, it’s not just at night.  Actually, I’m at it pretty much every other hour or so throughout the day, now.”

Without doubt, this is a chronic habit.  One that’s caught on internationally and boomed in popularity everywhere, thanks to Covid-19.  So much so, it now has a proper name …

“DOOMSCROLLING”

Does this ring a bell?  The magnetic pull that your phone, laptop, tablet or pc exerts on you to look at every piece of bad news in cyberspace … and Lord knows, there’s plenty of it out there these days.

Reporter Mark Barabak of the Los Angeles Times describes ‘doomscrolling’ as “an excessive amount of screen time devoted to the absorption of dystopian news”.  It’s a very hard habit to break – and most of us have fallen prey to it since March.

The danger it poses us is very real, too.  ‘Doomscrolling’ is helping to increase the number of depression sufferers, as the bombardment of bad news on an already stressed mind aggravates the illness.  American psychiatrist Dr Ken Yeager says, “People are drawn to doomscrolling because they feel like they have a sense of being able to control any of that bad news … but doomscrolling does not create control:  it only makes you miserable.”

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, we men are particularly prone to suicidal thoughts as we tend to clam up about our feelings.  Suicide is still the biggest killer of men under fifty-five years old.

During Covid-19, the added stress of a severely affected economy and job loss has affected not just those who were already struggling with depression and anxiety but numerous people who were not, prior to the pandemic.  The increase is sobering.  According to recent research, the rate of depression doubled in the UK during the pandemic.

If you are suffering from depression, the chances are that your sleep pattern is irregular.  It’s a vicious cycle:  you can’t sleep because you’re worrying or emotionally hurting about something – and you’re worrying and hurting more because you’re lacking sleep.

DEPRESSION’S IMPACT ON SLEEP

Before the pandemic was even thought of, two-thirds of the UK’s adult population suffered from habitual lack of sleep according to a report on Aviva.  More than a quarter of us were getting by on fewer than five hours’ sleep a night.

Even back then, nearly thirty-seven per cent of us lacked sleep – and perhaps not surprisingly, the most common reason we gave for it was STRESS.

Just imagine how many more of us there are now, shuffling around each day with bleary eyes and drooping shoulders.  It’s virtually impossible to dodge bad news entirely, especially if you’re in business and beholden to keeping an eye on the financial markets and market trends.

There are things you can do, though, to get a grip on the ‘doomscrolling’ habit  before it gets a grip on you.

FOUR STEPS TO TAMING THE ‘DOOMSCROLLING’ BEAST

  • Firstly, remember that it’s perfectly natural for you to be drawn to bad news.  Our long ago ancestors learned the hard way to watch out for danger before it struck, and essentially that’s all you’re doing.  Don’t beat yourself up about it.  You’re not the planet’s worst doom junkie.
  • Look up from your screen for a minute the next time you find yourself doomscrolling and check in with your feelings:  are you feeling happier for having just read that piece, or more stressed and blue?  If you acknowledge the latter, you’ll be better incentivised to stop the habit.
  • Now comes the Pollyanna bit … before you roll eyes, though, give it a chance.  Find three positive things that happen in your real world every day and make a note of them to remind yourself that good things happen.  While you’re at it, remember that other people need to be reminded of that, too; you can be that person who makes something good happen for somebody else.
  • Before you settle down for your next doomscrolling session, set a timer on your phone.  Limit the time you spend in the gloomy corners of cyberspace.  Not only will it spare you the grisly details of too many awful stories but it will also afford you a healthier sense of control over the activity.  Get that beast on a tight leash.

Give those steps a try and remember to talk about your feelings and the impact that these bad news stories are having on you with somebody you trust.  It’s so important to open up.  We men are notoriously poor at it, but it is wonderful when you do.  The pressure building up inside is gently released – and goodness knows, you deserve to be happy and well.

I plan to take a group of fifteen business owners on a twelve-month group coaching/mentoring programme – with no ‘doomscrolling’.  Together, we’ll go on a journey and at the end of the year create a book, journaling our experiences of running a business during a recession.

If you would like to find out more, visit www.robgoddard.co.uk/mentoring

Till next time, keep talking!

 

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