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Disconnect to Connect: What I Learned During My Social Media Break

Start of a personal experiment

As someone who lives alone in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I rely heavily on social media to connect with and stay updated on the lives of the people who are close to me. I have also turned to social media, particularly Twitter, for real-time news and updates.

Yet, every time I check my newsfeed, I find myself engulfed in a rollercoaster of unwanted thoughts and emotions which makes me feel insecure, anxious and restless at the same time.

It makes me feel as if the world has become overwhelmingly chaotic. This is not to say that I’ve never felt these emotions before. I’ve been on social media for over a decade already, so this is not the first time I felt horrible using it. It’s just that with the ongoing pandemic and the shadow of fear and hopelessness it brings, things just hit differently this time.

I resolved that this would take its toll on my mental health, so I finally decided to do an experiment: I would temporarily stop using social media for a week and see if I could attain that seemingly elusive peace of mind. I didn’t have the Facebook and Messenger apps on my phone for the longest time already so I first deactivated my account on my desktop, promising that I wouldn't access it until I’m finally fine. Instagram and Twitter followed. Then, I deleted both apps on my phone.

What trailed thereafter was a hollow feeling. Mainly, my fear of missing out (FOMO) started to kick in and so attempts to reinstall the apps or even open them on my desktop were something I had to wrestle with in the days that followed.

They say that social media is like drugs and with my experience, I think it's true. It’s just so addicting. With determination though, instead of one week off which I initially planned, I was able to extend it for a few more days.

In total, I’ve spent 14 days away, and I’m glad to share the things that I happened during the time I was “off the grid”.

They say that social media is like drugs and with my experience, I think its true. It’s just so addicting.

I Was Able to Focus Again

Coaches on productivity would advise that taking one task at a time and finishing it is the most efficient use of our resources. Their take on multitasking? It’s counter-productive. But guess what? We are being programmed by the internet, particularly social media, to multitask. With social media, people are set up to use multiple devices or apps at the same time thereby leading to multitasking. This, in turn, constrains our ability to focus completely on one task at a time.

This information which I’ve learned just recently resonates so much after much thought of what I’ve been doing on my smartphone. For instance, when I’m trying to access information, and it takes some time to load, I go to other sites or app while waiting. After being hooked for 10-30 minutes, I suddenly remember what I wanted to look up in the first place. The reason? I multitasked unconsciously and lost focus.

As a result of my social media break, I was able to regain focus. Proof? This article. I’m now back to writing! I’m also starting to read the book which I bought last year.

My FOMO Eventually Disappeared

I mentioned earlier that I had to control myself from accessing my social media accounts when I first started the break. Surprisingly, it just went away as I went further into the experiment. When the last day was over and I returned to Instagram, I found myself asking, “Why do I need to see this post?” I felt that I didn’t need to know what people do or think about. I thought that it’s okay not to always know.

After all, before social media became a thing, we all survived and found other ways to connect and entertain ourselves.

Today, I want to practice letting go of the notion that I miss a lot of things if I don’t read the latest news, listen to the newest single or watch the latest vlogs of social media celebrities.

With the ongoing pandemic and the shadow of fear and hopelessness it brings, things just hit differently this time.

I Became More Present

I am one of those people who uses my phone while walking in the streets. Good thing I haven’t experienced crashing into a lamp post or someone by accident because I was not attentive enough to the things around me. I guess I'm just lucky enough.

Because of my social media break, I was able to gain a lot of time to notice that the leaves of my plants are turning yellow; I could easily see a dusty spot in my room, or remember the face of people I encounter when I go outside to take a walk.

I felt that I have more control of my moment. I felt that I am, in fact, living in the moment.

I Became Less Stressed and Triggered

The marriage of social and news media has resulted in news—fake or not—proliferating on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These days, it seems that no news outfit wants to report things unless they are in a negative light. When I deactivated my Twitter and stayed away from livestreams on Youtube, I felt nothing but relief and freedom from unnecessary stress as a result of consuming bad news. I’ve never felt that kind of calmness.

Being away from social media also meant I have less exposure to fake news, unsolicited political opinions or commentaries and conspiracy theories that trigger me almost always.

From now on, I want to practice choosing peace of mind but sans losing touch with the realities in my country.

I Regained the Time I Normally Spent Comparing My Life to Others

As they say, comparison is a thief of joy and social media offers almost all opportunities for us to compare ourselves to the highlight reel of other people. Much has been written about how comparison on social media leads to low self-esteem and sometimes, depression.

As someone who is fond of comparing his life with that of others’ despite knowing that most of the things displayed on social media are just curated depictions, I found my social media break a breath of fresh air.

In fact, I’m kind of looking forward to taking more and longer social media breaks in the future. However, my ultimate goal is to get rid of it completely when my work would allow one day.

I Still Found Ways to Connect With Family and Friends

In fact, I took that time to call them, something which I believe slowly lost its appeal to most people, including myself. It is because posts, comments and reactions have outwardly become the substitute to verbal communication—especially to people of my age.

I Used Other Apps I Pay for

Because of too many distractions brought about by my constant social media use, my Netflix and Spotify accounts have been idle most of the time. Yet, I still pay for it monthly which, of course, is a totally unwise use of money.

When I went for a social media break, I found myself listening to more music of my favorite artists on Spotify most of the day and finishing a 16-episode Netflix series.

I know it’s still a not-so-good use of time for many people, but my point is, I was able to enjoy the things that I paid for because the distractions that keep me from doing so have been toned down.

I’m comforted with the assurance that if I feel overwhelmed, be it in social media or in real life, I can always disconnect so that I can reconnect to my core and regain the drive that I need to continue my existence in this beautiful world we live in.

Being Back on Social Media

A few days ago, I reactivated my Instagram after two weeks. However, my Facebook and Twitter are still off. I think I’m better off without these two since they are just too much for me to handle.

The only social media application that I can bear to use at this moment is Instagram which, since I started using in 2015, only has 200+ mutual follows of friends and acquaintances. I like it that there are only select people who can see what I share and vice-versa. The app is also neat and to the point.

You may think I’m a control freak for doing this, but if it is for my well-being, then so be it.

If given the chance, I would love to stay away from social media. But until it’s not yet practical, I’m glad that I can always take a break from it and still stay connected with the people who truly matter to me.

I’m comforted with the assurance that if I feel overwhelmed, be it in social media or in real life, I can always disconnect so that I can reconnect to my core and regain the drive that I need to continue my existence in this beautiful world we live in.

© 2021 Arni Abueva

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