Lessons Learned After Taking Time off Social Media
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Have you ever gone to hang out with your friends only to find all of you sitting on the couch together on your phones? Or have you ever been excited about a red light because it meant you could check snapchat for 30 seconds while driving?
Have you developed that slight of hand skills of a magician in that you can hide your phone when a teacher walks by in a class you aren’t meant to have your phone out in?
Taking time off of social media must seem so laughable to you. To me, it was a marathon of epic proportions.
In case you didn’t notice from my quickly growing snap score or my excessive following on my Instagram account, I used social media a lot. I always got lost mentally in my snapchats when I would check my phone. A single snapchat could take me away from a vacation moment if I even dared to sneak a glance at it.
It happened during winter break, when I was more excited about posting a picture on Instagram than I was about a secret santa party that one of my best friends was throwing. I ended up spending that entire party snapchatting a guy I thought I liked rather than talking to the people at the party. I ended up leaving that party not knowing half of the people that were there because I had made no effort to introduce myself. I was more worried about responding to snapchat’s than I was with talking to new people.
I went home that night and thought about the party, and I wasn’t happy with myself. This party was the last straw. I was feeling anxious, depressed, worthless, and inadequate. I was far from doing okay, but on social media I was so good at looking put together and happy. I had become so good at snapchatting a lot of people everyday and looking happy in all of them. I had reached a whole new level of obsession towards social media, and as a result, no action seemed too drastic. Getting away from all social media seemed like the easiest way to get a fresh start and to learn to love myself again. (Even though my former self, a seventh-grader who had begged her parents for an Instagram profile, would have been so astounded by this decision.)
At first it was terrifying. I wanted to re-download Snapchat and Instagram everyday. Suddenly I didn’t have Snapchat to lean on during times of boredom or awkward social situations. I continued to constantly and desperately check my phone despite the lack of any notifications.
Taking six months off of social media was one of the toughest things I have ever done, but what I learned, shocked me.
6 Lessons I Learned On My 180 Day Social Media Fast:
Lesson #1 – The world keeps spinning.
One of the lessons I learned during my break from social media was that I had a very real fear of missing out on something. I didn’t know what I was missing out on, and it wasn’t anything specific… just something. That is probably worse than knowing what you are missing out on. Of course, this is not new. I think every human alive has experienced that feeling of missing out at some point in their lives. I discovered that social media is an easy way to magnify that fear. I think that is because there is more to know about and more people to know everything about.
I would check Instagram constantly as to not miss a single post. I commented on so many posts a day and liked every post I saw. I became obsessed with knowing everything. My relationship with social media became toxic and unhealthy so quickly due to the fear of missing out.
Lesson #2 – I was posting for the wrong reasons.
This realization came to me quickly. I was at dance and we were doing a combo and immediately, I felt the urge to have someone film me doing the combo to post on social media. Here’s the thing, I will still post things I have done that I am proud of. However, what I noticed that day was why I was wanting to post that video.
Well, for me, I wanted people to know I was doing a great combo. I wanted people to think I was a good dancer. I wanted to impress people. I wanted to be liked. Not just “get” likes, to BE liked.
It was both an awful and powerful revelation at the time because I realized how I’d been showing up on and around social media. This allowed me to realize that I had been posting for the wrong reasons. Not that those reasons are “wrong” as in bad, more like wrong because it’s not healthy behavior based on who I am committed to being in my life.
Lesson #3 – I don’t have to document every moment of my life.
For the record, I love social media and the social outreach it allows a person to have. But, if I allow social media to control me and my experiences rather than me controlling social media, my life gets interrupted. And I think those interruptions turn into incomplete experiences and memories.
For example, when I would hang out with friends, I would take lots of pictures with them. And I would spend the whole time with my friends thinking about the mechanics of how I was going to post it on social media rather than being present in the moment. As you know, the simple pause to post on Instagram often leads to a series of events that can lead you down a rabbit hole.
In short, by pausing to post in the middle of an activity, you miss out on the power of that moment. And the excitement and the energy surrounding that moment can be lost. If a moment truly is picture-perfect, then relax. Social media will still be there later. Post it then. Don’t miss out on the power of a moment to post something on social media.
Lesson #4 – I’m not that important.
I often would respond to a snap in the middle of my family dinner as if I was a brain surgeon who must reply. Almost as if people would perish without my witty remarks. But very few of my online followers noticed my absence. Get this, apparently everyone I used to Snapchat have their own lives and families. Turns out I’m not that important, and that’s okay.
Lesson #5 – I realized how many other people are on their phones.
Upon taking a break, I began to judge other people who were on social media every moment of their day. It’s fun to judge them, but it is also a bit scary. At lunch, I would watch whole tables of people just stare at their phones while they clumsily tried to carry out a conversation with their friends. People would text each other from across the lunch table. Seeing this made me realize that I used to do the same thing. Imagine how many conversations I have missed out on due to my lack of attention to the real world.
Lesson #6 – Taking a break helped me realize what’s really important.
Social media would make me become overly concerned about other people’s lives and I would get jealous and judgemental. I would become attached to people I would only talk to on Snapchat as if they were my close friends. I would care about what they were up to, but then I would see them in the hallways at school and not talk to them because I didn’t actually know them.
Upon taking a break from social media, I was able to focus on my own world. On the things that make me happy, and the people who actually matter to me. Being able to put my time and energy into what is important helped shake off the anxiety and negativity around social media I had created. I have learned to put less emphasis on how my posts are received and how I make the people in my life feel. And when I wasn’t on social media, I wasn’t influenced by what others were doing and I was a more authentic version of myself.
I also realized that not everyone I used to Snapchat were actually my friends. The people who took the time to get my phone number and text me are the true friends. People who made the effort to stay in touch with me when I didn’t have social media are the ones I want to keep in my life. This made it very easy to filter out the unhealthy relationships and toxic people that I used to speak to on a daily basis. So to those who texted me, I thank you.
Life without social media isn’t simple, but so safe. In the past months, I have taken myself away from the negative aspects of social media, but I also missed out on the benefits. I lost the creativity to engage an audience with a post. I lost the need to capture important moments. I lost a subtle, but important bond that ties me to the rest of my peers.
I recently logged back into my social media accounts and it feels a lot like I am starting my life over from scratch. I am back to consuming TMI from my peers, back to commenting “this is so cute.” on Instagram posts, and back to chasing likes. But most importantly, I am back.
I used to view social media as a very fake and easy solution to the difficulties I face in real life, but perhaps shunning social media altogether was an easy way out. Living in a bubble was so easy, and while I loved the quiet, I know that the silence does not reflect the real world. The real world is so loud, messy, and complicated. But sometimes, we need to take a break from it all so we can fully appreciate the beauty of the chaos.
Social media is a tool that I will continue to use, asx it was invented to keep us all connected. But when the use of social media becomes too excessive, we all need a break. So my advice to you all, next time you are out with a friend, put your phone away and don’t check it until you get home. Take it from me, you won’t miss anything. Everyone is welcome to love and use social media — but like everything in life, it’s all about balance.