On Wednesday, February 7th, 2018, I, Rawan Mostafa, deactivated all my social media accounts. What came next surprised me, and will surprise you. Keep reading.
Okay, fancy declarations and clickbait aside, I really did shut down all my social media for three weeks. It was a very therapeutic experience and it taught me a lot about distractions, self-worth, time management, and what being disconnected is like in a perpetually connected world.
It started on Wednesday evening, when I was preparing for my six hours worth of classes the next day. Even though I had finished my readings and assignments for Thursday, I felt like it took much longer than it should have. I was getting distracted every two minutes or so by checking my social media accounts for memes, or to send snaps to my best friend or to check how many likes my Instagram post got.
I decided on the spot that I will deactivate all my social media to really focus on my studying, which is extra important to me as a fourth year student planning on going to graduate school. Within 10 minutes, I shut off my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, and LinkedIn, and deleted all apps off my phone. Though I did leave Facebook Messenger on because I use it to communicate with coworkers, friends and classmates.
For the next hour or so after I closed my accounts, I found myself incessantly going to my browser, and typing “fac…,” only to realize that I didn’t have an account. I also noticed that I grabbed my phone every 10 minutes to check my social media apps.
The next morning, as always, the first thing I did was grab my phone, to scroll through my apps and check my notifications. This had been one of the main reasons I was late to my classes at times. I would even skip breakfast for these extra few minutes with my phone. But with all my apps deleted, I found nothing to do with my phone, so I got up and got a head start on my day. I got the chance to read news headlines, have a good breakfast, and even do my skincare routine.
Throughout the day, whenever things would get slow, I found nothing to do, which ultimately left me bored. To combat this boredom, I started reading articles I saved for offline reading on an app called “Pocket” and did foreign language lessons through “Duolingo.” In the few weeks I had my social media off, I managed to learn a lot of new words in French and go through a lot of thought-provoking articles.
By the fifth day, I was reaching less for my phone, and coincidentally I was getting less headaches and my eyes twitched less. I also became more resilient and more capable of staying up late to finish my work, because there were no distractions.
However, my journey wasn’t all dandy and productive. I found that those micro-distractions throughout the day had actually helped relieve a lot of my stress. As someone who suffers from anxiety, memes meant more to me than just useless humor. They genuinely made me laugh and were a main way through which my best friend and I communicated. But without Instagram, I couldn’t get my daily dose of anxiety relief. Also, as an international student living away from her family, not having social media meant less interaction with my loved ones, which only increased my sadness and homesickness.
Social media is also a big source of inspiration and a creative outlet for me. Be it recipes and art pins on Pinterest, articles discovered through Twitter and Facebook, or photography through Instagram, I got a lot of the source material for my work as a writer and editor, and even ideas for research as a student, from social media. For example, my Instagram account is a source of pride for me, since it helped me hone my photography craft and even gain an audience for it, which enhanced my self-esteem. Losing social media, in this case, meant losing this inspiration, validation and recognition.
Even though I initially meant to keep my social media off for two weeks, I extended my sabbatical to three weeks. I had a lot of assignments and work-related tasks to finish in that third week that I’m pretty sure would have been impossible had my social media been on. By that third week, I had missed social media but at the same time was used to not having it around. I celebrated submitting all my work on time for that week by reactivating my accounts. Even though it wasn’t a grand gesture, it felt like a reward I gave myself after three long, tiring weeks.
At the end of the day, I realized that social media is good within limits. While it has its benefits, it is still a huge distraction, at least in my case. I think I’m likely to do another cleanse once my workload increases again, because it did enhance my productivity, but at the expense of my stress relief. The most important lesson I got from this experience was that I need to reevaluate my relationship to my social media. I grew to understand them as means of mental health support, inspiration, and emotional connection, but to get these positives, I need to sift through a lot of distractions and time loss. Overall, it was a much more positive experience than I originally anticipated and one I urge you to try for yourself.