Mental Health, Social Media, Wellbeing, writing

Developing a Greater self-awareness of the impacts of social media

Recently I’ve been contemplating the impact of my time spent on screens , particularly my social media use.

A few weeks ago, it felt like I was drowning in all of my screen time. Having to think of new content to write for Instagram was especially weighing down on me and I know I was becoming mentally exhausted from all the impacts of lockdown on and off screen. A poignant aspect to note is that lockdown forced us to use video calls more, for work and socially. As well as being a way of staying in touch with others and continuing to get our work done, there is a draining aspect to it all, physically and mentally.

I felt particularly for our younger son, who had online lessons for the 2 months of the 3rd lockdown, all via video call lessons, for roughly 5 and a half hours per day. I noticed that it made him more mentally tired. However I believe that as most of us continue to be online or using our electronic devices more, it mentally and physically tires us out more too.

After realising that I was swamped in the demands of posting and keeping up with Instagram, I decided I needed to take a break from all social media for a while. So along with Facebook, I took a social media fast for a week as part of Lent, where Christians either give up something or take something up to help them focus more on God in that period. The hope was that it would give my eyes and brain a break from the overwhelm that often comes from being on social media and would give me space to pray or do other activities away from screens.

Worldwide the daily average amount of time spent on social media is 145 minutes (2 hours 25 minutes).

[Source: Statistica, 2021]

The first day was difficult, and I admit to giving in to the temptation of scrolling on both Insta and Facebook . It did get easier from there on and I was able to step back from looking at either one. I noticed I felt calmer and less mentally tired. I got to the end of the week without having done any sneaky peeking at either app.

Revelation came to me, though, when I jumped back onto Insta. The first post I saw, I found myself comparing myself to the person concerned and almost immediately that muddle-headed mental tiredness caught me again. I almost completely decided to stop then and there but because I was composing a post for work, I kept going. In fact, 30 minutes later, I was still umming and erring about a photo to use and almost gave up on it! I hated what this app was doing to me mentally and how it was slowing down my mental performance. In that moment, I just wished I could stop using social media altogether but I knew that wasn’t going to be completely possible as I use it for work. I chatted with my elder son about how going back on social media had made me feel and he also suggested coming off it completely!

Since then my motivation to use Insta or Facebook has been much lower, particularly after having a lot of online meetings the following week. I could see the detrimental impact this had on my already dwindling concentration and the mental exhaustion grew!

Now, I have reduced my number of social media posts per week and am looking for ways to stay off my screens as much as practically possible!

Don’t get me wrong, social media does have some positives though. At a time when it’s not easy to see loved ones, work colleagues nor friends face-to-face, social media does offer that opportunity to connect online. Sharing some thoughts or reading others’ comments can help us feel and stay socially connected. We may read someone’s positive words and be encouraged or enjoy a beautiful photograph that some has shared on Instagram. I’m thankful that writing this blog enables me to engage with you, the reader, wherever you may be in the world.

How do you feel whilst on social media? What are the benefits it brings you? What are the pitfalls to be aware of? Do you need some boundaries and limits to help manage your screen time better? I’d love to hear your thought and comments below.

Mental Health, New Year, Wellbeing

3 Things that are helping me survive Lockdown 3.0

Happy February, well, that sounds more timely than Happy New Year, as this is my 1st blog post of 2021! I’ve been a bit torn as to what the topic would be, but I think that as we are drawn into a new month of lockdown, it’s important to share what may help you get through.

Last week, Jo Robinson & I led our workshop on Winter Wellness, and part of the session included discussing what our mental health challenges are in this season, as well as what helps us to overcome them.

1. A small, but powerful, action for me has been getting out for a daily walk. Yes, some days they have been quite short when I’ve felt tired or it’s raining, but getting out into daylight exposes us to natural light, which in turn can generate Vitamin D in our bodies. I also supplement this with 30 minutes sitting in front of my light box, that simulates daylight to compensate for the shorter days, and hopefully tops up my Vitamin D.

2. Staying social connected is another essential for me, and part of our social wellness. I realised when I left my previous education role that I really missed working as part of a team and how important social stimulation is for me. This was really brought home to me in the first lockdown when I couldn’t just meet up with a friend for coffee or a walk. So I have made a commitment to myself to reach out to someone daily, whatever that looks like: phone call, zoom call or a socially distanced walk (although this is happening less as we’re on such a high alert level for Covid). Research has shown that by looking outward towards others helps promote happiness and takes us away from unhelpful inner ruminating or self-centredness. With #TimetoTalk Day last Thursday, it’s more important than ever that we look out for each other and be prepared to be more honest about our mental health.

3. Being creative at least a few times a week, ideally daily. Back in lockdown 2, doing some kind of Christmas craft kept me sane and focused me on something constructive aside from work and managing the home. I made Christmas decorations for friends’ Christmas presents, worked on a wooden tree Christmas sign and designed a nativity stained glass window for our front window as part of our church’s advent light festival. Ok, I’ll admit that post- Christmas we mightn’t have the motivation to do so much, but just trying out even a simple card making activity or writing some thoughts down can help our minds to switch off and stay concentrated in the moment. I’ve started bullet journalling and am currently doing a doodle art course with Mind in Harrow which is helping me to manage my stress and anxiety better.

I could talk about other areas that I’ve found helpful but keeping things simple is important at the moment too, especially if we’re struggling with motivation. See my previous blog on Managing your mental health for more ideas.

So what things are helping you to survive lockdown? What not have a go at writing them down, so that when you’re bored or at a loss as to what to do, you can look at your list to remind you of what helps and to inspire you?

Mental Health

10 things to be thankful for during this time of self-isolation

Today, one of the writing groups I attend decided to have an online meeting, and this is what I write on the topic of “Underground.”

It feels like, in our current climate, we’ve gone underground. Hidden away in our homes, unable to experience much of the outside world, cut off from our families and friends, apart from the gift of the internet or our phones to stay in touch. Even our church buildings have been closed down, to limit the virus’ spread.

Some of us would love to hide under our duvets until the threat of Coronavirus has passed, fall asleep and wake up when we can go back to normality. Have the freedom to exit the house whenever we want to, travel by public transport to the shops, visit our friends and go about the daily hustle and bustle.

However, there are some benefits to this ‘underground’ existence:

  • A slower pace of life
  • Time to breathe
  • Time to appreciate the natural world around us
  • Be thankful for being alive
  • More time to connect with others
  • Less stress as there is less work to do
  • Less pollution, as cars stay parked at home
  • No commute time to work
  • A new appreciation for our teachers, NHS staff, shop workers and delivery drivers.
  • A plethora of songs about coping with threat of Coronavirus and how to stay safe!

For myself, personally:

  • More time to play in the garden with my kids
  • Time to play a board game or swingball
  • Catch up on paperwork that’s sat there, undone
  • Seeing the birds hop and feed in the garden
  • Water the plants and plant new seeds with my son
  • Time to cook from scratch, try new recipes and eat fresher
  • Connect more with my creative side: sketching, writing, making cards
  • Baking a malteaser cake for my son’s birthday
  • Having afternoon tea at home to celebrate my birthday
  • Looking out for our vulnerable neighbours, buying them some shopping
  • Video calls with old friends who we’ve not been in contact with for a while
  • Groups moved to online meetings, enabling us to chat, write and share together.

Although we may feel cooped up and socially isolated, this too will pass. We will get through it, taking it one day at a time. Hold onto hope, trust God to bring us through and to the end of the pandemic. To a strengthened community spirit and a more outward focus rather than just on our own individual lives.