Cute Memes May Help Cope With Covid Stress, Study Finds

Viewing memes related to Covid can improve your mood and help you cope with pandemic stress, according to a recent study.

The study, published Monday, shed light on how different types of posts can affect a social media user’s emotions, which can influence overall mental health.

Jessica Myrick, co-author of the study and a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies the psychology of media use, told NBC News that watching memes won’t necessarily cure you of all stress. But research has found a “direct link” between feeling positive emotions after seeing memes and a “stronger ability” to cope with stress.

“People said that after seeing the memes they were more satisfied, or amused or relaxed,” said Myrick, co-author of the study with Nicholas Eng, a doctoral student at Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State, and Robin Nabi, professor of communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“They then said they were more confident in their ability to cope with the stress associated with life during this pandemic era,” Myrick said.

The research comes amid a new wave of skepticism about the impact of social media on mental health, as young women in particular are subjected to unrealistic and highly altered beauty standards.

The study, however, suggested that memes not only provide mood-boosting entertainment, but can also serve as a valuable communication tool for spreading information about stressful issues, like the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the study, which was published in a special issue of Psychology of Popular Media, the researchers showed 748 participants various images. Half of the participants saw text superimposed on a colored background, similar to a Facebook post. The other half saw pictures of cute animals, which either had a fun non-Covid caption or a Covid-related quip.

A non-Covid meme, for example, showed a studious Chihuahua wearing a black turtleneck and square glasses captioned “me when I call him Tar-jay instead of Target”. The version linked to Covid showed the same image and said: “me when I call it Covid-19 instead of rona”.

Participants who viewed images with captions related to Covid reported lower levels of Covid-related stress. Seeing the same image with an unrelated Covid caption did not reduce Covid-related stress, but attendees said they felt more positive emotions than those who saw the Facebook-like text boxes.

The study also suggested that information processing is associated with better adaptation. Participants who saw memes related to Covid reported thinking more deeply about what they saw than when they saw non-Covid memes, in addition to feeling less stressed by the virus.

“So you don’t necessarily have to avoid what is stressing you out,” Myrick said. “Instead, seeing this funny and cute social commentary about it actually seemed to help people feel less stressed about it and think about it more.”

The fact that participants said they thought more deeply about examples related to Covid shows that memes can be an effective communication tool for spreading information.

Ricky Sans, head of Instagram’s strategic partners for memes – a role he described as a “memes liaison” for the creators – said major memes accounts had pivoted to posting related lightweight content. to Covid last year.

“This is how people communicate. … It’s not just a little fad or an image; it’s really a container for the way we express ourselves, ”Sans said. “When we started locking in, a lot of the memes community instantly evolved and adapted their creative strategies, and I think they realized they had massive platforms to help people. “

Accounts like Saint Hoax, who has 2.9 million Instagram followers, were early supporters of promoting pandemic safety measures, such as social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks.

Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube have partnered with the World Health Organization to educate users on limiting the spread of the coronavirus and to dispel misinformation. Sans noted that health information was particularly well received on Instagram when transmitted via meme.

But that doesn’t mean that viewing memes will erase anxiety completely. Myrick’s takeaway was that people can better organize their social media feeds to deal with stress. The fact that participants who saw cute memes reported more positive emotions than participants who saw only text boxes shows how much different types of content can influence mood.

At the start of last year, the World Health Organization recommended limiting media consumption about the coronavirus to alleviate stress. It is not reasonable to avoid stressful content entirely – reading press articles on Covid-19, natural disasters or political updates is necessary to stay informed.

Medical experts, like those at the Cleveland Clinic, recommend a variety of tools for managing stress: from meditation to deep breathing exercises to walking. Some of these techniques, Myrick pointed out, may not be feasible at this time.

But watching healthy content – like the baby animal memes researchers showed participants – can be an easy respite from the cacophony of online talk and breaking news. The cute content may seem frivolous, but it can be used as a “quick fix” throughout the day for a little mood boost.

This study, Myrick said, shows how people can browse social media more carefully. Rather than endlessly perusing Facebook’s headlines and crass arguments, Myrick encouraged users to be mindful of how they feel when they consume certain types of content. If you may feel anxious when reading articles about vaccination rates, do not read the risky comments section when you are finished. Instead, take a break and watch cat videos on TikTok.

“It’s okay to start scrolling fate, but [important] to possibly notice it and think about why you are doing this, ”Myrick added. “Maybe it’s because you’ve had a bad day, or something difficult happened at work, or seen too much bad content. Understand: “I need to take a break or change the media type. “

Myrick also recommended managing your social media feeds to include healthy content, whether that’s using the platforms differently or making an effort to follow certain accounts so that stressful content is interspersed with more positive content.

Sans noted that he is not an expert on mental health, but said he finds it helpful to follow the mental health memes creators on Instagram for stress relief. These accounts often post affirmations, remind followers to take a break from doomscrolling, and standardize mental health care with refreshing and honest content.

Creator Aiden Rata, for example, is known for posting surreal guided meditations that are as funny as they are calming.

Social media can take its toll on mental health, from promoting unattainable beauty standards to reducing human communication to rabid quote tweets.

The study, however, suggested that you don’t need to opt out of social media altogether. You may just need to temporarily disengage, take a break from some healthy content, and come back later.

While many view online media, and the research surrounding it, as silly, Myrick sees it as an increasingly important tool, especially during times of isolation.

“It’s not a frivolous business to watch memes because you know other people are laughing at them too,” Myrick said. “You can share it and bring the ability to cope with stress to other people as well. It’s not just a waste of time watching.

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