World Mental Health Day series: Issues affecting our mental health - SOCIAL MEDIA

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Today is World Mental Health Day, and whilst the YOGADOO team believes looking after, and having an awareness of our mental health is for life, not just for awareness days, we are launching a series of regular blog posts discussing the issues which face our, and in particular, our children and young people’s mental health in today’s modern world. YOGADOO founder and writer, Lucy Aston writes about her experiences.

S O C I A L   M E D I A A N D E N V Y

One lunchtime a few years ago, I was working at an advertising agency, scrolling aimlessly through the various social media channel apps on my phone “catching up” on my friend’s excitements, announcements, thoughts and news. I put my phone down, picked up my laptop and within minutes was doing the same thing again. Endlessly sliding down the timeline of someone else’s life.

 

Why was I doing this? Was this really the most important or useful or interesting thing I could be doing right now? No. Definitely not. It was a habit, I was on auto-pilot, probably addicted to checking, and it wasn’t healthy. Rather than being filled with joy and gratitude for my life and the happiness of my friends. I was feeling anxious and at some points envious of other people’s seemingly perfect lives.

 

These weren’t even beautiful, filtered holiday shots, these were coffee dates with pals people were enjoying, whilst I was working in an office. Job promotion announcements, dinner dates with partners, wonderful moments with children. I was getting a glimpse on a world where everyone seemed happy at a time I was stressed at work, depressed with my work life balance and feeling like I didn’t really have a handle on any part of my life. This feeling was being made worse by my resentment for others, fuelled by social media.

 

The thoughts of these timeline-scrolling lunchbreaks still make me feel sad. I felt anxious, upset and even angry at times. But most of all I was envious. Since then, through training to be a yoga and meditation teacher and developing a daily meditation practice, my relationship to social media has changed.

 

We live in an era of envy. Career envy, holiday envy, lifestyle envy, family life envy, life envy.

 

Aristotle once defined it in the 4th century BC as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we ought to have.”

 

But with the arrival of social media, envy is taken to a new level. Professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, Ethan Kross says we are constantly bombarded with “photoshopped lives, and this exerts a toll on us the likes of which we have never experienced in the history of our species.”

 

Windy Dryden one of the UK’s leading practitioners of cognitive behavioural therapy, calls this “comparisonitis” and these comparisons are not realistic. We carry around the envy amplification device around with us all day, we often sleep next to it, we check it the moment we wake up and it tempts us 24 hours a day.

 

What we choose to share online, is often filtered. Not only filtered through colours and soft edges and blurred backgrounds, but a filtered view of what our life is really like. We share the good pictures not the bad, the happy moments not the sad. What this filtered world creates is an unrealistic view of our life, which is broadcast to the world as “real”. Naturally, we compare with the “real lives” of the people we are “connected to” online, with our own “real lives” and often this creates a feeling of envy.

 

Children are not immune from these feelings, when I work in schools, children as young as 7 or 8 talk about how they wish they could look like x y or z celebrity and those older pupils mention how social media or the need to keep messaging friends away from school makes them feel anxious or fearful of missing out. The world of beauty and make up you tube and Instagram stars encourage young people to find hair inspiration or makeup techniques, but those youngsters possibly end up envying the “stars” they follow and feeling even worse about themselves. In YOGADOO classes, we try to celebrate what makes us different and special and how are our bodies are all unique. A mindful awareness of what we can do, and what feels good is more important than comparing ourselves to others and being fearful of what we cannot do.

 

Ironically, in a world where we have more means of connecting with others, many of us have never felt more disconnected from what is real and important.

 

The modern, online, digital world is not going away, but how can we help ourselves or our children to become more resilient, and stay true to what is real? And please remember that we can always take a break or even delete our social media accounts.

 

Here are our ten tips:

 

-       Try and live a more mindful life – Notice the smallest details of real life around you, the colours of the falling autumn leaf, that smile on a baby’s face, the taste of your morning cuppa, the smell of the clean washing. Be in the moment without thinking too far ahead or looking back over the past.

-       Pausing and breathing between activities – Try and notice if you are in an auto pilot state, the first step of a mindful life is to notice repeat or habitual behaviour. So pause, take some deep breaths between activities and this will help.

-       Appreciation and gratitude – remember what you have in your life, who, what and where is important. Take time to appreciate these things and be grateful that your life is uniquely different to anyone else.

-       Celebrate differences and individuals – No two people are the same, no two lives are the same, this is a point to be celebrated and makes us humans and not robots.

-       Meditation – taking some time to meditate and be still, and give your brain a rest can really help build resilience in the modern world. We are constantly bombarded with messages and comments and images and content. We are continuously asked to engage and react. Having some self-control to sit still, focus inwards and allow the mind to settle and rest is crucial.

-       Understanding the difference between a real world and an online world Think and have discussions about the difference between how your real life is different to what we read and experience on the screens.

-       Question what makes you happy, what would make you happier? What would make you truly happy

-       Noticing how you feel and what emotions surface when online Leading a more mindful life can help you notice how you react to stressful situations or experiences. Talk about how you feel with a loved one, and notice any habitual behaviour.

-       Think about your online persona

Why am I posting? Vanity/pride? What image am I showing? Real/filtered. Do we need to share everything?

-       Retraining the brain to break and change habits

Most of the time, we use the internet or social media in a passive way.  A passive use of reading and scrolling is more damaging to our health than actively posting and commenting.

 YOGADOO founder will be talking more about how yoga and meditation can help build children’s digital resilience in an online digital world, this weekend at the Achieve exhibition in Bristol. More details here.