Returning to work after the Christmas break in January I was talking with colleagues about New Year’s resolutions. This led us to start discussing social media. In particular, our obsession with social media which at times can border on addiction.
Speaking about what we had done over Christmas I said that I had really enjoyed lying on the sofa and doing something which I normally don’t have time to do. Reading for the sake of reading. As a lawyer, I spend all day reading contracts and drafting. The last thing I have wanted to do in the past when I get home is to read some more.
But, how then do I disconnect? Well, usually this has involved watching a series on Netflix after putting the kids to bed whilst at the same time scrolling aimlessly through my various social media accounts. This of course means that I am not fully present in either of the things which I am doing. Nor am I present in enjoying downtime with my husband who is also busy doing the same thing I am!
It turns out that this is not an uncommon practice. We all agreed that we spend far too long on our phones. Looking up things on social media which in reality don’t really interest us all that much! At the end of the day, you already know what your family and real friends are up to. You will talk to them, message them or meet up regularly.
So what do we spend so much of our time doing? What are we looking up? A lot of the time we will just be looking up what others are up to. And, let’s be honest, do you really care? Is what they post on social media even what their lives are like in reality? Should their lives even interest you? Or, in the first place should you focus more on what is going on in your own life?
Screen Time Log
Looking through my screen time history I note that I generally log about 3-4 hours of screen time a day! Some of this is justifiable. I might be online for work purposes. Or, I might be researching for a blog post or simply messaging family and friends on WhatsApp. But, what about the time which is random and pointless? Could it be that I don’t have time to do the things that I really enjoy such as reading or exercise because I waste so much time on unfulfilling screen time?
Are We Hooked On Social Media?
There is something about social media which inevitably seems to have us hooked. Whether it’s watching TikTok videos. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram posts. We often sit idly scrolling for hours.
Is Social Media A Comfort Blanket?
From my discussions with my work colleagues, it appeared that our views on social media and phone use/screen time were pretty unanimous. Most of us were convinced that there is an inherent need to use our phones to “disconnect”. Our devices have become a sort of comfort blanket. An addiction almost. Ask around and many people will tell you that they wouldn’t be able to go without having a social media platform.
Does Social Media Really Provide A Disconnect?
But does our phone actually provide the disconnect we are searching for or does our use of the same lead us to become more irritable, stressed, anxious and tired? Are we so caught up in our social media lives that we actually forget to live in the moment? Can we actually give up (or at least curtail) our need to use social media?
Social Media Challenge
Now, if there is one thing I hate is being told that I cannot do something. I remember being 15 years old and drinking Coca-Cola most of the time. I used to wake up in the middle of the night and instead of having a glass of water, I would take a swig from the cola bottle. Soft drinks full of sugar were my go-to refreshment. During a weekly family get-together, my uncle told me that I couldn’t give up the soft drink because I was addicted to the fizz and the sugar. This sounded like a challenge and I was determined to prove him wrong. I can honestly say that that day, almost 20 years ago, was the last day I had a drink of Coke!
Can I Give Up Social Media?
If I did that, could I also give up, or at least radically limit (at the end of the day, I have just started a blog and social media is of vital importance!) my use of social media? Challenge accepted!
At 11 a.m. on Wednesday 4th January 2023, I decided that I would go cold turkey and not open my social media apps (meaning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok) for a full week and then see what benefits, if any, breaking up with social media would have! I did not delete the apps but hoped to be able to get through on willpower alone.
To begin with I felt a little lost and kept reaching for my phone. But, the challenge proved to be easier than I expected. After a day or two I noticed that I really did not miss social media at all. I also realised that I didn’t need to know (or even care!) what everyone was up to at all hours of the day. I even continued my digital apartheid for longer than the intended week, actually only logging on to my accounts on my birthday on the 13th of January.
Do you need a social media break?
Do you find yourself:
- needing/wanting to check on social media immediately upon waking up
- comparing your life, body, relationships or career with others you see on social media Ask yourself, how real is what they post anyway? How do you know that these people are really “living the dream” or have the “perfect” partner, life or job? What you see is what they want you to see. At the end of the day, how many of us post pictures of ourselves at our worst or share details of our kids’ latest meltdown? I sure don’t and believe me there are many times which are not picture perfect but that does not mean that I am not blessed – I am just not perfect – no one is!
- spending more time on social media than you do exploring other activities such as hobbies, reading, exercise or simply meeting people in real life!
- noticing an increase in anxiety or depression symptoms after being online
- checking your social media notifications whilst in the company of others – such as at a party or at dinner
- feeling disappointed when a post does not receive many likes or comments – What are we seeking when we post photos of our daily lives on social media? Is it a way of documenting our journey through life or is it to seek validation or likes from others? Is this even healthy?
- neglecting daily chores
If so then maybe it is time for you too to consider taking a social media break. But, how would be the best way to do it?
Go cold-turkey or a softer approach?
If the idea of going cold turkey on your social media fills you with dread, what other measures could you put in place which might help wean yourself off? Well, you could:
- 1. Embargo your phone
The first thing many of us do when we wake up is immediately reach out for our phones. Not a problem in itself with many of us using our phones as our alarms but, do we really need to check in on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok etc. as soon as we wake up?
Why not embargo your social media use for the first hour of the day? Instead, practice mindfulness, listen to a podcast, journal or plan your day. Do the same in the evening and put your phone away at least one hour before bed and instead, watch TV, read and meditate
- 2. Set a limit
Decide on the amount of time which you consider to be healthy and realistic and then use a timer or app to track your usage and stick to your limit.
This will help you be more mindful of where you spend your time on social media and hopefully reduce the amount of time you spend on it overall.
- 3. Delete the apps
A more extreme approach but, if you feel that this is the only way in which you will be able to restrict your use, and indeed you feel that limiting your use of social media apps is something which will be beneficial to you in one way or another, then this is the way to go. You can always reinstall the app should you need to.
- 4. Take a break from some but not all apps
If you feel like you need to take baby steps at first, then why not delete some but not all of your social media apps? This could provide you with a starting block to gradually reducing your overall dependence on such platforms – although conversely, it could also lead you to spend more time on the other apps you have not deleted! Give it a go, in any case, you have nothing to lose and time to gain!
- 5. Turn off non-essential notifications
Do you really need to receive notifications from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? Is it vital that you know that someone has liked or commented on your post or photo? Let’s be honest, it isn’t really is it? So, why not turn off any non-essential notifications? It will stop you from reaching for your phone to constantly check what is going on and you will instead just reach for it for answering messages or phone calls – precisely what the phone was designed to do!
- 6. Hide your phone
How many of us keep our phones right next to us all day? I know I do, in fact, it is next to me whilst I write. But, if we are really struggling to stay off our phones we can easily put it away! Keep it in the other room or a drawer with the ringer on. Out of sight out of mind! If someone really needs to contact you you will hear the WhatsApp notification or the ringer.
Balance is Key
Examine why you use social media and your reasons for posting and reflect on whether the reason you do so is a result of lack elsewhere in your life. When we take stock and look inward we may well see that what we actually need is to address other areas in our life.
As with everything, the key to social media use is BALANCE. What works for some will not work for others. Remember that the only thing holding you back is you!
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