How I Switched Off Social Media For Two Months and Found My Sanity
Anxiety, depression, FOMO - yes, social media might be triggering all of it. Here’s science to prove that.
(Bollywood actor Aamir Khan has said that he will keep his phone off and be on a digital detox to concentrate on filming his upcoming projects. FIT is reposting this story in that light.)
About four years ago, I realised what a sham and an endless vortex of futility social media is. Hence, I took the next logical step - deactiactivated my Facebook account. Cut to a few months later and I found myself joining a digital media organisation, and social media, once again, became a necessary evil.
Fast forward to about three years later when I took a two-month-break from work and therefore it was time to go back to the quiet life again. While Facebook was deactivated once again, after all these years, I cut down my activity on other social media platforms too, namely Twitter and Instagram.
As expected, I became more productive - simply because I stopped spending all my time endlessly scrolling through my Instagram or watching stories of people I’ve not seen in real life in years.
I was also calmer, there was no longer the need to show or share with a thousand followers what I was eating, reading or watching. The world did just fine without my two cents on the burning issues of gender, politics or art. In all, there was nothing I had lost. And if this report is to be believed, I was also less inclined to feeling lonely or isolated.
Now all of this is just personal gyaan. It worked for me, but is there any scientific basis to it? Turns out there is.
Social Media Updates Cheer You Up? Here’s What Science Says
Borrowing from a previous story of mine, there is a reason why we are so fond of our posts, updates and notifications. A social media update is like receiving a dopamine shot. Dopamine, also known as the “reward molecule”, controls the pleasure system of the brain.
It is stimulated by unpredictability, a Pavlovian promise of reward and what we can safely term as information-tease. This explains why social media validation can cheer you up and why small bits of information in the form of tweets or short texts get you more hooked by not fully satisfying.
Though you may feel the high, it’s soon followed by a low. My distance from social media thus saved me from emotional exhaustion of this kind. Would it be too far to then say that because of this distance, I had more resources to invest in things that truly mattered and would help better with my emotional state?
Social Media IS Causing Anxiety
According to a study carried out by Anxiety UK, frequent use of social media affects your mood negatively.
Further investigation (as part of the study) revealed factors such as negatively comparing themselves to others, spending too much time in front of a computer, having trouble being able to disconnect and relax, as well as becoming confrontational online, thus causing problems in their relationships or job.Anxiety UK
It further pointed out that most people don’t consider it proper relaxation unless they are entirely switched off from their accounts/devices.
The study also found that 45 percent of people who are not able to access their social networks or email feel worried or uncomfortable as a result. And perhaps most surprising, 60 percent of respondents said that they felt the need to switch off their mobiles/computers/smartphones in order to have a break, with one in three of them saying they switched off several times a day.Anxiety UK
Depression, FOMO and Loneliness
Without even realising it consciously, social media actually begins to pit us against each other. Everyone's flexing their muscles, travelling, eating fancy meals, basically sharing an extremely curated version of their reality, or giving an uncomfortably intimate account of their depression or anxiety. While it sometimes acts as encouragement for others to talk about it too, it can also trigger a sense of loneliness or not leading good enough a life in others.
In fact, researchers go ahead to say that limit your social media time to an average of 30 minutes a day to feel less depressed.
So, when even Paris Hilton, someone whose personal brand is built a lot around the virtual space, can say (at 8:45 in the video) in a recent interview, “ I can’t even imagine if I had social media back when I was a teenager. I feel very lucky that I grew up in a time when there was none of this”, all I can reply with is, I feel you, sister, I feel you.
Breathe Easy, No One Really Cares
Before I went on a break, there were days when I was still overly active on social media, and according to a screentracking mobile application, I would spend as much as FOUR hours on Instagram! Later, I wouldn’t remember a thing because I was just seeing SO much content without registering anything. I would expect friends who were seeing my posts to remember them, would start conversations based on them only to be met by blank, clueless faces since they didn’t remember anything either.
I think the most liberating realisation during these two months (it had been building for months, the quiet finally concretised it) was that no one really cares. Say it after me and feel a weight lifted off your shoulders - no one really cares. Everyone is so preoccupied with their own social media, that chances are that five minutes later they won’t even remember a bad picture or lacklustre caption on your profile.
Is Social Media All Bad?
True, it allows people the space to stay connected with each other, especially people with social anxiety, who don’t like going out or be in unfamiliar situations. It has also allowed the space for people to talk about mental health and other dark, intimate secrets that they may not be able to discuss elsewhere. But how far is too far?
Has this made us more self-absorbed? More centred around the ‘I’? Are millennials becoming more and more delicate, sensitive and self-obsessed? I definitely became some of these things for a period of my life.
Yet, here I am, sharing with everyone what my relationship with the virtual space is like. Is there any breaking out of this cycle at all? Hit me up if you’ve figured it out.
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