Banker Kris Ramirez lulls himself to sleep tagging friends on the endless scroll of memes on his Facebook feed, all sharing a virtual chuckle to cap off yet another day under the cloud of COVID-19.
Tapping the "haha" button is a stress reliever for the 29-year-old, who deals with the twin pressures of work and coping with the pandemic that has claimed nearly five million lives worldwide and sank millions into crippling poverty.
"Yung memes kasi ay parang a sarcastic or funny way of looking at problems or things kasi after work, syempre pagod ka na physically and mentally kaya ayaw mo na mag-isip pa ng mga nakaka-stress," he told reportr.
"Sa dami ba naman ng nangyayari, minsan gusto mo na lang matawa," he said.
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Memes ride the wave of trending topics and pressing social issues. It's no wonder that those funny, sarcastic and sometimes cute posts quickly go viral among humor-loving Filipinos.
Remember the 2020 birthday mañanita of then-chief of the Philippine National Police Debold Sinas? Yes, the one that happened while the country was under lockdown. While the incident resulted in public backlash, it also spawned several memes.
There's also the Manila Bay Dolomite Beach that prompted public discussions for its reason for being. Authorities said it was built to ease the pandemic strain on mental health.
"Baka kasi mamaya ma-high blood ka pa sa galit o sa stress diba? Kaya minsan okay din yung patawanin mo yung sarili mo," Ramirez said, noting that he often checks social media while working for quick laugh breaks.
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Memes generate positive emotions
Memes generate positive emotions that help people cope better with the pandemic, a study published by the American Psychological Association found.
Researchers from Penn State University and the University of California found that people who viewed memes compared with other types of media reported higher levels of humor and more positive emotions, which was indirectly related to a decrease in stress about the COVID-19 pandemic.
"[B]ecause memes generated positive emotions that were in turn related to increased COVID-19 coping efficacy, a path analysis found that viewing memes, as compared with non meme content, indirectly increased COVID-19 coping efficacy," the study stated.
The study, which surveyed 748 people online, also found that people who viewed memes with captions related to COVID-19 were more likely to have lower stress levels about the pandemic than people who viewed memes about other topics.
"Meme captions related to COVID-19 were related to deeper information processing and lower levels of COVID19-related stress than were captions unrelated to COVID-19. Information processing was, in turn, associated with increased coping efficacy," researchers in the study said.
"This finding is consistent with the idea that engaging memes can offer useful perspective, comfort, and validation for one’s own experience, all of which can be psychologically beneficial," they added.
'Quick escape' and 'shared suffering'
For Filipinos, who weave jokes and humor in their daily lives, the relatability of memes helps generate positive emotion to decrease pandemic stress, said University of Santo Tomas Psychology Professor Marie Antonette Sunga-Vargas.
"Memes are relatable. The topics of memes, even though sarcastic yung iba, show problems or issues that we can all relate to. It's like shared suffering. It's finding humor in something negative that we all go through like the pandemic so we feel that even if we're apart we're in this together," Sunga-Vargas told reportr.
Take the memes born out of Health Sec. Francisco Duque III's "winarak niyo kami" emotional outburst after the Commission on Audit flagged "deficiencies" in how his department used P67 billion in taxpayers' money.
The issue triggered public backlash as Filipinos fed up with lockdowns and pandemic problems took to social media to air their grievances--and memes.
"Memes offer a quick escape from all of the stresses and anxieties that we have during this pandemic. Diba, kapag nasa social media ka at may nakita kang meme, natatawa ka even for a short while? So it helps with the coping and getting by," Sunga-Vargas said.
More than the humor, Sunga-Vargas said memes also highlight the creativity of people despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
"The fact that we're still able to think of memes or laugh at them shows how creative we are," she said. "Sa dami ba naman ng problema ng mundo ngayon, we could all use a little laughter to keep our sanity."