“Nolite te (bastardes) carborundorum”: “Don’t let the (lockdown achievements) grind you down”
Before the impact of Covid-19, the majority of us engaged in various offline activities (jobs, gym, extra-curriculars) which occupied the majority of our attention. Scrolling through endless feeds of social media was a quick distraction from day to day patterns. Now we turn to it as a way to fill our suddenly empty days. Every channel of social media has been plagued with countless images of banana bread, yoga challenges, and ‘Couch to 5k’ progress reports as people turn to new aesthetically pleasing hobbies as a form of escapism. These posts have fed into a new strand of lockdown anxiety.
An unspoken pressure to achieve ‘everything’ and completely transform your life before the end of lockdown has infected social media. I fell into this trap. My goals started to feel impossible as I began to subconsciously compare my progress to the posts I scrolled past on Instagram and Facebook. The idealistic images made it seem like everyone was thriving in lockdown and my motivation quickly vanished. I began to resent how malleable my time had become because I felt that I wasn’t using the opportunity well enough. As self-imposed pressures piled on, I took a step back and re-evaluated how I should be using social media in lockdown.
At its inception, social media was harmless fun. Now it has evolved into an inescapable cycle of social comparison and competition which reaches across the world. Each comment, like or share becomes a personal affirmation of your popularity or value as an individual. I don’t think it is a coincidence that alongside this global domination there has also been an evident increase in campaigns for mental health awareness. Countless studies have shown ties between the two, particularly in the adolescent age bracket. There seems to be an unspoken rule which dictates the content presented in the majority of social media posts - sharing achievements or seeking validation, largely at times of low self-esteem. With the previously non-existent free time which has been gifted to us in lockdown many people feel as though they have nothing better to do than post or scroll. They seek out the same assurances, this time fuelled by a fear of the unknown and a separation from family and friends.
Back in May, the Royal College of Psychiatrists warned that services could be overwhelmed by “a tsunami of mental illnesses” in the wake of this sudden disruption to familiarity and security in everyday life. As people occupy their newfound free time with social media, those with existing mental health problems are at risk of festering while more people are getting sucked into the never-ending cycle of self-assurance and the mental health risks which accompany it. It is now more crucial than ever for us to learn to take care of ourselves and our psyche. Naturally, the first step in this would be to eliminate the root of the issue but the problem here is not the social media hubs themselves, but how we consume the content we see.
Change your scrolling attitude
Rather than completely eliminating the presence of social media in our lives, it would be much more beneficial to change our approach to how we consume the content we see. If you feel like scrolling only makes you more envious of the people on your timeline, take a step back and acknowledge the fortunate endeavours in your life. Keep in mind that the grass always seems greener from the other side. Chances are the people with perfect lives feel just as envious when they scroll. Relish in your own achievements, no matter how small, and find pride in what you have accomplished without comparing yourself.
Transform your timeline
Social media has become an ego-booster. It’s about time we repurposed it as a time capsule. Use your pages to honestly document your achievements and happy moments in life instead of searching for likes and affirmation. The recognition may feel great for a day or so but when you look back on these posts in years to come the only thing that will really matter is the memories which accompany the images you share.
Focus on the positives
Social media is a brilliant tool at its core. In recent months apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have proven to be our saving grace while interactions are restricted from transcending a digital screen. It may not be the same as giving your granny a hug, but onscreen interactions have certainly played a part in boosting our wellbeing and that of those we care about.
Too much of a good thing
I’m guilty of reaching for my phone as soon as I open my eyes. Not the best way to start your day. Limiting your scrolling time by setting a time restriction or daily allowance for social media usage has proven to be beneficial to improving our productivity and psyche. In a recent conversation with a work colleague I found out that her scrolling time over lockdown had expanded to 24 hours a week. It’s so easy to get lost in the black hole of a for-you-page or timeline but taking these steps to restrict your daily intake ensure that you won’t waste the equivalent of a full day of your week on your phone.
Refine your timeline
Every channel of social media has settings which allow you to control what you see. If there’s a particular person or hashtag that heightens your own insecurities, be ruthless and remove them from your timeline.
Recognise when you need to take a break
Sometimes setting time restrictions and blocking harmful influences don’t provide enough separation from the toxicity of online life. The term ‘digital detox’ has found increased popularity in recent months. Most definitions of the phrase highlight its practical use for reducing stress and anxiety while Time to Log Off, an organisation which works to raise awareness of the impact of a screen-based lifestyle, stresses the importance of being “fully present in the world ‘offline’”. Going cold turkey is often the best way to take a step back and re-evaluate the prominence of social media in your life.
Next time you’re scrolling through Instagram or Facebook and feel the lockdown achievement blues coming on take some time to re-evaluate your accomplishments and what you see on social media. We have put too much pressure on this isolation period as a once in a lifetime chance to achieve everything which we have put off before. If the generations before us didn’t rely on earth-stopping events to bring change into their lives, we won’t either. The excess of free time may have made things easier for some people but, to rework an old saying, change is for life, not just for lockdown. Don’t let the influence of social media grind you down.
Amy Murray is a QUB Music Graduate and current Journalism MA student at Ulster Univeristy. She has a passion for Cultural, Social and Solutions Journalism. She represented Northern Ireland at the British Council’s Future News Worldwide Conference in 2019.