When we stand together, we can succeed together. We can support and encourage one another. But this only happens in our smaller, more intimate groups. The fourth industrial revolution has slowly edged us into a communication environment that is overwhelmed with information.
We are learning that whilst we can stand together in powerful support, we can also suffer together. A burden indeed shared is a burden halved, but if we’re not aware of it, the cumulative stress of those around us becomes additional stress for us.
This means that whilst we’re battling our own stress, we’re also taking on the stress of our collective unconscious.
This is known as the allostatic load: “the wear and tear on the body” that accumulates as we are exposed to repeated or chronic stress. As we scroll through our social media channels late at night (instead of getting an early night…), the algorithms feed us information that shows people behaving with less tolerance, forgiveness and empathy.
It’s because this keeps us scrolling for a few seconds longer.
Mass media, for decades, has known that bad news sells. Social media has taken it to an exponentially higher level. It’s mentally corrosive and erosive, all at the cost of public interest – purely to remain interesting to the public.
It would be lovely to simply silence the onslaught of media and messages that cling to the virtual platforms that we use to engage with our family, friends, colleagues and customers, but we’re too far into the 4IR to turn back now. We need a different strategy to regain our sanity – and sustain our sanity.
Clean your feed
Begin by boycotting the channels that happily fill your head and mind with a worst-case view of what’s going on in the world and, in the process of doing it, make you sad or angry.
Be more proactive on your social media channels. Hide or unfollow posts that are bating or triggering you.
Choose trust over mistrust
If we can break the natural circle of societal mistrust that has grown over the last decade, we can begin to rebuild a circle of trust in its place.
This isn’t about blind trust – if someone is being a bully online, we should shut them down. It’s about retraining our brain to realise that not everyone is out to spread malignant information. If we can slow down our reactionary time and squeeze in some reflection before responding, we can improve our ability to filter the riff-raff from the genuinely benevolent.
Avoid putting a spotlight on drama
We’ve become masters at making mountains out of molehills, and we have to keep our overreactions in check! Catastrophising is an extraordinarily debilitating trait because it is a trigger for anxiety, stress and depression.
Late night (or 3am) browsing is often a recipe for terrible decisions. We’re tired and emotionally vulnerable at these times – it’s not a great state for responsible online engagement. Put boundaries in place, both on what you’re seeing and when you’re seeing it.
In her blog – How To Stay Sane In A World Of Pain – Zoë Clews offers this advice:
Know what you’re in charge of – for good mental health, it’s important to understand these three areas:
Locum of control – what time you get up, what you choose to put into your body, whether you pay your bills on time – this is you being in charge of yourself.
Areas of influence – these are the things we can influence, but not directly control. They might include helping someone to quit smoking or persuading a friend not to go back to a toxic ex. Once we have done what we can to influence, we have to be ready to let go regardless of the outcome.
Things we can do nothing about – this covers things like whether an asteroid is going to destroy the Earth in your lifetime. These are the situations that really aren’t worth worrying about, and it’s these things that the media revels in telling you about. In the end, your anxiety and stress just feeds your sense of powerlessness.
If you really feel you can exert enough control and influence over something to make a tangible difference, then do it – the world needs more people like you. But be circumspect enough to be able to recognise when a situation is beyond your mastery.
We reclaim our sanity with intention, intention to do better and be better. If we just go with the tide of a dangerous shoreline, we’ll be bashed about by the waves and sucked in by the undercurrents. Every choice we make is a reflection of our mental health and will either help or hinder those around us.