Stepping off social media: The root of it

In September 2020, I made the choice to delete all of my social media accounts and begin a transition to what I believed would be a more fulfilling life of more authentic connection and more self-love. I even published a series of articles to share my experiences during what some thought was my first step into an Amish lifestyle. For 15 months, I went about the world just a little differently than I had since elementary school when I first got a Facebook account, and it truly helped me focus and aim towards the growth which I desperately wanted.

Recently, I found myself in another big transition period: my relationship of a year ended, I reunited with close friends and I started a new job. With all these changes, I found myself on Pinterest and Instagram reading posts about self-growth, self-awareness and attachment. Finding others to whom I could relate deeply eased the pain of change and helped me lean into this new phase of my life. 

Soon after the new year, the decision I made to leave social media seemed as outdated as the person I was those many months ago. I thought about it for a few days after the New Year and then downloaded TikTok, then Instagram. Healing from a traumatic relationship took a ton of willpower and determination, too. This process was made easier with the resources I found on social media, and funny posts brought a little bit of needed joy into my harder days.

 In the last year, I’ve become more disciplined with exercise, morning and nightly routines and time for reading and making art. Having social media has not at all disrupted these practices nor made me lose sleep, feel insecure, abandon my priorities or stop taking care of myself. I enjoy being able to make new connections online and to be able to relax and watch TikToks if I so wanted!

I’m still painfully aware, though, of the fact that social media is a real dopamine replacer. From the time I deleted social media to the time I got into a relationship, I was still enjoying the newness of being off of it. Then the love chemicals took over for a while. The dopamine of Instagram notifications got replaced tenfold by a text from the person I loved, which was awesome, until it wasn’t anymore. 

Getting the dopamine hits from other sources was a natural response to my situation, but I also learned through that relationship that a balance is central to leading a whole, healthy life. I could incorporate a person into my life without making them the primary source of happiness and fulfillment, and I could use social media without depending on it for my daily dopamine fill. 

In one of my articles, I centered body image as a reason for taking off from socials, but with therapy and practice, I’ve learned to appreciate the body I have by showing it love and care in my everyday practices. 

In the same article, I truthfully admitted how social media made me feel obligated to respond and interact, but from my relationship I learned my people-pleasing tendencies and lack of boundaries were the real culprit behind this feeling. 

Another hard truth I hit was how body image issues still didn’t dissipate after I stopped spending time on Instagram. My issues with boundaries and my mental health certainly didn’t either. I still found ways to spend money unnecessarily. I still procrastinated doing my work. I still fretted about my identity, image and politics. These very human challenges have been daunting people for many, many years before the internet was created and don’t stop when you avoid them. They stop when you take hard looks at yourself and do the work it takes to become better versions of you, evolving as best as you can.

I take pride in my decision to take extended time away from social media. It was really brave. Though I believe it was absolutely necessary and exactly what I needed, I’ve learned that the braver act is actively choosing what’s best for your well-being. You will always have the choice to hurt yourself, compare yourself, waste time, waste money and let negativity influence you. 

So whether I use social media or not, I now know how and why to choose loving myself, working on my goals, being authentic and protecting my peace of mind. The root issue I had with social media is that I felt it took away my choice to do those things, but in truth, I just wasn’t giving myself the choice at all. If it wasn’t social media, it would be another person or another situation that would keep me from it. If I was to enjoy any of the beautiful parts of life—online or offline—I had to give myself the power to stop the self-sabotage and move in new ways of self-love and self-empowerment.

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