Social media has connected people in ways that were unimaginable even 15 years ago. And while that's generally a good thing, the effect social media has on users' mental health sometimes isn't. Lady Gaga has repeatedly referred to social media as "the toilet of the internet." Demi Lovato just announced she is taking another break from social media. I just wrapped up my own 30-day social media break, and I gotta say, it felt good to be disconnected.
I once spoke with Los Angeles-based Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Michele Goldberg about social media, millennial women, anxiety, and depression for another Bustle story, and what she said has stayed with me:
"The constant distraction social media provides is more dangerous than its false connection. Women are rarely present, rarely mindful of their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, because they are busy focusing on someone else, something else, by consuming the unending supply of information that regenerates moment-to-moment on their Instagram and Facebook accounts."
This is exactly how I was feeling. And though I didn't consciously plan to take a social media break, I started reaching for my phone less and less. I was feeling anxious and overwhelmed, and I wanted to shield myself from the added stress of reading story after story and post after post of misery on Facebook and Twitter. On Instagram, I needed a break from the the fake positivity, Facetuned pictures, and inspirational quotes. After about a week of being off social media, I noticed that I started to feel less anxious. I also began to engage more with real live human beings.
I only got back on social media after we had a series of earthquakes in Los Angeles in early July 2019 and I felt the need to stay informed and connected. Because one of my side hustles is managing social media for a professional development company, I couldn't take a professional break from social media. However, I didn't actively engage with my personal accounts for all of June 2019. Here are some things that happened during my social media hiatus.
1. Some People Didn't Understand
One thing that was apparent immediately is that, because I wasn't spending hours scrolling through Twitter, I was less informed about everything shocking and terrible thing that was going on. Not all of my friends were cool with my not being able to discuss [insert terrible thing here], or my not knowing that X broke up with her boyfriend.
For example, one of my friends wanted to discuss something that had happened in the news. When I admitted I hadn't heard about this particular topic because I was off social media, she expressed shock and I felt like I was being judged for being uninformed. I explained that because I spend the majority of my time online for work, I was taking a personal social media break for my mental health. After I stated my position, she was much more understanding of my choice.
2. I Didn't Have FOMO
Social media is where you find out what's going on. Whether it's a friend's party or an event in your city, people tend to invite each other to things on Facebook. Because I wasn't on Facebook, I missed some parties and events, and while I thought it would give me the dreaded FOMO, aka fear of missing out, I was actually totally fine with it. The truth is that even if I had known about some of these things, I still wouldn't have gone. Not knowing in the first place means I didn't have to feel guilty about missing out or saying no to things.
3. My Friends Were Worried About Me
Because I didn't make an official announcement about my social media break, after a couple of weeks of my being absent from the virtual world, some of my friends reached out to me to see if I was OK. I had been such an avid social media user, my disappearing act worried some people. I received texts that said things like: "Are you OK? You haven't been on social media lately." When I saw other friends in person, they asked the same thing. It's always nice to know people care, and I assured them I was fine. I was just taking a hiatus from social media for my mental health.
4. I Read More Books
After hours of scrolling through social media and reading stories and status updates, the last thing I want to do is more reading. But during my social media break, I rediscovered the joy of curling up with a good book. I have always been a voracious reader. In fact, I was often disciplined in school for reading a book on my lap when I was supposed to be paying attention in class. Returning to reading old-fashioned paper books helped me reconnect to my authentic self versus the person I portray on social media — a girl living her best life in Los Angeles.
5. I Took Fewer Pictures
Because I wasn't planning on posting them on social media later, I took fewer pictures during my social media hiatus. In fact, during a week-long visit home to Ohio, I only took one picture. However, this meant that I was more present with people IRL. And if I'm honest, not feeling pressured to document my day was a huge relief.
6. I Felt Less Anxious
A 2017 study found that spending too much time on Facebook has a negative impact on physical and mental health. Personally, Facebook is the social platform that makes me feel the most anxious. On my feed, there seems to be a lot of complaining and bad news.
After spending a few weeks offline, I noticed that I felt less anxious in general. What's more, I was friendlier with strangers IRL. I said hello to people at the coffee shop and chatted with the person ringing me up at the drug store. It felt good to talk to real people.
While I have always lived with depression, my anxiety has gotten much worse over the past 10 years. This directly correlates with my increased time spent on social media. Because I lived half of my life before social media was a thing, this makes a whole lot of sense. A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found a direct link between social media and anxiety disorders.
Modern life demands you move faster, do more, and cultivate a persona of perfection. Of course everybody is anxious AF! It's not sustainable. What's more, social media is not real life. My friends and I talk all the time about how everyone back home thinks we're living "the life" because of our "glamorous" Los Angeles Instagram posts. In reality, most of us are broke and eating noodles for dinner. Trust me, the world will keep turning if you step away from social media to take care of yourself. And everything will still be there just the way you left it when you get back.