In light of the current pandemic, all it takes is one scroll through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (or your other preferred choice of social media) to be bombarded with news tips for dealing with ‘lockdown.’ However, one particular form of content is presenting us with an interesting, and potentially problematic, dichotomy.
On the one hand, there are some influencers, celebrities and friends reminding everyone to ‘stay positive’, that ‘better days are coming’ and ‘everything will be good again soon’’ Alternatively, we are presented with constant reminders that ‘it’s okay not to be okay,’ ‘it’s okay to feel how you’re feeling,’ ‘the face of the world has completely changed’ and how we have ‘never seen anything like this before.’ It can be incredibly difficult to process these two entirely different lines of thought in one scroll through your Instagram feed, and one questions how useful these conflicting ‘words of wisdom’ actually are for our mental health during such unprecedented times.
The first type of content, constantly reminding us to stay positive and use this time for self-growth and reflection, can result in feelings of pressure and guilt if you are feeling particularly upset or anxious about the situation at that moment. You can always tell yourself that other people have it worse in order to try and make your situation seem better, but realistically this will often cause more feelings of guilt and pressure which are not useful or productive emotions to have in the current climate.
A pressure to be productive and stay busy in order to keep positive until the lockdown passes can worsen these feelings of guilt. We need to remember that everyone copes with stress in vastly different ways. For some, the constant reminder that this lockdown is perfect for productivity which should in theory result in gratification and positive thoughts will ultimately worsen their anxiety.
In my experience, the most alarming ‘words of wisdom’ that I have seen are calling for people to review their ‘previous’ pre-lockdown and COVID-19 life and decide what they want to take into their ‘new’ life. I immediately felt panicked and started doubting if my ‘previous’ life was positive enough, experiencing an immense amount of pressure to make sure my ‘new’ life would be better. The constant move towards ‘self-improvement’ which is thrusted onto every aspect of our modern lives is not always useful and not always necessary.
Telling people this is the perfect opportunity for review can simply result in panic; we begin scrutinising the past as well as trying to deal with the present difficulties and not knowing about our future. Why should anyone feel this pressure placed on them? Of course, these feelings of panic and anxiety are the exact opposite of what these posts are designed to achieve and of course the people posting them aren’t posting them with that aim in mind.
The second category of posts we are presented with are those reminding us how it’s okay to feel our negative emotions and to allow ourselves to feel them, which is probably healthy in a lot of respects. Nonetheless, these can quickly become reminders of how the ‘world how we know it has changed,’ or how humans are dealing with ‘unprecedented change’ and many more similar statements. Again, these are largely true. Yet, they can also lead to more overwhelming feelings of dread, panic and existential crises – feelings which are undoubtedly unhealthy and unhelpful from a mental health perspective, whilst of course remaining useful from an epidemiological standpoint when trying to convey the need of us to stay at home to avoid the spread of disease. Someone may well be having a positive day, in control of their anxieties and then be reminded of worries resulting in their entire mood and feelings of security being turned upside down in the space of a few seconds.
I see a mix of these messages on my feed every day. One wrongly timed post can entirely offset your mood and balance. Equally, I have encountered some of these posts at exactly the perfect time to lift my mood when I needed it, or to comfort me with the thought that I am not alone on days when I am struggling. We must see the credit of both of these types of ‘words of wisdom’ and the positive effects which they can have. Nevertheless, it comes down to practicing good social media habits when faced with posts which can be emotionally provocative. We must actively think about the content that we are absorbing, before having a hugely emotional response to it. This emotional awareness is crucial at all times on social media, however, it feels even more so now, when most people are spending even more time on their phones as an escape and something to do. It’s important to ensure that ‘words of wisdom’ don’t become ‘words of worry.’ That is not their intention. In order to utilise them properly, social media must be explored consciously and with awareness.
If anyone is looking for good people to follow on social media during this time, I can recommend Chessie King (@chessieking), Zanna Van Dijk (@zannavandijk) and Steph Elswood (@stephelswood) on Instagram. On Twitter, I can also recommend Oenone (@uhnonee), Pandora Sykes (@PINsykes) who has great podcast called The High Low which is blissful escapism, and James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) – a rogue choice, I know, but he is incredibly entertaining and hilarious.