Do You Need a Break From Social Media?
Last year, for Ramadan, I decided to take a break from social media. I wanted to focus on the things that were important during that holy month and didn't want any distractions or negative energy. The first couple of days were hard. I had gotten used to intermittently checking my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds. But after that it wasn't hard at all. I didn't even really miss it. My world didn't crumble when I stopped using it. The the biggest and more quantifiable difference I felt during that time? I felt happier. I felt less anxious. I felt less depressed. And it got me thinking about how reliant and yes- addicted we have become on social media. And how that directly affects our emotional and mental well-being.
There have been studies showing the direct links between social media and anxiety and depression in young adults and teens. But those same risk factors exist for adults as well. Why? Because sites like Instagram - where we see perfect photos of the amazing lives others are leading (though let's get real here: they aren't living those lives either) and feel a deficit in our own happiness and well being. Not only that, but studies have also shown that when people stopped using certain platforms like Facebook, they experience physiological changes similar to drug withdrawal. For some people putting their phones down feels like an impossible task because of this.
Social media often gives us the illusion that we are communicating with others when we're really not. A friends of ours posts a photo from their vacation and we like the photo and that feels like an interaction. Except it isn't. The false sense of connection winds up having the opposite affect and leaves us feeling isolated. Very rarely do we experience real, engrossing, honest and thoughtful conversation on social media. It can often cultivate the opposite.
Have you ever said something online that you would never say to a person's face? Of course you have. We all have. The anonymity of social media takes away a lot of the social parameters that exist within the real world. Suddenly we are all keyboard warriors throwing out empty and co-opted phrases at one another. I once read something that encapsulated convos on social media perfectly: Two people talking at one another. Neither side is actually listening nor cares to listen and both sides walk away angry.
At no point was this more accurate than during the 2016 Presidential campaign. I was an avid Facebook user during that time. And the conversations I not only was a part of but watched were some of the most vitriolic I had ever seen in my life. It left me feeling angry, anxious and unhappy. And I can say with certainty that it had a direct impact on my depression at that time. We go on social media to share our lives but also to vent our frustrations and share our opinions. Very rarely do we go in attempting to have an honest dialogue. That is not to say that an honest dialogue is not possible. But 140 characters (now a whopping 280) doesn't lend itself to this.
So ask yourself some tough questions? How do you feel after you close Instagram or Twitter? Does it leave you feeling angry, isolated, insecure or anxious? If you answered yes to any of these it's time to take a break. You don't have to do what I did and take a full month off -though it wouldn't hurt. Try taking it slow and simply taking a day off from social media. See how you feel (I'm going to guess that it actually feels great). Then try a weekend, then a week. See how far you can go without reaching for your phone. or logging into your accounts online.
Now if you work in a job that requires you to have a social media presence you may be rolling your eyes at this right about now. And I say roll away. I was posting regularly on my old blog at that time. I was still posting on Instagram and Twitter as well. How? I planned ahead. I planned and scheduled posts both on my blog AND my social media accounts so that I could still do what I love without compromising my detox. There are sites like HootSuite and apps like Planoply that make this possible. So don't make excuses for why this simply isn't possible. It is possible! And again if you absolutely need to be on social media - try taking the evenings off. The point is that you can find a way if you are serious about doing it.
What I have been doing lately is taking small breaks. There are some days when I don't open a single social media app. And those days tend to be my most productive since I am not constantly checking my phone and wasting time scrolling through various feeds.
Social media is a great asset. I don't hate it. It has allowed us to connect with people all over the world. I've made friends that I've had for years through social media. But it cannot and should not be a major part of our lives. Instead of liking that friend's pic - you know, the one you haven't spoken to in ages? Why not text them instead? Or shoot them an email. Social media should not get in the way of our ability to actually BE social.