God, the world seems a harsh and depressing place so often these days. Even if what most of us directly face are generally first world problems, the unremittingly grim nature of the news can make it feel like we’re on a fast train to hell and there’s no getting off. I’ve been trying to counter the feelings of anxiety and helplessness this brings with some positive actions – hoping that if I feel like I am making the world a better place, even in the tiniest of ways, that can help others and myself. If you feel the same, but are stuck for ideas, here are some things that I have found have helped me, even a little:
Social media slowdown: Many of us talk about quitting social media, but for most of us, that’s not an option. While you may not have to be on everything, you likely have to be on something – to keep in touch with your family, for your job (as someone who relies a lot on online contacts, much as I’d like to sometimes, I can’t leave any of the popular platforms.) But you don’t have to be on it all the time. I took Twitter off my phone to stop me checking it in the middle of the night, and it’s worked wonders (I do, I admit, still check it at odd hours – hello, insomnia – but it’s less of a reflex habit). Maybe decide you won’t check anything after 8pm, or you’ll stop double screening (watching TV with one eye on your phone). Just putting your phone at the other side of the room so you don’t check it every five minutes can break the cycle and give you a much-needed rest.
Reconnect your body with the world: Many of my female friends in particular have found swimming outside (in a lido, a woman’s pool or the sea) incredibly helpful. I always find being near water soothing – the thing I miss most about Brighton is having the sea on my doorstep. If you are physically able, find a sort of exercise that works for you, even if it’s silly – I have a mini-cycle under my desk and have taken to doing 15-minute sessions while singing loudly to trashy pop songs (luckily, I live alone…). I feel better afterwards!
Go for a walk in the part, potter round a historic monument or stately home or a museum or a gallery, go sit in a library or a church or a temple. Sometimes the best way to remember you have a body is to sit around doing nothing in it in a place your mind can wander. Do something that isn’t just about you as a consumer, but that connects you to the environment in a way that matters: whether it’s prayer (if you’re religious – though atheist that I am, I love an old church) or meditation, or just enjoying the way the colours of the sky hit the water.
Take the guilt out of guilty pleasures: All that sounds noble, but don’t stress about how you relax. If you feel the need to spend a whole Saturday binge-watching Good Omens on the sofa for the fourth time – or is that just me? – there’s nothing wrong with that. Stop apologising. The only time you need to worry about such habits is if they are adding up to destructive behaviour.
Support the things you love: Indulging in your favourite pastime – be it going to the movies, bingeing romcoms on Netflix or having a long bath can be restorative. But to combat helplessness and the kind of energy-sapping ennui that the constant stream of terrible news can bring on, action is often better: it makes you feel more engaged and empowered. Even small steps can help. I recently joined the membership schemes of two Newcastle theatres so that I felt like I was contributing to my local arts scene; I donate read books to another, which has an in-house bookshop that raises money for the venue. Donate time or money to a charity you care about; decide to shop consciously for a month by spending your money at indie vendors and small businesses. Knowing you are making a difference to someone’s life or business, however small, can make you feel better.
And you can do this without spending much money (or any at all): write a review for a book you enjoyed, sign up to the Patreon of an artist whose work you like (or buy them a Ko-fi), chuck a few quid in a KickStarter that sounds interesting, review a venue you frequent on TripAdvisor, buy a cup of coffee at a indie coffee shop instead of Starbucks, support campaigns like Just A Card. Recently I have tried to be much more proactive about reviewing any book I enjoyed, but especially those without many reviews. I’ve tweeted and blogged about creators whose work I like, I’ve plugged my friends’ craft businesses; shared reviews of shows I think people will connect with. Many creatives and businesses these days live or die by online visibility: you can help them with a tweet or a share.
