A mere few years ago, struggling with anxiety, I read every self-help article going. And, while I can’t remember the details of each and every one, there was a common theme. Look outward, they said. You’ll feel better if you stop over analysing yourself, overthinking everything, and simply look out at what’s around you. Friends, mentors, helping others, travelling, seeing what the world has to offer. There was an overriding theme of self-help: stop being so damn self obsessed and look at the bigger picture.
It’s struck me recently that our culture has moved in the opposite direction. We’re now selfie obsessed instead, constantly looking at ourselves, critiquing ourselves, adding filters to our faces before allowing anyone to see us; health retreats that tell you to look inwards; improving one’s self is about looks, followers, your brand, being strong not skinny, eating the right foods and filming every step you take, being at the latest ‘cool’ place and photographing it in the right way. Turn 30 and you’ll have endless people and articles telling you that this is the decade of being wonderfully selfish, of taking control, of doing what you want and to hell with any kind of people pleasing. While the latter is liberating, and I’ve definitely noticed a difference since turning the big 3-0, I’m not sure it can be so healthy to live in this ‘it’s all about me’ way.
Don’t get me wrong; I know we have to get to know ourselves, and to move with the times, and I probably sound older than my years already in mourning the past, pre-Instagram Stories and Snap-bloody-everything. But I’d bet money on the rise of this kind of self-promoting, self-obsessing culture being linked to the rise of anxiety and other mental health issues. Though I thought it sounded terribly hippyish at the time, I think those mags and books telling me to look ‘out’ were much more on the money.
If anything, it’s about distraction. Of course being overwhelmed is never good for anxiety and doing too much definitely triggers mine, but having regular plans, pushing myself to stop fretting and get out and do something, to distract myself from the detrimental thoughts that run constantly through my head, is what really helps me feel better. Having an interest in travel, reigniting my love of being creative be it with a piece of charcoal or an iPhone and a great view, listening to new music and learning things I’d never pay attention to before are the things that make me feel smarter, inspired, interested and interesting.
The more I look in, the less I like; the more I find to hate, criticise, obsess over, compare to others. Sure, that’s an issue in itself, but I’ve always believed being up yourself is a terrible trait and I’m not sure constantly looking at yourself is any better for you. In some ways I’m a hypocrite; having a personal blog like this one is probably the equivalent of self analysing, talking about myself or overthinking, only on screen – but I only post when I feel the need or feel it might resonate. In fact, recently, I’ve found it much more rewarding to write for myself, keeping unpublished posts in my precious Evernote app, purely for the joy of writing and getting the words out rather than to seek approval from readers (something which will often leave me feeling anxious, and yep, you guessed it, criticising myself again if the numbers are low).
I’m not slating those who do all the above – I’m part of that scene thanks to the career I’ve chosen – but it feels like the current trend is to be narcissistic, dressed up as self-development. I don’t think it’s going to change for a while, particularly as social media and blogging continues to grow and develop – but already it does feel like the tide may be turning when it comes to self-care. The sudden popularity of all things hygge, the move to video rather than images, or instant photos rather than ones that have been filtered and doctored beyond belief on social media – I think they’re a subtle reaction to the pressure to be a perfect person who has it all, and a step in the right direction for loosening the grip a little, looking up, and looking out. Here’s hoping, anyway.