The term “chronically online” has become a satirical way of pointing out that many of us spend more time on our devices than we do off of them. Unfortunately, I am counting myself in that. It dawned on me recently that the amount of time I spend on my phone, specifically scrolling through social media, can’t be healthy. It definitely affects me physically, but it could be damaging my mental health as well. Excessive internet use is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression, and as an already anxious and depressed person, I decided I needed to evaluate the impact that social media was having on my life.
I deleted all social media apps from my phone for one week. Normally, checking social media is a part of my daily routine. I’m on my phone periodically throughout the entire day—including when I wake up in the morning and right before I go to sleep. I wasn’t sure what effect deleting them all at once would have on me, but for better or worse, I made the commitment to last one week without any social media (with the exception of BeReal, because I only spend a minute or two on that app per day). Here is a log of sorts about how that week went:
Friday, august 26
It’s only Day 1, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I already feel an odd sense of relief not having social media on my phone. Being active on these apps can become a task, just like going to school or doing homework—I feel like knowing the latest political drama or TikTok trend is a part of my day. Not having to worry about those things is refreshing, to say the least.
I am noticing some strange muscle memory. I’ve tapped on the spaces where my social media apps used to be on my phone multiple times already. Social media is something I engage in passively a lot of the time, so it’s almost second nature to want to check it. Noticing this behavior in myself is a definite confirmation that I needed to take a break.
saturday, august 27
Yesterday I read almost an entire book in one sitting, and today I’m in the process of reading another one. I haven’t read like this in months, and I have to admit that it’s a lot easier to focus on a book when my phone notifications aren’t constantly alerting me of some new message. I think because I go on social media sporadically throughout the day, I haven’t thought about how quickly that time can add up. I was spending hours on my phone that I now have to spend doing other things. It’s strange, but if it means I have more time to read, I’m not complaining.
It is easy to feel disconnected, though. Several times I’ve had friends tell me to check my Snapchat or TikTok, and I’m reminded that I can’t do those things right now. Social media makes it a lot easier to communicate with my friends, especially those who live far away. There are definitely tradeoffs to giving it up.
sunday, august 28
Getting my homework done is so much easier! Today when I was working on an assignment, whenever I got the urge to check my phone, I remembered that there wasn’t anything on there for me to look at. This can have the opposite effect, though;I’ve been scrolling through random apps like LinkedIn just to have something to look at on my phone. I’m learning that simply being on my phone is something that feels comfortable, and that is something I want to work against. My phone is a crutch, and even though it feels comfortable as I scroll, I know that long-term I will not feel any better mindlessly being on the internet. This week, I’m working on spending my free time reading, getting outside, or even texting friends (even though it’s still being on my phone, I’m actually connecting with people so it feels better than interacting with random people on social media).
monday, august 29
Ugh. I really want to check my phone.
I’ve been so tempted to redownload Instagram or TikTok just to “check” something, but I know that even if I open the app to look for one thing, I’ll end up spending hours staring at my phone like a zombie. The algorithm is designed to keep you scrolling, and fighting against that is surprisingly hard work.
I’m also at the start of a really busy week, which is making me feel overwhelmed and anxious. Normally, checking social media when I feel this way brings me relief—that instant serotonin hit when someone messages you or likes your post is pretty validating. However, I know that those temporary sparks of glee won’t leave me feeling any better in the long run. Fighting against the anxiety in the moment is rough, but I know that resisting the urge to re-download social media will help me feel less anxious in the long-term.
tuesday, august 30
Can I just say: of course Taylor Swift would announce a new album when I’m not on social media! This has been the hardest part of this week by far.
On a serious note, I have been having pretty severe panic attacks this week, and normally when this happens I find social media comforting. I can curl up in bed and watch TikToks or send memes to my friends when I feel anxious, something that I can’t do now. I’m realizing that social media wasn’t just something I enjoyed being on, it was almost a coping mechanism, which is not healthy. Social media gave me a glimpse of relief, but now I have to actually work through these feelings.
wednesday, august 31
I feel like the “glamor” of my social media break is fading away, and I’m ready to hop back on. I keep thinking about what pictures my friends are sharing or what my favorite TikTokers are posting. I’m still determined to finish this week, though. The whole point of this “experiment” was to notice my own feelings surrounding giving up social media, so I’m allowing myself to feel irritated or upset without it. I feel like most people my age would feel the same, which isn’t a healthy thing, and I’m glad I’m recognizing the unhealthy relationship I have with the internet now rather than later.
On a more positive note, I went out for ice cream with a friend tonight, and not having social media made that experience even better than usual. I was able to be fully present in a conversation without feeling that familiar urge to check my phone.
thursday, september 1
Not being on social media feels somewhat normal now. I don’t mindlessly tap at empty spots on my home screen anymore, and I don’t have a constant urge to check social media. I still miss scrolling through Reddit while I eat lunch or liking my friend’s Instagram picture on the way to class, but this experiment has made me be more present when I do things like eat or walk. I had no idea just how often I did these things while staring at a screen! Social media can definitely have a place in my life, but before, it was constant.
Today I also finished my third book this week. I’ve read more this week than I have in the past several months combined.
Looking back, it’s alarming how much time I was spending on my phone. My screen time went down by 26% on average from last week to this week, with my most used apps being YouTube or Spotify, which I tend to use as background noise. Overall, the amount of time my eyes were on a screen this week decreased, which is a win in my book.
So, will I be re-downloading social media? Yes…with some caveats.
- I want to extend my challenge for at least another week or two. I know that if I get social media back today, I’ll probably go back to mindless scrolling and forget everything I learned this week. I want to really break this habit before I bring social media back into my life.
- When I eventually re-download apps like Instagram and Twitter, I want to clear out the people I’m following. I’ll obviously keep my family, friends, and maybe a few celebrities, but all of the junk that usually piles up on my timeline has got to go. I want the time I do spend on social media to be meaningful, not cluttered with things the algorithm has thrown my way.
- I want to spend at least one day a week completely off of social media. As a college student, I can’t spend a full day without the internet entirely, but I want to minimize the amount of time I’m staring slack-jawed at my screen.
The internet is a powerful and necessary tool for many facets of modern life, but there are mental and physical health consequences to unrestricted internet usage. Social media can be a wonderful thing, or it can lead to a downward spiral of internet addiction and health issues. No matter what your opinion on social media is, I would encourage everyone to take a step back and examine the relationship they have with their phone. I’m certainly glad I did.