Expert Advice: How media can help your mental health during self-isolation

Olivia Miller
Picture by Lisa Fotios - Pexels

Dr Dieter Declercq, an expert in satire, comedy and its effect on mental health, comments on what mental health benefits can be provided by media during self-isolation. He said:

‘We seem to have collectively turned to media as a resource to cope with self-isolation; indeed, video on-demand services had to reduce streaming quality in order to ease pressure on broadband networks.

‘The NHS recommends that we should “not stay glued to the news”, which means we need diversion. Entertainment media are often similarly dismissed as ‘mere escapism’, which distract from the serious business of life. Yet, when the serious business of life is seriously worrying, we need some distraction to maintain our mental wellbeing.

‘Entertainment media are diverting because they are designed to stimulate flow states. Flow is an inherently rewarding experience which we achieve when there’s a perfect balance between our skill and the difficulty of an activity. If I play tennis against an equally strong opponent, I can really get fully engrossed in the game. Against a stronger opponent, I may experience anxiety, whereas I’m likely to feel bored playing against an absolute beginner. Similarly, entertainment media offer artistic challenges which perfectly match our skills…

‘The difficulty of games like Candy Crush purposefully increases as we progress through the levels.  Likewise, mystery series, like Dark, become increasingly complex as the plot develops. As artefacts designed for flow, there is a danger that we lose ourselves completely in entertainment media (think binge-watching). But, in moderation, entertainment offers valuable diversion from COVID-19 anxiety. Entertainment media can help to “keep our mind active” (which the NHS recommends), when it offers us a challenge that perfectly balances our skills. In order to achieve flow, we can therefore seek to match our entertainment consumption with our current resources. After a long hard day, MasterChef UK might provide just the right challenge to get into the zone. And if you’ve got the resource, maybe it’s finally time to get into The Wire.’

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