A week without social media: Did I survive?

Date: 12/07/2017 Written by: Bobby 10 minutes to read.
Social Media

There are some claims circulating that social media is affecting our mental health - negatively. So I decided to remove social media from my life for one week. Many reading this might think this is an easy task. However, as a 23 year old, social media is very much part of my existence, as it is for so many young people. Facebook is over 10 years old. So I have spent most of my teenage years flirting with social media, leading to a full blown relationship when I reached adulthood. Find out how I got on when social media and I "took a break".

Day 1 – Monday

I like to think that I am an intelligent person, capable of setting myself challenges, seeing them through and learning from them. For example, a few months ago I went vegan for a week to see how a change in diet effected me.

Looking back, I hate to admit it but I had become naïve to these little challenges. This ‘cold turkey’ approach to social media is horrible.

My usual daily routine doesn’t involve any social media until lunch time, mainly because who wants to look at a bright screen as soon as they wake up? However, the first ‘hurdle’ was when I started tucking into my sandwich. Unlike other challenges which usually involve breaking a habit maybe 10-20 times a day, quitting smoking for example, this challenge can involve breaking 50+ habits a day. Lunch time Facebook browse, nope. Quickly checking messenger throughout the day? Nope. Twitter nosey on the toil... you get the idea.

I thought the ‘effects’ of this challenge would hit in a few days’ time, but straight away I felt isolated from all of my friends. I was often thinking ‘am I missing out on anything?’ Followed closely by ‘do they think I’m dead?’

This sounds like a major first world problem but I hope this gets easier as the days go on, but I get a sneaky feeling that like any addiction, it is going to get worse before it gets any better.

 

Day 2 – Tuesday

Everyone has gone a day or two without social media at some point in their life, including myself. However, when those days are over, the slow nagging pull from social media begins to get stronger.

Today I realised how many conversations I was having on social media. Some on group chats, some on-going for weeks, some with very close friends talking daily. I kept on having the same feelings from yesterday, especially ‘do they think I’m dead’ but then a new thought popped into my head. ‘Do they think I don’t like them anymore?’ The reason for this thought is that I had cut off all the conversations with little notice.

With this thought in mind I had to send a quick text to a few people to explain what was going on. Even though it had only been two days, I think I can safely say that I was/am addicted to social media, but also so are all of my friends. It only took 48 hours to breed the thought that my friends might think I don’t like them. Does that say something about my apparent social separation anxiety? Or my paranoia towards the strength of the friendships I have? Or both?

 

Day 3 – Wednesday

Today I was thinking about what social media was actually doing for me socially and psychologically. I kept on coming back to the thought that social media is like a massive sweet shop and all the users are little kids being let lose without any parent supervision. Getting increasingly dizzy on sugar, running around talking/shouting to everyone, picking up things and showing everyone else to either gloat or make others jealous.

When you are a part of that noise, it doesn’t seem so bad, you are one of the hyper children, keeping up to date on everything, usually having pointless conversations about anything or everything with anyone. Now that I have gone through the ‘sugar comedown’ of cutting social media out of my life, I have realised…everything is very quiet.

You realise who the concrete friends are, expending the effort to text or ring you because you have to keep up-to-date with each other because even a week is too long to not talk to each other. It is all very clingy but when a friendship is a good one, that is never a bad thing. My phone isn’t littered with group chat notifications, it isn’t buzzing 24/7 screaming for me to give it attention, or trying to sell me everything to do with hoovers because I googled it once a few weeks ago.

With the fear of sounding over melodramatic, I have cut out all of the noise, but now I have to get used to the quiet.

 

Day 4 – Thursday

Annoyed. Frustrated. Uncomfortable. These are some of the feelings I experienced every time I either thought about social media, or talking to my friends. You might be thinking, just ring them or text them! However, the beauty of social media is that it is extremely fast. You can weave a message or two to people during your day and it won’t disrupt anything much at all.

Thinking of some of the potential benefits of not using social media, I feel a little update is needed as we are over half way now. Am I a happier person? Hard to say, at the moment I have more time but the frustration blocks increased productivity. Has my sleep improved? This is a strange one. I have been going to bed later, but the quality of sleep has improved. Has my focus while productive improved? 100% yes. My phone isn’t pinging every 5 seconds and I am not thinking about the latest topic of conversation on group chats.

