Navigating Negative Emotion in the Social Media Era
It is no surprise to anyone at this stage that the last year or so has been incredibly challenging, and there’s a noticeable upswing in negative emotion. Between the pandemic, the human rights issues, the political landscape and everything in between, spending any time online can easily push us into spirals of despair and anguish. Recently a New York Times article fittingly described this state of ‘not being able’ as languishing.
Over the past few months I’ve noticed a considerable change in my energy, particularly online, and particularly towards other people. I’ve become cynical, and envious, and generally resentful at times. These feelings occur naturally, and so they’re nothing to be ashamed of, but they do become concerning when the feeling lasts for longer than one could consider healthy.
You can possibly attribute this increase in negative emotion to the pandemic, which has forced all of us indoors and as such, has forced many of us to spend more time online than we otherwise would. I’ll be the first to put up my hand and say I’m overusing some forms of social media, and I’m trying to work on that. The resentment stems from there because if I wasn’t online, I wouldn’t be able to know what people were doing, and thus, would not have the opportunity to build said resentment.
These feelings are a combination of two things – being jealous of other people and being dissatisfied with my current circumstances. These two come hand in hand, as it is quite rare for feelings of jealousy to form in people who are content with their own lives. Why would one be jealous of someone else if they are happy with what they have?
So, first and foremost, there’s a gratitude issue for me. Constantly looking ahead is the cost of ambition, but this causes us to forget about what we already have. And what we already have is more than enough to constitute happiness if we accepted it. The goalposts will never stop moving, so it’s unwise to base our definitions of happiness on what lays within the goal.
Of course, it’s easy to know this, but knowledge of a thing is rarely enough to mitigate a behaviour. You might know that you need to stop eating so much in order to lose weight, but this isn’t enough to stop you from eating. Structure and a level of discipline is required. Work needs to be done.
And so, although I’m aware of this resentment issue, which is a good start, it is simply not enough. Active work is required – work in which I take stock of what I have, attempt to focus on my own life, and ignore the lives of others, of the people I find myself jealous of. I am only jealous because they are doing things I would like to do, and this is not their fault. It makes little sense to resent someone because of our pitfalls, but that certainly seems to happen quite a lot.
It’s not easy. We all struggle with things. I would be dishonest if I told you that my mental health is always in perfect condition. Sometimes it’s not, and the last few months in particular has been one of those times.
Will things improve? Of course. They always do. But it’s important to put yourself in a position to become aware when something is wrong. I knew there was an issue because I was feeling envious of things I usually feel happy about. People I care about and admire getting good news was beginning to make me feel bad. This is certainly a red flag that something is amiss.
Be aware. Identify the issue. Do the work
The formula is simple, but that doesn’t mean that any of the work is easy.
Just some thoughts.