Switching off: what I’ve learned from quitting social media

January 15th.

That’s the date that 95% of us who have made a New Year’s resolution have broken them by - is yours still intact? If so, congratulations for getting this far, you’re almost half-way.

However, after an array of fitness-focused resolutions over the past few years, I thought 2018 was maybe going to be the year that I became a part of that 95% - by taking on the challenge to quit social media.

But why…?

Ah…the question I get asked immediately after telling someone I am no longer on social media (which for me personally was Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

Now, I was never a social media junkie and I was fully aware of how much I used it, which led me to just drift in and out of usage. Sounds pretty healthy, right? I wasn’t attached to my smartphone and I was completely aware of my behaviour when I did use it - so why quit? Well, it was precisely the awareness and personal reflection that led me to taking on this New Year’s resolution.

Over the past year, I began to notice a couple of traits that contributed to making the final decision and taking the ‘Deactivate Account’ leap.

Firstly, people use social media to vent their frustrations about…well, everything! Once you are consciously aware of this, scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feed can be a pretty miserable experience - it’s typically a collection of complaints about the most aimless experiences or individuals on their teetering soapbox expressing an unnecessary opinion hoping for some immediate feedback in the form of a like or share from a stranger. That, or photos of their pets.

I began to find myself closing apps feeling more stressed, or at the very least, experiencing a significant dip in my mood, all because I voluntarily opened an app out of boredom. It turns out I am not alone. Recent studies have shown that using Facebook for as little as 20 minutes can significantly lower your mood in comparison to those just browsing the internet.

And secondly, I felt my interactions with people were suffering. It’s pretty ironic that the same technology that brings us together with those who are far away, takes us further away from those that are actually close. Next time you are on the bus, in a meeting or a busy restaurant just sit back and look at how many people are sitting with their smartphone on the table or are even scrolling through their phone while sitting opposite a friend or loved one - it seems that social media has killed the art of conversation.

Additionally, I had succumbed to relying on social media to seeing what my friends were up to rather than actually catching-up or picking up the phone to speak with one another. Something which we are probably all guilty of, but still…feels kinda sad.

And that’s just my personal experience. Usage of social media has also been proven to contribute to issues with sleep, loneliness, self-esteem, anxiety and even depression. Not only that, but after a quick conversation as to why I have come off social media, most people tend to agree with me. If they agree, then why haven’t they tried to quit too?

Reason 1 - it’s a habit-driven addiction
Like the yawning effect, you feel compelled to pick-up your smartphone when those around are doing the same. The next time you are on a bus journey or sitting in a cafe, I challenge you to not even remove your phone from your pocket - you’ll be surprised at just how difficult it is. We are all victims of this habit (which is ultimately fed by reason 2 below), but it is exactly that, a habit - meaning it can be broken.

Reason 2 - you have the fear of missing out
According to recent research, fear of missing out is one of the largest triggers behind our addiction with social media, with many companies commonly leveraging this to ensure you keep engaged. Making you ask yourself ‘if I am not connected, how am I going to know what’s going on?’. Well, my simple answer is that you managed to survive before, didn’t you? Social media has not always been around, so why would it be any different? Additionally, think about what you are really going to be less informed about - celebrity gossip or whether or not one of your friends attended a yoga class? Not really worth losing sleep over.

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Believe it or not, this is not a protest against social media with the goal of trying to cull it from the lives of those around me. The truth is, working in the digital industry, I will always be surrounded by social media and I believe there are so many great uses for it. But with all temptations in life, it is about finding the right balance for you.

However, what I can do is vouch for the personal development benefits quitting social media offers. So, I challenge you to take some time to reflect on your behaviour and relationship with social media, and if interested, fully commit to life with no social media for at least 3 months. Undertake your own social media experiment - I’d love to hear what you discover.

And don’t fear, no decision you make is for life. You can begin to choose how and when to introduce elements of it back into your life where you feel necessary.

And what are the benefits…?

Understandably, everyone will experience something different, but in my short 5-month hiatus from social media, I believe you will likely…

  • Have more meaningful relationships with those around you
    Recent studies have shown that individuals who have had a conversation with a friend/family member who have their smartphone within eyeshot had less meaningful conversations and felt they were not being listened to.
  • Develop new interests/hobbies
    Not sure of any scientific research behind this one, but personally, I have swapped my social media boredom-browsing for audio books, podcasts and Headspace - things I have continually been trying to incorporate into my daily routine but haven’t…until now.
  • Use your time effectively and be more productive
    Think about how much time you waste ‘just having a quick look’ at social media. Without it, you will naturally become more productive and likely fill your time doing more important things - my to-do list has never been emptier! I even came across this handy iPhone feature that helps keep you away from the screen.
  • Sleep better
    It has been proven that the artificial light emitted from your screen reduces your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep, meaning you are in for not-so-sweet dreams.
  • Feel less anxious or stressed, more confident and happier
    Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Shutting yourself out from people on social media trying to flaunt what they have or paint a perfect picture of their lives actually does wonders for your anxiety and happiness. You quickly shift your focus from what others are doing to what you should be doing - giving you time to press pause, reflect and move onwards and upwards.

What’s not to like…? (no pun intended)

Written by Gregor Matheson — Design Director at Tayburn.

Transforming brands through storytelling and digital experiences - www.tayburn.co.uk

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