I have been known to take prolonged breaks from social media from time to time. These breaks were born from necessity as I began to notice unfavourable changes to my mental health that seemed to correlate with the number of hours that I perused social media. Each time, within three days of deleting social media applications off my phone, the fog cleared. I was sleeping better, had better focus and could actually connect with the people around me in real life. As anyone who has ever taken a break from social media can tell you, it is not easy. I was surprised (and slightly disturbed) by how many times I reached for my phone unconsciously and my fingers automatically knew how many slides and how many taps it took to get to my most-used applications. I have recently been reading a book titled Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport to gather some more tips to develop a healthier relationship with social media. I would love to share some of these tips with you and then discuss briefly how social media use can impact your health…most of the time without you even realizing it is happening.
How to Use your Phone Less, Successfully
Understand why you use the apps that you do.
This perhaps seems like a basic concept but I can assure you that it is actually a challenging task to list all of your social media outlets and then determine what purpose they serve. You might notice that some of these apps that you rely on throughout the day actually do not add anything to your daily existence. You might even notice that, on the contrary, they deplete you. For example, my list might look something like this:
Pinterest – solely for inspiration
Instagram – stay in touch with peers, learn new concepts, meet local businesses
Facebook – ??? (I truly have no idea what I do on facebook yet I log on 5x/day)
With this information, you now get to decide if these particular apps are the best way to serve yourself.
Collect Data on yourself
Most people are completely unaware of how many times they pick up their phone in an hour or how many hours they spend each day staring at their phones. However this is critical information for you if you would like to become more mindful with your social media use. If you guess that you spend ~20 minutes a day on your phone but in reality you actually spend two hours a day and pick up your phone 90 times in a single day, you will be antsy to fill that additional one hour and 40 minutes that snuck up on you.
Find yourself a Hobby
So if you will suddenly have two hours available to yourself, what will you do with this time? Perhaps you will do nothing. This is an art in and of itself. Embracing solitude is a true gift to yourself and others. However, it is a big ask for most people to go from constant scrolling to being completely alone with their own thoughts. This is where you might want to develop a new hobby or perfect a pre-existing hobby. If that new hobby could be an activity that allows you to engage with others in real life, well that’s all the better.
How to Find True Connection
I remember riding on the Vancouver Skytrain one day and sitting across from me was a younger male. He held his phone in his hand and his thumb was continually swiping but he was not actually looking at his phone. Instead, he was staring longingly out the window as we breezed past a stretch of trees. I started my first social media detox the very next day. It wasn’t that I was simply perplexed and astonished by what I saw but I was his mirror; I was doing the exact same thing.
Many people will claim they use their phone to stay connected. I used to claim that I used my phone to stay connected. But I quickly realized that social media promises connection only to leave us behind a screen hitting a “like” button. When we compare the average social exchange on social media to how that might land in real life, we might begin to see that true connection simply does not transfer over a screen. Connection is derived from interactions that involve all of our social cues such as body language, voice tone, facial expressions and touch (when allowed). We automatically lose all of this when we attempt to wrap it up in one simple reaction through the touch of a button.
Why it Matters
None of the above is to say that social media is a curse. I think that many of us could agree that, without social media use, this pandemic would have been immensely more difficult. I also do not think that I need to list out all of the reasons that social media use has the potential to become problematic. From the bullying and dehumanization; to filters that completely alter our perception of ourselves and others; to hours wasted each day absorbing the thoughts of complete strangers. The repercussions of all of this speak for themselves. Only you can decide what you lose when you engage haphazardly with social media.
I once wrote on my personal blog that somedays the entire day passes by and I was not present for a single moment. These days are my worst days. I feel completely and utterly disconnected from myself, from others and from the natural world around me. I’m aware of the antidote and my relationship to social media is changing rapidly these days. Ultimately, my goal is to make my use more intentional and not a coping mechanism. It begins with a purchase of an alarm clock which will then permit my phone to be outside of my bedroom. It begins with a reclamation of my mornings and then it evolves from there to some place with more presence. Perhaps you’ll join me?
P.S. – If you’re curious regarding the implications of social media and addiction, there is a documentary on Netflix titled The Social Dilemma. It is worth a watch!