Spread positivity online: Platforms like Twitter can often seem like a hellscape, and it’s tempting to vent along with everyone else. But why not try going the opposite for a while? I’m not saying don’t get mad about things you should get mad about – we need to stand up now, more than ever – but also try balancing it out. That show you loved, that book you couldn’t put down? Tell people about it. The great new café that has opened down the road? Say something nice about it. Post a picture of that lovely sunset, your cute cat, those great shoes. It may seem trivial, but I know I am always pleased when someone’s small (or large!) moment of joy pops up on my feed.
Clear some clutter: Some people thrive on chaos, but for most, clutter and mess weighs you down and saps your energy. And having stuff around for ‘one day’ – the dress you will one day fit into, the supplies for the art project that have been sitting there for years, the magazines you plan to eventually get round to – can feel like an never ending to-do list, subtly making you feel like a failure. This goes for digital clutter, too: having 100 films you won’t watch and 50 episodes of a TV series you gave up on years ago saved to your planner is still taking up space. Getting rid of it can create not just physical but mental breathing room. And taking a load of stuff to charity ticks your ‘do something good’ box, so win-win.
Reach out to others: The world can feel pretty lonely these days, and social media can give you a false perception of connectedness: “of course I am in touch with X, I liked their post on Facebook!” But real connection needs two-way communication, even if that is quite brief. That can be online – an email, a private message – but it should be more personal than a smiley face on a status update. Text someone to ask how they are doing. Invite someone out for a coffee. Send them an actual card through the post (most people LOVE post, but rarely get any). Buy a gift for a friend for absolutely no reason other than to see their smile when they receive it. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, even if it’s just briefly, and you could make the day for both of you. (Though do bear in mind these days lots of people find speaking on the phone quite stressful, or assume any phone call is a harbinger of doom: maybe only actually call people you know are happy to talk!)
(Obviously, if you are really struggling you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about seeking professional help.)
Take positive action: One of the most crushing things about the current climate is it is a toxic combination of fury and impotence: it feels too often like those in power act with impunity. Combat this feeling of helplessness by doing something – even if you can’t do everything. Go to a demo, write to your MP, join an action group or set up monthly direct debits for a cause you believe in. Add an extra tin or packet of pasta to your shopping to drop in the food bank collection point. I recently joined culture organisation Arts Emergency, and set up a small monthly direct debit to support them. There are 1000s of small ways to help that can make you feel a little less like you are being swept along on a tide of shite that you can’t do anything about.
None of these things will save the world. But they might make it a little bit nicer, even for a moment, even in a small way. And sometimes that is the little victory that keeps you going for the bigger fight.
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Awesome article! I agree with everything you said. As far as social media goes, we obviously both use WordPress so I can’t claim that I’m completely free from its clutches, but I went on a *nearly* complete social media detox for six months and benefitted greatly. At first, I was very lonely and bored because I didn’t have the constant gratification of “friends” liking every little thing that I did but then I started to notice more friends were reaching out to me either in person or over the phone to catch up. I picked up new hobbies and started exploring my home town, which for some reason a lot of us never do. Social media helps to keep us locked into a routine and I desperately wanted to break free from it.
Now, six or seven months later, I’ve brought a few things back but my use is still extremely limited. I only post on Facebook when I’ve genuinely done something that I feel proud of. I’ll likely never use Twitter again, the only other social sites I use besides Facebook are this one here and Instagram. I feel like I have so much more TIME and my friends care more about what I say because they’re not being constantly bombarded by my inane opinions (that’s what my blog is for haha).
It is difficult when you need some degree of social media for your vocation. As a writer, I’m sure it’s even more necessary than most other jobs. I think your idea of setting up scheduled times, kind of like a job, is a good one. Work whatever time you want your “nine to five” block to be (not necessarily 8 hours exactly!), and then disconnect.
There’s more I could say about the rest of your post but I try to not write novels in people’s comment sections and I have to start getting ready for my actual nine to five! Can’t wait to read more and since I’m a new follower I had no idea you were an author! I am an avid reader and I look forward to checking out your books.
Thanks! And thanks for such a thoughtful reply.