health

I Went Off The Grid From Social Media For A Week And My Life Improved In Pretty Much Every Way

by Kim Wong-Shing

It’s 2018, and there are few aspects of our lives that social media hasn’t touched. Apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have changed everything from how we date to how we make money. Since social media is still a pretty new invention, it’s not entirely clear how all these apps are – or aren’t – affecting our minds. One thing is clear, though: I’m always on my darn phone.

I use social media apps on a daily basis. OK, more like an hourly basis. I’ve lost long stretches of time to absentmindedly scrolling through Instagram, and my brain thinks in tweet form automatically at this point. Social media has become such a normal part of my routine that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

But is social media frying my brain? Or does it make me more socially aware? Is it even possible to live life without social media in this day and age? To find out, I quit social media for a week. (Cue dramatic sound effects.)

I predicted that I’d feel a range of feelings: more peaceful and productive, but also lonelier and less aware. For better or worse, social media plays a huge part in how I connect with my friends and keep up with current events. These apps were designed to connect folks, and they’ve been a success in that sense. If nothing else, we are connected.

Users spend an average of two hours per day on social media. For me, most of that time is broken into tiny chunks – checking Twitter while I’m waiting for a friend, or posting an Instagram photo while my water boils – which makes it feel like I’m always connected. Too connected, perhaps. I ingest a steady diet of upsetting news, preachy Instagram captions, and heated Twitter debates throughout the day. The hectic pace never slows down.

All this connection is emotionally taxing. It’s also completely absorbing; it’s hard to step away without feeling like you’re missing out on something.

But I was determined to unplug.

Hi, My Name Is Kim, and I’m Addicted to Instagram!

Hi, My Name Is Kim, and I’m Addicted to Instagram!
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Contrary to what it feels like, social media addiction is not an official medical condition; you won’t find it in any lists of diagnoses. When I do force myself to put my phone away, I don’t shake or ache or experience any withdrawal symptoms. I’m not actually addicted to my phone, so why is it normally always in my hand?!

Basically, it’s because social media makes you feel good. Picking up your phone to check Instagram for the millionth time in the past 10 minutes is the emotional equivalent of reaching for another Flamin’ Hot Cheeto (the best snack): It’s satisfying, and it never gets old.

Courtesy of Author for LittleThings

Having an audience for your ideas also triggers happy feelings – which is why Instagram stories are so fun. My (entirely too frequent) dog videos wouldn’t be as fun if I couldn’t share them with all my followers. Each like and reply and repost is as satisfying as dessert.

Except it’s not that simple. Social media makes you feel bad, too.

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For example,  I can be sure that, if I open Twitter, I will feel awful and enraged at some point in the next five minutes. Researchers have also found that social media use can lower self-esteem, and bad moods spread across the internet like a virus.

So the real question is: Does the good outweigh the bad?

Time to find out.

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye
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At the start of the week, I quarantined all of my social media apps in a hidden folder on my iPhone. (The fact that I didn’t delete them entirely is a testament to how hard it is for me to break away from these apps.)

The first day was a lot easier than I thought. I may be a heavy social media user, but I’m also extremely stubborn and good at quitting things. I didn’t slip up even once.

So This Is Productivity!

So This Is Productivity!
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By the next day, though, I became bored. I’m the girl who checks Instagram while watching Netflix, so there was a significant gap in my life where social media used to be.

The good news? I did so much stuff instead! I read an entire book, and I went on walks.

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I also doodled, watched movies, wrote in my journal, talked to my friends, listened to podcasts, researched random curiosities, played music, cooked real meals, and did yoga.

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At one point, I listened to a nonfiction audio book while doing yoga. What?! And the next day, I made chicken stock from scratch. WHO AM I?

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Outside of nurturing my hobbies, I also caught up on emails, had a consultation with a life coach, and made progress on some writing projects. At work, I was able to focus so much more easily without social media distracting me.

There Are a Million Ways to Avoid Leaving the House

There Are a Million Ways to Avoid Leaving the House
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When in doubt, watch TV.

You’ll notice that, aside from walks, the above activities are indoor-only. I work from home, and I’m an introvert, but for some reason, I thought I would spend my social-media-free days going on runs, attending art events, or actually spending more time with my friends. You know, leaving the house occasionally?

But nope – it turns out that my homebody ways are not related to social media. At all.

 

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I don’t even like cooking, but if it can occupy my time without forcing me to leave the house, I will happily become Betty Crocker.

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Four days into my challenge, a friend texted me to ask whether I was alive. Indeed, I too was unsure whether she was alive. We don’t text every day; we mostly interact through tweets and Instagram DMs.

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This friend, like a lot of my friends, lives in another city. It can be hard to keep track of each other when we all have jobs, partners, and travel plans to distract us. I missed the ability to just type in a name, see what that person was up to, and say a quick “hello.”

Not having this ability, though, made me reflect on which friends are most important in my life. Staying in touch with people is great, but my priority should be the friends whom I see on a regular basis, the friends who feel like home even if it’s been six months, and the friends who check in when I suddenly stop posting dog videos every day.

The Pros and Cons of Missing Out

The Pros and Cons of Missing Out
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I’m accustomed to going on my phone, seeing or reading something upsetting, and going into a stress spiral. Every day. Without access to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, there was suddenly no stress spiral – even the regular news is less stressful than social media. It was relieving, but it also felt weird and wrong, like forgetting to wear a bra. I was worried that, in exchange for peace, I was missing out on all the important stuff.

To see whether that was true, I asked my friends whether I’d missed anything big on social media that week. They told me about a viral hashtag, #JusticeForJunior, which draws attention to a brutal Bronx murder. They also shared some good news about a local election. That was pretty much it. For the week.

There will always be other things to miss, but as it turns out, what feels urgent on social media usually doesn’t feel like it when you’re unplugged.

However! Social media gives me more than just stress. It also offers hilarious meme after hilarious meme. My friend texted me screenshots of a couple funny Instagram moments, but honestly? I really missed the humor and camaraderie of social media.

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I wouldn’t say that I felt “out of touch,” though. Bear with me while I get a little cheesy, but I became more in touch – with myself. I did little kind things for myself — like place crystals on my work laptop, take yoga breaks, and draw self-care reminders — that I don’t normally do.

Going without social media has both pros and cons, but for me, taking a break improved my overall well-being. Sure, I missed delighting the internet with my lovely dog videos, but I spent just as much time actually playing with my dog as I always do – and a lot more time taking care of my real-life needs.

It’s not really about the hours that I got back from social media; instead, it’s about the energy. Disconnecting from social media reduced my stress level and freed up a ton of energy in my brain to focus on other things. It forced me to get more creative and intentional with how I spent my time, and once you get that ball rolling, it’s all uphill from there.

I don’t think I’ll ever quit social media entirely. There’s a flow of news and information that happens on social media and nowhere else, and as a writer and a person who cares about the world, it would be irresponsible for me not to tune in. Also, sue me. I love the memes. But after spending an entire week away and not missing much, I understand that “tuning in” doesn’t need to happen hourly, or even daily. Literally nothing is that urgent. A few times a week will do just fine.