Getting Sober from Social Media

This could be the shortest article published on Impact’s website. How do you lose social media? Delete the apps for a temporary break- or deactivate your account altogether. No more social media. Easy, right? I wish it had been that easy when I decided to give up social media.

It took me a good month to finally deactivate my account, and I continue to have a love/hate relationship with Instagram (the one social media website I got hooked on).  Although ‘detox’ is an uncomfortable term in reminding us how social media can become addictive, it’s vital for our wellbeing that our social media usage is balanced.

I don’t think social media, or the internet, are the problem in themselves, despite what news headlines might suggest. It’s the way social media is designed and how we use it that can have negative effects on our mental and physical well-being.

The internet can be a positive tool

The internet can be a positive tool. Never before have we had such connectivity and an ability to reach out to people across the globe. Yet, this huge connectivity also brings vast amounts of information which can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve already got a lot on your mind.

My concern over social media is how platforms use algorithms designed to keep us hooked. We get a wave of dopamine with every like or update that pops up on our feed, encouraging us to keep checking. I’ve found coming off Instagram has led to minor withdrawal symptoms, mostly the incessant urge to check what’s online.

Social media platforms are attempting to tackle concerns over their impact on our well-being. But I don’t fully trust these measures as, ultimately, platforms want to keep you using them.  For instance, screen time locks were the first thing I tried when I decided to limit my social media usage. But the locks are incredibly easy to override when you’re caught in a cycle of constantly checking your timelines.

Instagram are currently trialling a version of the app that doesn’t display the amount of likes for a post publicly, thereby reducing the element of comparison. Whilst this is a good idea, perhaps the format of social media, especially image-based platforms like Instagram, inherently encourages self-comparison in the way we selectively post the best bits of our lives?

During a counselling session I mentioned how social media was negatively affecting the way I perceived my body image and personal life as I kept comparing myself to those I followed online. Without thinking about it, I said “I’ve deleted Instagram, for now”, prompting a laugh from the counsellor, as I didn’t seem ready to abandon the site altogether.

Simply deleting your accounts won’t solve any long-term mental health issues you may be experiencing

In my case, I think low self-esteem issues and negative thinking were already problems for my mental health, but these were exacerbated by my social media use. Simply deleting your accounts won’t solve any long-term mental health issues you may be experiencing. But it can be beneficial to take a break and focus on life off-screen, whether you decide to go back online or not.

At Christmas time, the pressure to have the ‘perfect’ holiday can be immense. Spending time away from screens enjoying the present moment can help to relieve that pressure and make the most of Christmas celebrations.

During my detox, I deleted the Instagram app and went cold turkey for a week. Refusing to completely let go, I logged into the mobile browser, but the amount of images and stories flashing onscreen made me feel physically dizzy and overwhelmed.

It can’t quite replace seeing someone in person

My brain had one final justification for keeping Instagram: if I didn’t see what my friends posted and like or comment, I wasn’t staying connected to them and would feel lonelier. Genuine engagement with friends’ posts is a positive way of using social media and leaving comments or sending messages is helpful if you don’t see each other often. But I realised that it can’t quite replace seeing someone in person. Spending a couple hours catching up with a close friend lifted my spirits far more than liking every post on her social media ever could.

If you too are considering a break- temporary or permanent- from social media, here are things I found helpful during my initial detox:

Step 1: Reflect on how you use social media and what effect it has been having on your wellbeing. Are you genuinely interacting with other people or aimlessly scrolling liking posts? If your thoughts stray into rumination and self-comparison, you may want to rethink how much you use social media.

Think like Marie Kondo- which accounts spark joy for you?

Step 2: Curate your feeds– streamline them to absolute necessities. How much information do we really need? Do you need to see the lives of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people you follow, many complete strangers? Think like Marie Kondo- which accounts spark joy for you? Follow people whose posts you enjoy seeing.

Step 3 and 4: Turn off notifications if you find yourself going on social media more often than you might like. One step further is to delete the app and use the mobile browser. If you don’t allow the browser to remember your password and manually log in each time then this slows you down, making interactions on social media more of a conscious decision. Plus the Facebook and Instagram mobile sites have limited functionality and are far more clunky to use than the apps, which can also help discourage you from staying on them endlessly.

In the words of comedian Jonathan Pie: ‘the real world is not on your Facebook feed’- something worth remembering in our increasingly digital lifestyles.

Lauren Winson

Featured image courtesy of Ralf Scherer via Flickr. Image license found here.  No changes were made to this image. 

In article image courtesy of @starttotalkuk via Twitter. No changes were made to this image.

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