I knew I had a problem when I couldn’t remember what I had watched in the TikTok that I just scrolled through. The term “mindless scrolling” took on an entirely new level of “mindless,” and picking up my phone at the slightest feeling of boredom became my first instinct. Scrolling through unnecessary amounts of media to the point of mental exhaustion is not a new problem affecting young people, but it remains a near-impossible habit to break for many of us.
Thus, I decided to take on the daunting task of limiting my use of social media. I scheduled six-hour “shifts” every day where I would delete Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, my top three most used platforms. I wanted to see if I could find the magical inner peace that so many self-help Youtubers claimed to have discovered upon quitting social media.
I’ve heard lots of praise from people about the benefits of taking a break from the internet, but very few talk about the initial phase of unexpected side effects. In the first few days, I didn’t feel calmer, rather I was on edge and even disoriented. After focusing on a task for about 15 minutes, I would instinctively pick up my phone and then put it down right after, realizing that there’s nothing for me to look at. This action of picking up and putting my phone down multiple times a day made me realize just how much social media affects my ability to focus on one thing at a time. In order to understand how to break this habit, I turned to Google and discovered the concept of overstimulation.
Stimulation is all about the motivational or pleasurable hormone in our brains called Dopamine. “We live in a world where things are designed to be as pleasurable as possible,” says Youtuber Joey Schweitzer. And social media, full of short-form content curated specifically for our interests, is a perfect example of this “supernormal stimuli," desensitizing our brains to receive extra high levels of Dopamine. And thus, the mundane but important tasks in our life become boring and unbearable compared to the rush of rewarding hormones of supernormal stimuli.
Once I finally understood the science behind why I can’t do any chores without music, I thought I was stuck with this brain forever. However, the good news is that our brains can be reprogrammed back into a healthier state. By taking breaks from supernormal stimuli and forcing ourselves to focus on one task for longer periods of time, we can make mundane parts of our lives feel a lot more exciting, and break the cycle of unproductivity.
It was around the fifth day of limited screen time that I finally noticed some positive changes in my mindset, and learned some unexpected things about myself. For instance, I realized that when I consume short videos, images or news clips one after another, it results in this feeling of sensory overload, causing an unexplainable exhaustion. In fact, once you get used to it, you don’t even realize that it’s there. However, after this week I felt a significant increase in energy. I also realized how much some of us are addicted to multitasking. I had to remind myself that sometimes it’s okay to sip a cup of coffee and stare at a wall instead of scrolling, or take a study break and put my head down instead of scrolling. These small five-minute changes were key in creating an uplifting mindset and increased energy.
Overall, quitting social media definitely has its pros and cons. While it results in a better long term change in mindset, one may feel distanced from their friends or feel like they’re missing out on trends and memes. While a social media break is something to tackle at your own discretion, it's definitely a rewarding experience, especially if you’re a young person who has never known life without it. You may just acquire new lessons on the importance of moderation and the active process of self care!