Social Media Cleanse, Month #1: Early Realizations

It’s been about a month since I declared I’d be giving up social media—and not just for a short amount of time, ideally for an entire year. This past month, being without social media, has gone by quickly. Life has ticked on, more or less unchanged for me except for that one little fact.

Here are some early realizations.

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1. I think in Tweets, Snapchats, and Instagram updates.

Ask any social-media-using Millennial and I would bet this is the case.

This happened a lot right after I deleted the apps from my phone. I’m just starting to wane the mental habit. Basically, as I go about my day, I might do or come across something that I think is social media worthy. So if Minnesota is experiencing a polar vortex and it’s -30 degrees, I might draft a Tweet in my head about how crazy the weather is and “#coldaf.” Or, if I was at a college hockey game, I might get an urge to take a picture right as the puck drops and share it to my Snapchat story. Or, if I happened to be doing the dishes and watching the setting sun against the Minneapolis skyline, I might take a few beautiful pictures and want to share the best one on Instagram (which, I admit, I actually did).

Social media apps have literally changed the way I think. It has changed my innate response when mundane, everyday stuff happens. It blows my mind that technology is powerful enough to do this.

 

2. It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be.

I’ve done short social media cleanses in the past, and during those times, I’d always been anxious to get back to the social apps. To see how many notifications I’d garnered over the week of absence. To see friends’ posts. To post an update of my own. Eager to get back to that inherent social connection.

This time is different—it has been a lot easier for me to stay away. I don’t feel anxious to get back to the social apps. I don’t really know why this is, but I think it’s because I’m in a much different place in my life. I’m a little older and more mature. I have a lot of other things going for me, other things to focus on. And, ultimately, I think I needed and wanted to do it this time around. In the past, my social media cleanses were more for social experimentation; the underlying intention was superficial. This time the intention is all about bettering my mental health and life in general; the intention goes much deeper.

So I’m happy to stick with it.

 

3. It’s okay to not be perfect.

I mean . . . this is just something to realize about anything throughout life. Perfection is impossible. And with something like giving up social media, it’s okay to break the rules a time or two, so long as the underlying reason why you’re breaking your rule isn’t overtaking the reason you started the journey.

I have been on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—albeit minimally. I posted one Instagram update (mentioned above), but I have not done any scrolling through feeds. I went on Twitter once because I was doing some research and wanted to check out a company’s Twitter account.

I am not trying to give up technology. I am trying to live my life in a healthier and more productive way. Because social media is so entangled with life and work, I am bound to go on an app or two when certain situations arise. To be a member of modern-day society, it’s almost a necessity to use certain social media apps, at least every so often.

There is a difference, though, between using a social app as a tool to gather more information and using it as a social product, as entertainment. I understand this distinction, and I am cognizant to temper the way that I use these apps when I find myself needing to access them.

 

4. Our dependency on social media apps is tied to our brain chemistry.

This is less of a realization and more a result of research, but the reason social media is so addictive and hard to let go of is because our brains are ill-equipped to handle it.

These apps are designed to keep the user using—similar to drug addiction, though social media addiction is all psychological. Studies show that a person who is addicted to social media has the same or similar brain responses as someone who is addicted to a substance; the same areas of the brain light up under testing in both individuals.

Why is social media addictive? Every time someone interacts with us or our posts online, our brains release a tiny burst of dopamine (the feel-good/pleasure neurotransmitter) which enables us to want to keep using, to keep posting, to keep the good feeling rolling. Especially when you consider how little effort it is to create an account and start posting, it’s no wonder we do this all the time—because it’s easy and feels good and often comes with instant rewards. But as time passes and people stop interacting with us or our posts, our dopamine levels fall back to normal and it doesn’t feel so good anymore. So we post again and again and again to continually get that dopamine high.

 

5. There are little things about social media apps that I miss.

And when I say that, really I primarily mean I miss using the Snapchat camera. Fun fact: when taking a selfie on an iPhone’s built-in camera, it captures the selfie-mode photo as if you’re sitting across from yourself at the table, as if you are looking at yourself head on. The selfie is a representation of how other people see you. I suppose this is realistic and I understand why the iPhone camera captures images this way, but I’m not at all used to it.

Snapchat, on the other hand, captures the image exactly as you see it on screen when the camera is in selfie mode. The app doesn’t flip or alter it so that it’s “realistic” looking like the iPhone camera does. I got very used to how I looked in selfies taken on Snapchat, and it had become my default camera. I don’t take as many selfies now as I did when I was on Snapchat, so it doesn’t really matter; but it is just one little oddity. Plus, I miss Snapchat filters.

As for the other apps: I miss getting my news from Twitter. I miss reading the therapeutic tweets from one specific Twitter account. I can say that I don’t really miss Facebook at all. And Instagram is a bit of a gray area for me. I miss it, but I feel as though I really shouldn’t because of: a) how little I used Instagram’s features, and b) how much time I wasted by scrolling through the feed.

 

6. My creative spirit is being revived incrementally.

The longer I’m off social media, the more I feel like I’m getting my creative spirit back. I’m sure a big part of this is because I’m not wasting time scrolling through different social apps. But I also think it’s a huge indication of the detriment social media can have on one’s mood and well-being.

I began feeling better overall within a week in. My general spirits lifted. I felt refreshed. I felt more content. And that is only continuing to improve the longer I stay away.

I began actually doing things two weeks in. I’m drafting a business plan, brainstorming brand ideas, researching, and the like. I’m doing some big life thinking, too—actually putting pen to paper.

I don’t think I would have gotten motivated enough to start doing things if I was still engaging with social media every day during my quiet moments. I think I would still be in a mental rut. I think I would have more anxiety than I presently do. I think I would still be wasting my time and energy on superficiality. I would, in essence, still be distracted and unfocused.

 

7. Disconnecting doesn’t mean social retreat.

It certainly can, of course, if that’s what your intentions are. But most people need social connection in some way. I definitely do.

By disconnecting from social apps, we force ourselves to connect with others in more authentic ways: by sending a text, by calling a pal, by meeting in-person, by observing the world around us (rather than being sucked into what someone else is doing twenty or a thousand miles away from where we presently stand). The act of disconnecting may cause feelings of loneliness at first. But with perseverance, behavior and routines start to change; our brains start to change. Eventually—and I firmly believe this—new ways of connecting will become the new norm. I’m already starting to live this new reality, and it’s a lot healthier for me than anything I was doing prior.

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