YouTuber Emily Canham shares what she’s doing to ease the strain of lockdown, her check-list for the hard days, and the incredible way that her community is coming together in the face of one of the biggest challenges of our lifetimes
On 5 April, Emily Canham turned 23. Of course, this birthday was unprecedentedly different to the 22 that came before, and one that will be sure to stick in the mind. As the UK remains on lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of covid-19, Emily spent the day celebrating her birthday at home with her boyfriend and her dog, while staying in touch with friends and family digitally.
At just 23, it’s worth taking a pause to reflect on the things that Emily has achieved so far. At the age of 16, Emily started her YouTube channel which quickly took off as subscribers tuned in to watch her homely lifestyle videos. An ambassador for L'Oréal, in 2019 she collaborated with the brand to create a lipstick – with 50p from every sale going to The Prince's Trust charity. Today, spreading across multiple social media platforms, Emily’s following is in the millions – and she’s here to speak about everything from makeup to mental health. And right now, in the midst of an unfathomably hard time, she’s harnessing the power of digital connection.
As Emily explains as we chat over the phone from our homes, self-isolation isn’t too far away from her normal set-up. As someone who lives alone, and works from home a lot of the time, she notes how – while working on projects – she can often go days at a time without leaving the house. That said, these are difficult times, and – as many of us will relate to – the restrictions and anxiety around the crisis can still creep up on us.
“The difficult thing is having the control taken away, and that there’s no end in sight yet,” Emily shares. “There are days where I’m super productive and I get out of bed at 7AM, and then there are others where I wake up at 9 or 10AM and I don’t want to get out of bed.”
If ever there was a time where a depletion in productivity could be expected, and forgiven, it’s now. From daily briefings that bring us face-to-face with distressing updates, to cabin fever and a shock-break from our normal routines, we’re all having to find a new normal. For Emily, the key to staying positive is to tune in to her needs, and to have the same understanding of herself that she would give to anyone else.
“I give myself a bit of slack and say, it’s OK to have days like this – look after yourself and try again tomorrow.”
It’s a message that we can all note for long after the lockdown is over. Setting realistic expectations for ourselves, and taking a moment to be proud of ourselves for the things that we do achieve can make all the difference. And on the hard days, Emily makes sure that she goes back to basics.
“I have a list on my phone notes, and when I have a bad day I read over this list,” she explains. “I call it: ‘Habits to keep my mind and body happy’.
"There are days when I’m super productive and I get out of bed at 7AM, and then there are others where I wake up at 9 or 10AM and I don’t want to get out of bed"
“I’m a bit of a planner, I like everything to be organised. I take maybe five or 10 minutes before bed to list what I would like to achieve the next day. And if I’m having a day where I’m struggling to feel motivated, maybe it will be something as simple as doing my makeup, or baking something. It could be drinking lots of water, less screen time, getting that one piece of exercise a day – things to make yourself feel more normal.”
Screen time. Desperately scrolling for the latest information, getting caught up in scary statistics, and sorting fact from fiction. That’s the big one for many of us, and it’s one that Emily is being especially mindful of right now.
“I’m trying to only allow myself to have productive screen time. So if I’m watching a YouTube video, that’s totally fine. If I’m interacting with family and friends, perfect. But endless scrolling on social media is just not healthy – so that’s one thing I don’t let myself do.
“When it comes to scary statistics and keeping up with what’s going on, I’m making sure that all the stats that I’m getting are coming from legitimate outlets, and I’m passing the same message to my followers – that if they want to stay informed they need to get it from verified outlets, and not just someone on Facebook or someone they follow on Twitter, because a lot of that stuff is opinion, or it’s not true, and that’s when things get blown out of proportion – and it’s scary.”
That said, there is still so much positivity to be found online at the moment. Emily shares how friends and family have more time to stay in touch, and also of how her community is there for her and each other across the digital lines.
Having started her channel online at the age of 16, Emily has grown up with her audience. Of course, she’s put healthy boundaries in place, but she describes a special bond that she shares with the people who tune into her videos and follow her online. And since the start of lock-down, Emily has gone one step further in harnessing this connection by creating a series of group chats that bring people together to offer support and a place to chat when so many of us are feeling isolated.
“When this all happened, I was on Twitter and people were saying how they were finding it really hard and they don’t like being alone – so I thought, why don’t I create some group chats? You’ll have some people to stay in touch with, you can make new friends,” Emily explains. “So I’ve created a couple of those, and every few days I’m creating a new one. And it’s been amazing for people to have someone to check-in with, and having that interaction.”
Emily’s group chats are evidence of the role that technology can have in harnessing the power of community and connection. But, more than that, they are testament to the open and supportive community that she has nurtured, and the sisterly responsibility she feels for her followers.
"It’s just such a great feeling to know there are people there who really care – without a doubt I’m taking comfort in their messages"
That said, this is a two-way relationship – and the same way that Emily’s followers feel inspired by her content, she is comforted by their support.
“I’m so lucky,” she opens up. “I wake up every day and I have messages from people who say, ‘I hope you are doing well today’, ‘Let us know how you do today’, ‘Hope it’s going to be a productive one!’ It’s just such a great feeling to know there are people there who really care – without a doubt I’m taking comfort in their messages. And with it being my birthday, I didn’t feel alone at all. Everyone made me feel so special.”
As our call comes to an end, I ask Emily whether she has a final message to finish on, and she laughs. “There’s so much I want to say!
“Stay home, look after yourself and your friends and family, and don’t forget to reach out! Everyone wants to have a chat right now, so don’t feel alone.”
If what we give is what we get, Emily’s community is testament to the care and kindness she pours into her connections. And in these difficult times, taking the time to acknowledge the relationships with those around us – both physically and digitally – has never been more important.
Hero image photography | Flavien Prioreau