Coping with the end of lockdown

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While lockdown has been difficult for some, for others, one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of the crisis is the world starting to open up again. I’ve had a number of people ask me about how best to cope with this, so I’ve compiled some thoughts here. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, and if any other concerns spring to mind, do let me know and I’ll try my best to address them.

As always, take care, and stay safe.

BBC Presentation

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Today I gave a presentation to colleagues at the BBC about the psychological impact of COVID. While we talked a little about the immediate effect of COVID on mental health, our main focus was the long term psychological impact of the disease. I provided a summary of the research findings to date and we then talked about things that we could do to protect our own mental health.

As well as looking at lifestyle changes, we also practiced psychological exercises based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy principles to help us reflect on our own thought processes. This is a crucial thing to do regardless of whether one is experiencing psychological difficulties or not, as it helps to develop and strengthen healthy ways of thinking. I would argue that this is crucial at all times, and that we have a responsibility to care for our mental health in the same way as our physical health. However, given the current pressures on the NHS (especially relating to mental health), even more than ever, we have a duty to do everything we can to protect our mental health and take as much pressure off the system as possible.

This was a great opportunity to talk about some of the psychological issues that COVID has raised and one of the heartening things that we learned was that it’s not all been negative (as I have also spoken about previously)! This is really a key time for us to keep building upon the positives, and work to manage and control the negatives as much as possible.

Why Influencers are ruining society

‘That’s a little extreme!’ I hear you say, but think about it: Influencer culture is driven by, and rewards, self-obsession.  It also encourages shallowness, materialism, misinformation and ignorance; none of which is conducive to creating a well-functioning society. Pre-social media, Influencers would have been dismissed as narcissists or fakes with too much time on their hands.  However, since the late 2010’s, such people have been rewarded with media fame and gifts ranging from cosmetic samples to luxury holidays. The problem is that rewarding any behaviour reinforces and encourages it (as anyone who has used treats to train a dog knows). Similarly, others see these rewards and understandably want a piece of the action. As a result we have a growing number of aspiring ‘Influencers’ who will emulate the aforementioned behaviours in order to receive the same rewards.

The most disheartening aspect of this is that a recent survey showed that ‘Social Media Influencer’ and ‘Youtuber’ came second and third place in a list of what children wanted to be when they grew up. Ultimately, who can blame the children – they see beautiful people in exclusive places being given free products for taking nice pictures of themselves – who wouldn’t want such a ‘blessed’ life?! The problem is that once we start to base our worth on external sources (such as approval from followers or brands), we are at their mercy. As the old adage goes, happiness comes from within, so once we start to rely on external sources for validation, any perceived decrease in support from them will be seen as a personal failure.

Being judged by others is particularly problematic when our worth is defined by our looks. Indeed, many Influencers admit to taking thousands of pictures of themselves, with hours, and sometimes days, being spent critiquing every single picture, searching for flaws in order to weed out any that are less than perfect. Clearly as well as encouraging self-obsession, this can lead to an overly critical way of viewing one’s body, with body dissatisfaction being a leading risk factor in the development of eating disorders. Unfortunately, this dissatisfaction is not only limited to the Influencers themselves, it also spreads to viewers of the images, who are bombarded with often manipulated photos produced by people who have the time and the tools to create ‘perfect’ images.

Worryingly, even ‘health’ and ‘fitness’ Influencers follow a similar pattern. Certainly in relation to fitness, the emphasis still seems to be on the appearance associated with being fit rather than being healthy. Again, prioritising appearance can lead to problems related to body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and exercise obsession. The damage also comes from the advice the Influencers give: for example, as well as the aforementioned disorders, a similar illness associated with an obsession with ‘clean eating’ has developed in recent years. We certainly don’t have to look far to see Influencers extolling the virtues of clean eating, usually with no relevant qualifications or knowledge to back up their claims. Since they are not subject to the checks and standards that professionals are, they are free to disseminate their opinions under the guise of advice.

Here, the companies that support Influencers carry the burden of responsibility. By using, and promoting, individuals who spread misinformation, they are complicit in the damage caused by this misinformation. Similarly, they are also promoting the self-obsessed, materialistic lifestyle associated with the Influencer industry. While clearly, the goal of these companies is to sell products (to the ‘fools’ who don’t dedicate their lives to becoming Influencers!), they can choose who they reward with free gifts. While perhaps they don’t have time to create the perfect ‘insta-worthy’ image to promote the products, I for one, would prefer gifts to go to those who spend their time helping others (think of our emergency service workers, NHS workers, carers, volunteers etc), and would support any company that similarly prioritised such people.

So what do we have to do if we want to ‘save’ society? First, as consumers, we need to stop following Influencers. After all, if they have no followers, there will be no incentive for companies to support them. We need to call out the misinformation they promote: nutritionists, doctors, psychologists and healthcare professionals all need to counter the pseudo-‘experts’ with evidence-based facts. We also need to boycott the companies that use Influencers; by putting our money where are mouths are, we can show companies that we won’t support those who encourage such a damaging industry. Alternatively, we can support companies that gift to people who dedicate their time to helping others (therefore rewarding kind and positive behaviour). Ultimately, the power lies with us: we need to think the kind of society we want for ourselves and our children, and fight to create it.

 

 

 

 

Putting things off… BBC discussion about procrastination

I was delighted to again be invited to contribute to BBC Scotland’s Personal Best programme; this time discussing a phenomenon that most of us are familiar with: procrastination! In the programme I chat to Gillian Russell about various reasons why we procrastinate, as well as ways to overcome it.

You’ll find the programme here (or below), do let me know what you think!