In the past few months, I’ve noticed a handful of people on social media – both Facebook and Instagram – announce that they were taking a break from the world of “likes,” filters, and status updates.
Social media detoxes have become a thing for everyone from celebrities to stay-at-home parents, as a growing number of people are opting to disconnect for the sake of their own mental health. Many studies have shown individuals who clock in countless hours on social media report feelings of heightened anxiety and low self-esteem.
After all, social media can take an exhausting toll if you let it, as you get sucked into a perpetual game of keeping up with the perfectly filtered Jonses, feeling “less than,” or digging deep into your ex’s profile. We live in a world where we’re validated by the number of “likes” on a photo and secretly satisfied when an ex or love interest watches our Instagram stories, whether we admit it or not. Our happiness is essentially dependent on the actions of others. The reality is, a scroll through social media can make you feel completely inferior and anxious, especially on days when you’re already questioning life decisions and wondering where you went left instead of right.
By now, we are all aware of the constructed reality offered by social media accounts, which allow us to curate the lives we’d like people to think we lead. Yet, we somehow still buy into the images of perfection, perpetual joy, and #goals reflected in glossy social media profiles – or highlight reels – of people who may be strangers in real life. We compare ourselves to others in everything from the décor in our living rooms, to the caliber of vacations we take. Taking a break from having everyone’s edited life flashed in your face can help when it comes to self-reflection and focusing on your next move as opposed to directing your attention to the lives of others.
Then there’s the whole living in the moment element…
We live in an age when everything from restaurant menus and décor to art exhibits is designed specifically for social media. Instead of food that tastes the best, the dish that is the most photo-friendly is often the menu item chosen. Instead of taking in art through our own eyes – for example, the famous Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto – consumers are increasingly experiencing it through their smartphone lens. The same is true for concerts – a sad reality if you think about it, and a reason why some big musicians have banned cell phones at their shows. Many would argue that technology has taken away our ability to be present and live in the moment, whether at the dinner table or on vacation. And being present is a key component to mental wellbeing.
When it comes to matters of the heart, especially if you’re not quite over your ex, ignorance may be bliss, as it was back in the pre-social media era. Now, in a few quick clicks, you can sabotage your whole day by realizing your ex has a new girlfriend or is engaged. Back in the day, by the time such information made its way through the grapevine and to you, you’d be long over the situation. Not to mention, you wouldn’t see cute couple pictures of them – so much easier.
Another key component to feeling your best mentally is getting enough sleep. A recent study revealed that losing sleep over social media can have noticeable effects on you. Researchers found that scrolling social media – specifically Twitter – into the late hour of the night doesn’t just affect your sleep schedule, but has a negative effect on your performance the next day too.
On a positive note, social media can improve your mood and overall mental health. Accounts that reinforce positivity and good vibes can lift your spirits, changing both your perspective and your day. Accounts that inspire a smile or a laugh are also always appreciated. Increasingly and refreshingly, I’ve seen a growing number of people I follow become real, raw, and incredibly relatable on social media platforms, discussing their own mental health struggles and encouraging a supportive dialogue with others in the process. These are all positive things, no doubt, but they are often few and far between to counterbalance the highlight reel profiles.
Not to mention, social media-induced lifts in spirits could be deflated an hour later when your recently-posted photo isn’t getting the love you thought it would, inspiring an anxious internal debate as to whether or not you should remove it.
Mental health aside, taking a social media break could work wonders for your productivity, helping stay focused on your goals and recently made New Year’s resolutions. Apple’s new “Screen Time” feature allows you to see exactly how much time you spend on social media; a revelation that may come as a surprise to many. Start with one day a week, whether it’s a Sunday so you can spend more time with loved ones, or a Monday so you can start the week of clear and focused. You may not realize how much social media is affecting you until you take a break.