Monday, 5 January 2015

Mindful resolutions

Lots of us make new year's resolutions. A new calendar, new diary, and a complete change in date is a good opportunity to look over the months gone by, take stock of your life and think about what you'd like to change for the better. Whilst the idea that everyone's doing it can add a level of pressure to proceedings, it can also be a way to share the experience of striving for progress. Thanks to social media, there are more ways than ever to talk about your goals for the year and look for support in the changes you're hoping to make.

Posting about your promises to yourself and asking people to cheer you on is, in and of itself, a healthy and generally positive thing to do. However, it can be easy to get carried away. Posting updates every few days or so is one thing, but posting every day - or even every few hours, as some people seem to do - is a practice to approach with caution. Why? Firstly, it can put a lot of pressure on you to be seen to comply with a self-imposed obligation, which can encourage anxiety and negative self talk. Secondly, depending on what your stated goals are, it can be detrimental to the people around you.

The most obvious example to talk about here is weight loss. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are often silent. People who live with them, or have experienced them in the past, may not talk about them due to the stigma of discussing mental health issues, or the shame they may have internalised about their bodies. Others may be on the long road to accepting and feeling positive about their own bodies - or, indeed, may have resolved to become more comfortable in their own skin this year without bowing to the pressure to change - and will perhaps not appreciate having other people's weight loss rubbed in their face.

For those who have resolved to lose weight and want to be accountable, consider filtering your posts - by altering your Facebook settings or using specific hashtags on Twitter, for example - and give people a chance to opt in if they want to hear more about your efforts and cheer you on. This gives you the best of both worlds: you get the encouragement and reassurance you need, and those who would find those posts upsetting to read can continue unaffected. (If this is your goal, remember to check in with yourself to make sure your approach is healthy - eating disorders are not at all pleasant!)

Be careful with exercise-related posts, too. Trends like fitspo often employ disablist language and sentiments, urging people to push past their limits in a way that might be unhealthy or simply shaming those who don't exercise a certain way, even if their reasons for avoiding it are valid. Personally, my mobility problems increased in severity over the course of 2014, and I am still in the process of grieving what I have lost. This makes posts from fitness enthusiasts upsetting to see. I am not alone in this.

Similarly, if your quest is to "be happier" or similar, avoid posting "inspiration porn". By this I mean those pictures - usually of mountain landscapes, or sunsets, or women standing on rooftops and staring into space - that come with allegedly motivational slogans. Again, many of these are disablist in their assumption that certain types of physical inactivity, or lack of motivation, or negative thoughts and feelings are due to an inadequate mindset or lack of thought, when in fact they may be caused by mental illnesses or other concrete and legitimate life events. Encouragement is generally best if it's personalised and presented with people's particular circumstances in mind, rather than generalised to the point of cliche. Discussing your personal journey towards happiness or greater fulfilment is a healthy and often brave thing to do, as it can entail admitting to vulnerability; however, it is important in this - and all other things - to be kind, both to others and to yourself.

If you have been coming across material like what I've described in this post and it has made you feel upset or inadequate, know that your feelings are valid and legitimate and that you are not alone.

Whatever you are doing, and whatever your end goal is, be mindful, and be kind.

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