Social media is so integrated into our lives these days that it is almost impossible to get away. People use it as a primary vehicle for inviting friends to social events. If you’re not online, you may miss out on chances to cultivate friendships. Or at least, that was what I thought. When I use any social media platform for longer than a few minutes, stopping feels like coming up for air. It is easy to get sucked in and suddenly wonder where your evening went. And what do you have to show for it? Time you can’t get back. I got sick of it. Sick of beating myself up for what I perceived as a shortcoming – my borderline addiction to social media. So, I stopped. Recently, I left ALL social media for a full month and learned a lot.
I joined Facebook around 2007. I was no stranger to social media, as I’d had a MySpace page for a few years by that time. (It is LONG gone now…) In those days, Facebook was a simple place. You friended people you hadn’t seen in years, looked at their photos, and added cute games and widgets to your page. It was fun. I don’t remember when Facebook started allowing people to share news stories/websites and write MUCH longer status updates. I think we will one day look back on that moment as the day humanity collectively took a nosedive into a metaphorical overflowing toilet of our worst traits – selfishness, oversharing, and bullying.
At the end of last year, I was struggling professionally (I still am, actually). My main career is acting. Though I’d been fortunate enough to have plenty of auditions through the year, I didn’t book a single thing my agent sent me on. Even worse, I only got ONE callback. For those of you not part of the tv/film world, my experience actually isn’t that unusual. And yet, every time I looked on social media, all I ever saw was fellow artists happily posting “ZOMG #BOOKEDANDBLESSED”. I should have been happy for them, and I was, but it also took its toll. It was hard not to think that I was doing something wrong, that I was failing. I think people in other career fields probably have similar experiences. Social media can make you feel so inadequate. Unimportant. Useless.
In recent years, I’ve realized that whenever I think about giving something up (coffee, sugar, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram), if I think “I can’t do that,” it is a clear indication that I must. I’ve given up social media for much shorter periods of time – a week, a few days here and there – but I wanted to push myself. I decided I would do an entire month without ANY social media. On New Year’s Eve, I started deleting the apps from my phone and iPad. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram. I left Facebook Messenger intact because it’s direct messaging and isn’t the time-suck the others seem to be. I also instituted the rule for myself that I wasn’t going to mindlessly scroll on ANYTHING. So, no news websites either, unless I was specifically looking something up.
The First Few Days
Being off social media wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The first place I “missed” it was whenever I needed to kill time. Like, if I was waiting in line or if I was early to meet a friend for lunch. When that sort of thing happened, I did something revolutionary. I just WAITED. Without looking at my phone! It’s like I was a cave person! I looked up at the world around me and actually appreciated what I saw. (Mostly, everyone else on their phones. No judgment – that used to be me, too.)
I also found that I missed it in moments of stress. I didn’t realize that I’d been using social media like a pacifier. If I was upset or frustrated, my instinct was to pull up Facebook, presumably to distract myself, or complain to my friends to get sympathy. I actually had to deal with my emotions once I no longer had social media as a balm. I found myself wondering if, in the past, social media actually prevented me from solving my problems. Instead of working for a solution, I had basically been ignoring whatever was wrong.
As Time Went On…
Though my instinct to check social media lessened, it would still pop up from time to time. I noted, on Day 24, that I still got the occasional, mindless thought that I should check Facebook. I also found that I still looked at my phone a LOT, even if I wasn’t using it quite as often. That seems like a whole other problem.
But the good news is, I realized that I was getting more done with my day. I did my work more efficiently, I crossed tasks off my to-do list that had LITERALLY been there for YEARS. I was worried that, without social media, I wouldn’t know any current events. But, I am way too much of a news junkie to have that problem. I just used better means to access news – actual websites, podcasts, and even news broadcasts on TV! How retro of me!
I also feared missing the birthdays or special events of friends. Luckily, my closest friends who knew about my challenge checked in with me way more than I expected. I was actually pleasantly surprised by their thoughtfulness. It made me more thoughtful in turn to reach back out to them. I privately messaged people on their birthdays instead of posting something impersonal on their page. It’s like leaving social media helped me connect better with people.
On February 1st, I signed back into social media for the first time in a month. I had several notifications, but I didn’t feel as though I had missed much. As I write this, I’m 12 days post-return. I’ve left Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram off my phone and iPad and only check them every few days on my computer. I re-downloaded SnapChat, but only opened it once to approve a friend request. If I’m on Facebook for too long, I inevitably get that anxious, self-loathing feeling, and I leave very quickly. I no longer feel like social media controls me. I am in control.
I don’t post this to shame any of you for your social media use. We all do what we think is best, and this is what was best for me. Doing this challenge inspired me to try to give up other things each month this year. I have no regrets that I left social media for a month, considering all I learned about myself. If you’ve been struggling, I hope this inspires you. Everyone online is fighting battles none of us know about. Be kind – to them and to yourself.