Every morning during lockdown, I’ve open up Instagram with a sense of dread.
I want to see what everyone’s been up to but my feed is flooded by hundreds of Instagram Lives of people’s adventures in at-home workouts and bread-baking.
Just seeing those circles lit up makes me feel rubbish – even though I exercise five or six days a week.
Perhaps you’re in a similar boat. We’ve all seen tedious Twitter posts from well-off influencers telling us that ‘it’s OK not to be productive right now’, while they upload pictures of the perfect home office or a twisting split headstand.
If you’re not working out or baking, relaxing is just another thing that many of us feel we’re failing at. Our homes are cramped and cluttered and we can’t switch off. Millennial life aspires to perfection – whether that’s achieving all the things or achieving a blissful state of relaxation.
Mental health is already fragile and being bombarded with ideas of perfection on social media could further reduce your wellbeing during lockdown.
Fuschia Sirois is a Reader in Social and Health Psychology at the University of Sheffield and she says that perfection isn’t just about striving to do your best, it’s about being prone to thoughts about achieving ideal standards and relentlessly trying to reach unrealistic goals.
That can manifest itself in us being overly negative about our own behaviour and overly obsessed with how other people view our achievements. Even if we do achieve the perfect headstand, it’ll never be as straight or strong as our mate’s.
Then there are those perfectionists who set their own standards and aren’t that bothered about what other people think about them.. .but they struggle to appreciate what they’re doing themselves. They’re the types who are probably wishing that lockdown lasted a little longer so they can finish their to-do lists.
‘It’s natural for people to compare themselves to others to get direction when they experience uncertainty. These social comparisons help us evaluate our performance and motivate self-improvement,’ Dr Sirois writes in The Conversation.
But, she points out, that constantly checking social media to see how others are coping with lockdown and lead to repetitive negetaive thoughts and that can ‘increase the risk for depression and distress’.
‘Feelings of not being perfect in the eyes of others provide another reason why perfectionists are at risk for poor mental health during lockdown. Reaching out for help means admitting you’re not perfect. This is one reason why perfectionists are more prone to social disconnection and loneliness.’
The more we watch these Instagram Lives, the more inadequate we feel. Either we’re forced to abandon our workout regimes or we go into overdrive – trying to get fitter than the PTs on our timelines and putting ourselves at risk of injury, exhaustion and disordered behaviour. That’s a familiar scenario in or out of lockdown.
So what can we do to keep a hold of our mental health while appreciating the efforts of others?
Dr Sirois says that we have to show ourselves the same kindness and acceptance we would for a close friend.
If your friend told you that they were starting the day with a 10 mile run before completing five workouts, we’d probably suggest that they were overdoing it and that they needed to chill out. We can see burnout happening to our nearest and dearest but it’s hard to acknowledge when it happens to us.
‘Embracing our imperfections can help us be more aware of our mental health and feel more connected to others during lockdown,’ Dr Sirois concludes.
‘This is an important first step towards reaching out and getting help when we need it.’
That’s something we could all probably do with getting a little better at.
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