In the six months or so leading up to my social media hiatus, I found myself on Instagram and Snapchat far more than I wanted to be. For a while, I was able to rationalize my time on the apps, but this past December, something shifted. I was no longer watching stories on Snapchat or browsing through the Instagram popular page out of genuine interest, but rather out of instinctual habit. For some reason, this started to unsettle me. So, I made a change — and gave up all social media.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of my social-media-free experience, allow me to provide a couple quick disclaimers.
First, when I say I gave up all social media, what I really mean is I gave up the platforms I frequented the most, which were Snapchat and Instagram. My Facebook and Pinterest accounts are still up and running because, unlike Instagram and Snapchat, the level of attention I allotted to them didn’t feel excessive.
Second, my intention behind taking a break from social media was not because I think it is evil or because I felt guilty for using it. Social media can be an amazing tool to connect with people around the world. Not to mention it’s a prime form of entertainment!
Now that it’s about a month and a half later, I thought it would be wise to do a bit of reflecting.
Why I stopped
2020 was a year for the ages. Let me first acknowledge that I feel unbelievably lucky that my friends and family still have their health amidst the pandemic. That said, it would be impossible to ignore the emotional havoc that the year wrecked on each and every one of our lives. As I’m sure was the case for many, 2020 was a period of transformation for me.
Around October of my senior year, I started debating what life would look like without Instagram. The funny thing is, I’m actually super inactive on the platform in terms of posting (I’ll sheepishly admit that my last post was circa fall 2019). But I was definitely on the app way. too. much. That fall, my roommates and I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, which is essentially about the fact that by using social media platforms we become a commodity for big tech corporations. Now, it’s not to say that the movie itself is what made me delete my social media apps, but it did get me thinking about it.
It wasn’t until a few months later, when I was back with my family for holiday break, that my lofty ideas about turning my social media dark became more tangible. I started feeling bothered by my reflex to check my Insta-feed when I woke up in the morning, only to find that it displayed the same content, just in different photos. I was weary from going on Snapchat and watching stories of people that I hadn’t spoken to in months or even years. It felt ingenuine, and I couldn’t help but feel irked that social media was supposedly designed to make me feel more connected to people, when in reality it was making me feel more and more distanced.
Combined with isolation from the pandemic, the looming awareness of lost relationships, and the fraught state of the country, social media had started to feel almost imprisoning. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, stepping back from my accounts was liberating.
As I anticipated, the first week was the hardest. Filled by the underlying urge to check my phone for updates, tasked with exam season being over, and quarantine orders in place, I had to find new ways to occupy my time. And occupy it I did. Instead of Snapchat and Instagram stories, I made candles and experimented with baking quick-breads. I watched Schitt’s Creek with my parents, played wine-pong with my sister, and took my dog on walks. I got back into reading for pleasure, something I hadn’t made time for since I was a kid. But that was the thing. It wasn’t that there wasn’t enough time in the day. To my amazement, there was more time in the day than I knew what to do with, and I just hadn’t been using it.
Even though pausing social media showed me all the moments I had been wasting on my phone, it also came with a hearty dose of FOMO. In the spirit of candidness, I did log back onto both my Instagram and Snapchat once during my break. The freakiest part was the dopamine rush I experienced when I re-entered into my online personas. Initially, I scrolled through new posts, hungrily consuming all the content that I had “missed out” on. But after about 10 minutes — when the high had died down — I felt satiated. For some odd reason my FOMO was replaced with indifference, and it felt good.
Since the relapse incident, I’ve steered clear of both platforms. And as the weeks have gone by, my sense of urgency to return has become weaker and weaker.
If this was an experiment, I guess I’d say that it worked. Moving away from social media impacted my daily routine and my mental health. And I’m pretty sure it was for the better. But my goal in writing this article is not to shame anyone into pausing their socials. Maybe your relationship with social media has been nothing but healthy. But if it’s ever crossed your mind what life might look like if you said sayonara to your Instagram, I urge you to give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen?
Before taking my social media break, I had this subconscious, irrational fear that when my account went dark, I would be losing a part of myself. Ironically, I found the opposite to be true. Without the drill of checking Instagram and Snapchat, I actually felt more in touch with myself, my thoughts, and my emotions than ever before. After the first week or so, instead of the sensation of loss that I had been expecting, I was pleasantly surprised by the time and energy that I gained.
Related: How to Turn an Identity Crisis Into The Best Experience of Your Life
Logging back on?
To be totally honest, I don’t know how long I’ll stay off social media. The objective wasn’t to create rules for myself, so I didn’t set a time limit on my experiment, nor did I enter it with the intention of signing off social media for good. That said, as I look back on the past several weeks, I can genuinely say that I feel quite empowered. Though in reality getting rid of social media is a small gesture, it has changed my perspective on where I want to invest my time and, most importantly, where I find value in my day-to-day life. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.