Am I going to be happy when this is over? Yes. However, that could just be the harsh first few days of quitting an addiction talking.

 

Day 5 – Friday

A lot of my friends fall into the category called ‘living for the weekend’. You’ll be able to see a positive happiness curve in their attitude as the week plays on, usually consisting of a strong hate towards Mondays and peak happiness at 5:00pm on Friday. After being exposed to this weekly ritual for many years, I was fully aware that, now off social media, I am missing out on every potential plan that could be cooking within my social circles.

Throughout the week I don’t have many social activities in the evenings, mainly due to tiredness and the want to simply unwind with a home cooked meal and some Netflix. This means that I try hard to keep my weekends busy because I could quite easily fall into a spell of loneliness.

Without social media, it greatly reduces the chance of arranging these social gatherings. Of course I could text or call a friend and ask what is happening, but I am talking about the spontaneous moments with friends you might not talk to everyday. When I read a status from them talking about needing a break from work, I could personal message them and arrange something. In short, this has been the hardest day so far because it feels like my social circles have reduced tremendously.


Day 6 – Saturday

Call me weak but I couldn’t last the whole 7 days. It got to Friday night and I was always conscious of the issues outlined in my previous post. I was greeted by numerous notifications and multiple conversations that I had to either apologise for taking ages to reply, or catching up on group chats that had 200+ messages. However, within 10 minutes of jumping back on social media, I had created concrete plans for the rest of the weekend.

Although the idea of my wallet taking a breather for the weekend was nice, I place a bigger value on social interaction with new and old friends than saving a little extra money.

 

 

What did I learn?

Before doing this little experiment, the word ‘addiction’ to me resonated with things like smoking, drugs or the jokey expression “I’m so addicted to [insert Netflix title here]!”. I will now add social media to that list.

I learnt a lot about my willpower, something that I thought was strong enough to pass this challenge with little trouble. However, it is clear that it isn’t as strong as I thought. Which leads me to the bold statement, giving up social media is harder than giving up smoking. I can say that because I used to smoke and I gave up.

 

What about my health?

The idea of coming off social media was to be less obsessed with other people, and what others think of me. It was meant to lead to less self consciousness and allow me to start building my self confidence back up.

This didn’t happen.

I became paranoid and self conscious of my friends thinking that I had become annoyed with them, or them thinking something terrible had happened to me. Which in itself either speaks volumes about societies obsession with social media, as even going a few days without talking to friends, they think the worst. Or it speaks volumes about my unhealthy mentality of having mild separation anxiety.

I will openly admit that as I have grown up, left university, got my own place and started to self sustain comfortably, I have developed anxiety over a number of things. House security, future plans, relationships, and even my own mental attitudes/feelings towards all of these things. Was this anxiety bred from social media? Have I been following the story of people I have grown up with, seeing them achieve amazing things and reach huge life goals and noticing that, over time, believe that I am not close to reaching them? So like a lot of people I paint the perfect picture online to show others I am reaching these goals. I could have developed anxiety over other peoples anxiety.

 

Why did you do this again?

One reason for doing this experiment was to explore if overusing social media can increase depression in young people. I read many articles and wanted to see if removing social media from my life made me happier. The articles I read included:

“Heavy social media users ‘trapped in endless cycle of depression"– The Independent

“Research links heavy Facebook and social media usage to depression” = Forbes

“When social media sparks depression” – Psychology today

“Facebook and mental health” Is social media hurting or helping” – MentalHelp

 

The anxiety generation

I do feel that we need to be very careful and explore how young people are using social media. When I was growing up, social media was taking off when I was around 12-13 years old. Even then it was used rarely. However, children these days are being exposed to social media from a ridiculously early age. How many times have you seen a child with a phone, computer or IPad? Probably quite a few, right?

I didn’t think I was addicted to social media, but I am. I can then say with confidence that a lot of the people in my generation also don’t know they are addicted to social media. The question now is are we happy with this?

Anxiety is breeding anxiety and personally I think it’s time to stop that cycle. What's your thoughts? Post below.

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