When managing stress and anxiety it is useful to consider what is within our control and what is outside our control. During lockdown we have been overwhelmed by a constant influx of digital communication. Exercising control around this by setting boundaries can be helpful and is vital for maintaining good mental health.
Audit your social media
Research indicates that on average people check their phones approximately 85 times a day.
Undoubtedly, your social media feed will be having a powerful impact on your mood and on your beliefs about yourself. So, why not take control of those influences and use social media to your advantage? Spend some time looking through your feed and notice how different elements are making you feel.
Do you feel uplifted? Inspired? Stimulated? Or do you feel drained? Annoyed? Inadequate?
Understanding what nourishes you and actively removing yourself from some online influences that do not is useful. Choose not to engage in certain conversations - permanently or temporarily. Delete or mute, whatever feels right for you.
Replace these negative influences with elements that are missing: perhaps you want to include more diversity? More fun? More positive role-models?
Put time limits on news consumption
It might also be worth looking at how much time you spend focussing on the news. Checking in with what’s happening can make you feel like you are in control because you are well informed about the situation. But this can easily become obsessive; especially as news is cleverly designed to be addictive to audiences. If you have a propensity towards compulsive behaviour, this is certainly something to monitor.
You may want to limit your daily news consumption or limit yourself to one programme. Perhaps even more helpful, would be to replace your news consumption with something to stimulate and divert you, like a podcast or an audio book.
Be assertive about your needs with friends
Like many people, you may be experiencing extreme emotions and struggling some days more than others and therefore may not always be emotionally available. If this is the case, bear in mind you don’t have to respond immediately to texts or accept every zoom social event.
Take some responsibility for communicating your experience with those around you, keep it simple, tell them what is happening, you can’t assume they will know. Let them know you’re not having a great day, and that you will be in touch when you’re ready. Showing your vulnerability can be powerful and allows others to share theirs.
There may be guilt attached to asking for some personal space, feeling that your circumstances are much easier compared to others but remember your feelings are still valid; you can be aware of how good things are for you and still feel anxious.
Boundaries may not be understood by some friends and it might be useful to notice those who are demanding of your time or expect a great deal of support from you.
Do remember to show the same understanding to friends who don’t get in touch immediately, forgiving them as they might be struggling just as you are.
Look at alternative ways of communicating
Although we crave connection, the transition to zoom/online communication is not going to work for everyone. Our brain processes video calls differently and we can become fatigued more quickly with this form of communication.
If you are working online, socialising online too can feel overwhelming. You may even find the experience deflating as it reinforces the reality that we can’t interact as we used to.
It’s great to nurture and value these online connections but perhaps you may need a break from this medium. Perhaps try a good old-fashioned phone-call or a voice note instead; both more intimate but less demanding.
You can’t do everything and you can’t please everyone.
Setting positive boundaries isn’t about saying no to everything all the time, it’s about realising what is pushing you beyond your limits: physical, emotional or mental. When you put healthy boundaries in place, you’re in a better space to thrive and protect those you love. Many of us struggle with our boundaries and are often, (women especially), conditioned to believe that the needs of others matter more than our own. This translates into appeasing others and regarding saying no as being selfish.
Lockdown can be seen as an opportunity to practice putting some healthy boundaries in place. This might feel uncomfortable to begin with because it’s an unfamiliar behaviour; but persevere and this will support your psychological health now and in the future.