What Giving Up Social Media During Ramadan Taught Me

About FOMO, about stillness, and about me.

by Shahed Ezaydi
What Giving Up Social Media During Ramadan Taught Me
Konstantin Voronov, Ratnakorn Piyasirisorost, shaifulzamri, Mansoreh Motamedi/Getty Images

Is it just me or is social media hibernation suddenly all the rage? Of late I can count four friends in my immediate circle who are choosing to actually log out of social media or specific apps, with some going even further and ditching their smartphones altogether, replacing them with nostalgic Nokia bricks. But that isn’t the reason why I decided to quit Instagram during Ramadan.

Like so many of us in this day and age, I can probably be described as a digital individual; a classic millennial woman. I can regularly be found on Instagram and Twitter, but it’s my relationship to the former that was tipping towards levels of near-obsession. I find Twitter easier to navigate, and crucially, easier to stay off if I notice I’m becoming overwhelmed or I’m spending too much mindlessly scrolling through feeds. A fact made a lot easier knowing Elon Musk will be taking over Twitter soon.

But Instagram... The truth is, I don’t really need to know what everyone is doing at all times. And yet, I just couldn’t stay away from the gram. My thumb would mindlessly reach for the app on my phone almost as a reflex. I didn’t even register doing it. And I lose hours on the platform, gaining very little from the experience. If anything, it makes me feel worse. I’d often come away from my scrolling sprees feeling overwhelmed, drained, and pretty anxious.

And it isn’t just consuming content that can tip my anxiety over the edge, but the pressure to share your life and have people like or comment on that particular moment. It’s the act of being perceived, which is another aspect that has had a negative impact on my mental health. It feels slightly jarring posting a photo – especially if it's of yourself — and waiting for people to “engage” with it or curating your grid so that your photos sit nicely with each other, achieving the so-called desired “aesthetics”. I mean, I even downloaded one of those Instagram preview apps that lets you draft how photos will look next to each other on your grid. It was then when I knew that my relationship with Instagram was bordering on becoming a problem, and I needed to do something about it.

Ramadan is all about making the time to reconnect with yourself, and more importantly, prioritising rest.

Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims around the world where we abstain from food and drink in daylight hours, but it isn’t just about the physical act of fasting. It’s also a month of spirituality and connection, especially when it comes to faith and community. For me, Ramadan is all about making the time to reconnect with yourself, and more importantly, prioritising rest. And so I decided that this would be the perfect time to log out of Instagram.

I was apprehensive (because giving up a habit is hard) but also excited to see if this change would have any real effects on my life. At the time of writing, I’ve been off Instagram for four weeks, which for someone who would spend a minimum of three hours a day (sometimes more) on the app, is a pretty significant feat.

The biggest change I’ve noticed living a life without Instagram is the quietness. Yes, you’re no longer privy to seeing what your loved ones are doing on a daily basis, but apart from a friend’s wedding, there’s very little that I feel I’ve majorly missed out on. The FOMO was definitely real during the first few days but it surprisingly subsided over time. I’d be lying if I said the FOMO has totally disappeared as it’s still something that crops up every now and then. In the first week or so, I’d ask friends to send me screenshots or images from Instagram so I could still feel as though I was in the loop. But after a while I realised that I don’t really need to know everything that’s happening at all times. None of us do.

I don’t really need to know everything that’s happening at all times. None of us do.

You naturally start to fill that Instagram-shaped hole in your days with other things. Before this month, I was struggling to pick up a book and read a chapter. I’ve now managed to read five books. I was going on walks before I logged out of Instagram but these walks still had me flicking through social media feeds, which defeated the entire point of going outside and taking a breath. Now I’m able to go on walks without looking at my phone and properly take in my surroundings and just breathe. A life without Instagram has taught me the art of simply being still. Not every moment needs to be filled, sometimes it’s nice to just sit with your own thoughts without any distractions.

Not only has it given my mind a much needed rest, especially during a deeply reflective month, but it’s also made me realise that I don’t need to share every aspect of my life on social media. It’s quite nice keeping some moments to yourself or just enjoying the moment whilst you’re in it. This isn’t to say that I’ll never log in to Instagram, that was never really the goal of this experiment. Even though I’d love to be the kind of person that’s completely off Instagram, there are still parts of it that I do enjoy and would still want to be a part of, like bookstagram and looking for fashion inspo on the days my wardrobe feels tired and drab.

But the calmness that this period has given my loud and anxious mind is something I want to embed into my life on a permanent basis. This might look like only allowing myself an hour on Instagram during the week or having weekends off; a hybrid solution that lets me still enjoy the parts of Instagram that I do like without it becoming a problematic relationship again. But I’ll definitely be continuing with going offline for Ramadan in the future. Doing so has given the month a whole new meaning and for the first time in a long time. I’m starting to feel like I properly know myself again.