Stepping off social media: More life, less anxiety

On Sept. 19, 2020, I woke up in a new world. The previous night, I deleted all my social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, Reddit, and Tumblr. No, I don’t mean deactivated. I mean permanently deleted each account on every platform. Your first assumption might be that something was seriously going wrong for me to feel the need to delete–maybe even picturing a full-on Britney moment. 

In fact, I was in the best place mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually I had ever been. I had finally been able to admit and face the anxiety that social media brought me, and I realized I could take control. A search for peace led to this quiet exit, and it delivered more than I could have imagined.

As we college students recognize, social media has played a large part in culture and our individual existences for most of us growing up. I remember getting a Facebook account at ten years old, playing Farmville and messaging my friends every day after school. As my life progressed, I became more plugged into the online updates from friends, having a constant rotation of apps to scroll through every day.

I know I have spent hours a day on Instagram or Twitter, with no goal in mind other than to be distracted from real life. Especially over the 2020 quarantine summer, lying in bed watching TikToks until my eyes were too tired to stay open provided the easiest dopamine hits to numb all feelings I had towards the world, my family, and myself.

In early September, through certain personal spiritual experiences, I began to recognize the strength I possessed to make changes to my life, whether small or drastic. I also recognized social media’s detriment to my mental health, my eyes, and my ability to grow as a human. 

People often ask if “one post” or “one type of thing” was the kicker for my decision. I really can’t point to any one post or even type of post, which probably isn’t what people want to hear. No, there wasn’t one ignorant political post that was the final straw, and graphic videos of the George Floyd protests didn’t make me want to run away from the news. 

The truth is that it took a long, introspective, anxiety-filled experience with social media to push me to abandon it, but now that I have, I can’t believe it took me so long. 

Social media gives everyone the opportunity to build their identity, whether it be completely authentic, somewhat filtered or completely fabricated, through posts, usernames, pictures, videos, and basically any interactions had online. A certain pressure comes along with this ability–pressures to be unique and stand out, but also pressures to conform and match what others are doing. 

Over the last two years, I became frightened with how much I felt the need to cultivate just the right identity online, giving me a lot of worries about what impressions my profiles always needed to give off.

However, I was even more frightened with how social media was cultivating my offline identity. What were the photoshopped photos doing to my self-image? What were the constant advertisements doing to my wallet? How did seeing only one “side” of TikTok influence my political beliefs? How did I determine what was right or wrong?

I couldn’t answer these questions while still immersed in social media, and they weren’t questions I could keep asking myself. Instead of feeling paralyzed by trying to balance addictions to Instagram and Twitter with my desire for a sense of sanity and reality, I decided to try life without any more online distractions and compromises, taking at least two hours to permanently delete every account I had. 

Since waking up on Sept. 19, I have felt more liberated, more myself, more alive than I have in several years. The first change I noticed that same week was the extra time I gained by not relying on social media to fill up my empty time. I have been able to focus much more on classwork, eliminating the distraction and temptation to take those five-minute “breaks” that turn into 45 minutes on TikTok or an hour on Instagram.

I also have had the time to nurture hobbies and passions I had neglected for several years, like reading, playing piano, and hiking. This has given me space to get reacquainted with my real identity, my likes and dislikes and my genuine loves. Almost immediately, I was able to reclaim my time as my own rather than as my screen’s.

I was afraid at first that I would miss seeing what my friends were up to, or that I would be forgotten and just never hear from people again. Instead, I became more connected to those friends. The missing link of social media forced me to send a personal text or hop on a FaceTime call and have deeper, more meaningful conversations. Instead of a comment on a post every other week, now I put effort into connecting with those I don’t see online, and I have found out who cares enough about me to reciprocate that. 

I can’t tell you that everything about social media is terrible, or that it can’t open people to learning experiences or more opportunities for connection. But, I do know that I have never been happier, more motivated or more full of life than I am now without the distraction and manipulation that social media is so prone to give. I have absolutely zero regrets about deleting it, and I would recommend it to anyone searching for a new breath in their life.

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