The irony is not lost on me; sharing an article on social media about quitting social media! But it cannot be denied that the online world offers a wonderful platform for expressing ideas.
Anyone who knows me will know that I have always been very active on social media. Equally, those familiar with me will know that I am interested in wellbeing, and self-care. On recent reflection, I realised that I hadn’t been properly embracing the act of taking time out. OK, I might sit down with a cup of tea in the evening time, resting my body. But with my phone constantly by my side, and with a learned behaviour of picking it up to mindlessly scroll, there wasn’t much opportunity for my mind to reach a state of true and proper rest. So I committed to a month-long detox from my three go-to social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, while keeping Facebook Messenger. Here’s what I learned from embracing the digital detox.
1. The detox unleashed a desire to declutter.
I felt a massive sense of unease to begin with during the first few days of the detox. The feeling of loss of connection to the virtual world created an uncomfortable buzzy energy within me. I sat with that feeling for a while, which led me to deciding to try to channel this energy for a more positive use. And so began ‘The Great Decluttering of 2017’! My house does not know what has hit it. Black bags are making their way to charity shops at a rate of knots! But it is interesting how, along with clearing the digital busyness from my mind for a spell, I was also motivated to clear the clutter in my physical space that inevitably builds in a small house. Decluttering was almost a form of therapy; the space away from social media triggered an urge to establish space from unnecessary things in my physical surroundings also.
2. The break brought up some hidden emotions.
Understandably, I did not want to spend every waking hour of the month decluttering. So I also began to practise allowing the sense of unease to find a point of settling. Sometimes, I noticed the uncomfortable feeling within me changing. Instead of unfocused, pinball energy, I felt it softening, and I would find myself becoming quietly emotional. I did not feel low, or grouchy, and cannot say that I was upset over anything in particular. I believe it was old emotion that had been stored due to not being properly processed and released. These emotions had been more than likely ‘pushed down’ and ignored, which is easy to do when distraction is plentiful. But it doesn’t make them go away. When difficult emotions arose during this particular month, there was no option to distract myself online, and so there was no alternative but to feel and work through whatever came up.
3. I reconnected with my real self.
Gradually during the month, I noticed that I began to feel more self-assured as a result of being disconnected from stories from Image Influencers on Snapchat. I had been following a few public figures, and it was only when I took the break that I realised that their picture-perfect lifestyle on a constantly updated story was doing my self-esteem no favours. I noticed that a lot of ‘shoulds’ had begun to creep in to my self-talk that wouldn’t usually resonate with the essence of who I am. And it was when I made that connection that I knew that I did not want to return to using Snapchat when the month was over. It is far from my intention to blame the influencers for this reaction in me in any way. They are mostly very clever and talented business people, and are usually very kind and supportive to their followers. Their approach seems to interest the majority of society, but for some reason, it just doesn’t work for me at this moment in time. Each to their own.
4. I began to value my means of expression more.
It would be hypocritical to speak about influencers without acknowledging that the majority of us too are guilty of our social media pages often being a highlight reel of the shiny moments in our lives. I know I certainly am. However, the social media detox challenged me to consider exactly where my motivation lies when sharing content online. I am an expressive person, and I enjoy sharing. But equally, the world of social media turned just as easily for a month without knowing what was going on in my life, and this has made me more aware of the purpose of my posts going forward. I now question, ‘Is the content worthwhile and beneficial, and does it express my essence as a person? Or am I solely posting for the dopamine rush of the red notification flashing to remind me that I am ‘liked’?’ As a result, I intend to try to strike a healthy balance from now on; sharing special moments that I know friends would like to see, along with content that I find interesting that will hopefully inspire or help others in some way also.
5. Being less contactable made me less anxious.
The first week of the detox wasn’t exactly cold turkey, as I was still responding to notifications, in particular, friend requests, on Facebook. This was not for my sake. I was worried about hurting the feelings of others if I left them hanging without a response for a whole month. The pressure of being constantly contactable and the possibility of causing upset to others if I decided to not immediately connect were both very palpable. And so, Week 2, I decided that if I was going to reap the full benefit of the switch-off, it had to be all or nothing in terms of engaging online. I put the fear of hurting people’s feelings on hold for the short term, and in turn I gradually let go of the social worry.
And any positives lessons in favour of social media? I can’t deny that I did miss some aspects of interaction. Two such examples on Facebook were missing out on invites to interesting events, and also not being able to read and share positive posts. Being a visual person, I felt the absence of the beauty of clever photography and inspirational artworks on Instagram. Acknowledging the elements that I missed during the month has allowed me to decide how I would like to interact with social media going forward; less mindless scrolling, more purposeful engagement at certain points during the day. Deleting the Facebook app so that I have to consciously sign in each time that I want to interact, rather than it being an autopilot go-to. In some respects, I am content to be back online and connected again, but I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed falling off the radar completely for a spell too. I recommend giving it a go, and see what you might learn about yourself!